My story’s done, but the ‘Romance of the Skies’ is still giving up a few secrets

It’s been a few weeks since MauiTime published what’s probably the most surreal story I’ve ever written. Written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the mysterious, still officially unsolved crash of Pan Am Flight 7, it also revealed unexpected connections between me and the aircraft’s then-26-year-old Flight Engineer, Albert Pinataro (my first cousin once removed). Though I had known Pinataro was a relative when I first started researching the crash, I didn’t know that I would find so much in common with him (click here to read the whole story).

Though that story is done and I’ve moved on, the other night my girlfriend Angie found some fascinating old records that fleshed out Albert’s career with Pan Am.  Her hobby’s genealogical research, which gives her access to databases and documents I didn’t know had been digitized, like this Pan American World Airways general declaration form from 1956.

Even this old form has a story to tell. The date is April 1, 1956, about 19 months prior to Albert’s death. The aircraft listed on the form, 90944, is the same Boeing Stratocruiser that killed him (the Clipper Romance of the Skies, pictured above). The itinerary–San Francisco, Honolulu, Canton Island, Fiji and Sydney–is also very similar to the last flight of the Romance of the Skies. On the crew manifest, Pinataro is listed as “Second Engineer,” perhaps indicating this was a training flight for him. Whoever filled out the form (I’m guessing it was the aircraft’s purser) apparently had some fun typing out “All U.S. CITIZENS” under the Nationality column.

But to me, the most interesting part of the form is the flight’s Captain, listed here as R. Ogg. The six months after the flight depicted on this form, Captain Richard Ogg at the controls of a similar plane, named Sovereign of the Skies, when he encountered severe engine trouble roughly halfway between San Francisco and Hawaii.  Close to the Coast Guard weather ship Pontchartrain, Ogg was able to circle the vessel until daylight, then ditched nearby. Sailors from that ship soon rescued all of Sovereign‘s passengers and crew (click here to watch a U.S. Coast Guard film on the crash).

The weirdest thing about the ditching of the Sovereign? It happened in pretty much the same part of the ocean where Romance crashed in November 1957. Except in that case, no one–including my cousin–survived.

Genealogical databases also gave Angie access to Albert’s Hollywood High School Class of 1951 yearbook. Here he is, circled in green.

UPDATE, NOV. 19:

A few days ago my cousin Jean Pinataro (Albert’s sister) was kind enough to send me a copy of her 2013 self-published memoir My Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Awful. I’ll write a separate post on the book, but of particular relevance here is a hand-written note from Albert that Jean included in her book. It was written sometime in the mid-1950s, while Albert was in the middle of a Pan Am flight very similar to the one chronicled in the declaration form above.

Here’s the note:

Dear Mom & Dad & all,

Am down here on my first trip to the island of Viti Levu where the cities of Nandi & Suva are located. It is absolutely beautiful. It takes about 12 1/2 hours flying time from Honolulu plus a one hour stop at Canton Island for fuel. [They?] sure aren’t wrong when the[y] talk of the beauty of the South Sea Islands.

I’ll write a nice long letter as soon as I get settled in Honolulu. I’m going back tonight.

Love,

Al Pinataro

Photo of Romance of the Skies courtesy Pan Am Historical Foundation

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