First official airmail flight to San Francisco

2 January 1938

Flying boats, Mechanics Bay, Auckland, c. 1937-38
Flying boats, Mechanics Bay, Auckland, c. 1937-38 (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/4-048844-G)

The first official New Zealand airmail to the United States left Auckland for San Francisco on Pan American Airways’ Samoan Clipper. The Sikorsky S-42B flying boat was piloted by Captain Ed Musick – then the world’s most famous pilot – and carried 25,000 items of mail.

After crossing the International Date Line, Musick arrived in Pago Pago, American Samoa, where it was still 1 January. At his next stop, an uninhabited atoll 1700 km south of Hawaii, he was met by a schooner with supplies. On 3 January, the Samoan Clipper arrived in Honolulu, where the mail was transferred to a Martin 130 flying boat, which arrived in San Francisco on 6 January.

Disaster struck on the return trip. Shortly after taking off from Pago Pago on 11 January, Musick reported an oil leak in one of his engines; as he attempted to dump fuel before attempting a landing, the plane caught fire and exploded. There were no survivors.

In 1939 a headland on the eastern side of the Tamaki River was renamed Musick Point in the pilot’s honour.