From John Bull at Medium:
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, the crew of Pan Am flight 18602 were forced to do something almost impossible: return to America the long way round.
The morning of 6th January 1942 was going to be a cold one. Not that this was unusual for New York, mused the night-shift air controller at LaGuardia’s tower, but it did mean he’d have to wrap up extra warm when he headed home.He looked at his watch. It was 5:54AM. Two hours to go, then. Two hours more to stay awake. This was the downside of overnight duty: no planes to manage meant it was always a struggle to keep alert, but rules were rules and the tower had to be manned at all times. It made sense, he supposed, pouring himself another cup of coffee, but with America now at war surely there were more important things for a trained air controller to…
LAGUARDIA TOWER LAGUARDIA TOWER. OVER.The sudden burst of sound from the radio caught the controller by surprise and he scrambled to try and stop his cup of coffee from falling to the floor.
LAGUARDIA TOWER LAGUARDIA TOWER. THIS IS PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER NC18602 INBOUND FROM AUCKLAND NEW ZEALAND. DUE TO ARRIVE PAN AMERICAN MARINE TERMINAL LAGUARDIA IN SEVEN MINUTES. OVER.The confused controller gave up trying and let the cup drop, shattering on the floor.This made no sense, he thought. It was still before six and there were no seaplane flights due. Then, a new wave of confusion hit him: New Zealand was — almost literally — on the other side of the world from New York. There was no Pan Am route between those two places. No airline flew that far from the East Coast!The internal intercom next to the radio suddenly crackled into life.“Erm… LaGuardia… this is Flight Watch at the Marine Terminal…” The voice sounded both amused and confused. “Did ya hear that too?! Sounds like we got ourselves a surprise visitor!”The controller grabbed the intercom.“Yeah.. uh… What the hell are we supposed to do with him?! He can’t land in the seaplane channel in the dark! And where the hell did he pop up from anyway?!”“I guess we’ll just have to hold him until daylight.” Flight Watch replied, sounding just as baffled as he did. “I just hope he has enough gas.”The controller reached for the radio and thumbed it on.
PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER 18602. THIS IS LAGUARDIA. THE SEAPLANE CHANNEL IS CLOSED UNTIL DAYLIGHT. YOU WILL HAVE TO HOLD FOR ABOUT AN HOUR BEFORE WE CAN CLEAR YOU FOR LANDING. OVER.The reply came swiftly.
LAGUARDIA ROGER. NO PROBLEM. WE CAN DO THAT. OVER.
The controller paused for a second. He still couldn’t believe this was happening. If Flight Watch hadn’t heard it too then he’d have probably imagined he was dreaming. In the end he couldn’t resist. He had to ask again.
SORRY PAN AMERICAN CLIPPER 18602 BUT SAY AGAIN, CONFIRM YOUR DEPARTURE POINT. OVER.There was a brief pause, and then the reply came over the radio crisp and clear, leaving no room for doubt.
I SAY AGAIN, INBOUND FROM AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND. BY WAY OF THE LONG WAY ROUND. OVER.San Francisco, December 1941To Captain Bob Ford, a veteran pilot for Pan-Am, 1st December 1941 was just a day like any other. Sure, war was raging in Europe, but for now at least the USA was staying out of it. This meant it was business as usual out here on the West Coast at Treasure Island, the place from which Pan Am’s clipper services departed on their regular scheduled flights across the Pacific ocean.Well, almost business as usual. Ford, like most other Pan Am employees involved in the airline’s pacific trade, was aware that relations between the USA and Japan had been worsening for some time. Whilst few expected that it would come to war, even the airline itself had recognised that it was no longer impossible.By 1941 Pan American was a leviathan of aviation, largely thanks to the vision (and often cut-throat business practices) of one man — Juan Terry Trippe.Described by President Roosevelt as “the most fascinating Yale gangster I ever met”, Trippe had spotted an opportunity to make money as the aviation age dawned and had set about building up an aerial empire. It had begun with a simple government contract to run mail to Cuba, but by the forties Pan Am had grown into a passenger and cargo carrier that spanned the world....MUCH MORE