While finishing off a new chapter In the upcoming Lost Clipper book, I sat back and reflected about what it must have been like for the US Army personal manning the rails of the USAT Meigs (yes, this was an Army cargo transport ship, not a US Navy vessel) and smelling the noxious vapors coming off the water at dusk.
Taken off course en-route to Honolulu from Manila, it was dispatched to search for the vanished Pan Am Hawaii Clipper. Around 5:10pm local time (1:10am PST), it spotted an approximated 1500 foot oil slick at Latitude 12.1 North – Longitude 130.33 East. As soon as she was on station, a small boat was lowered to retrieve samples of the “thick” slick (a mix of lubricating oils and fuel) and test. The ship kept a vigil on the oil thru the night firing flares at fifteen minute intervals and checking for debris with search lights. Much later int he evening with choppy seas, the patch slowly dissipated into the ocean current. Soon there after both samples (kept apart) were analyzed and any connection to the Hawaii Clipper was ruled out due to the nature of the fuel (was not aviation petroleum).
The Meigs was not alone. The Navy had dispatched the USS Penguin from Guam and other vessels and aircraft to locate any sign of debris or survivors. But then, an odd message was sent out from a very unlikely source; an Imperial Japanese Navy Cargo vessel, the IJN Canberra Maru. Allegedly the message was either misunderstood, mistranslated or was changed however something made the ship report “something” when it arrived at Douglas Reef.
Was something really spotted, perhaps an M-130 painted in Japanese colors while sitting out a storm, or was it nothing but a flat reef? Whatever it was, the story was changed and the rest was history.
Speaking of history, fate was not kind to either the Meigs or the Canberra Maru as both were sunk by each others dive bombers in 1942.
In the end, nearly a week had passed by since the initial loss of the clipper and a possible sighting, which may figure into a timeline of landing the flying boat at Truk Lagoon, offloading its passengers and crew, disguising the clipper and then flying it to Japan for reverse engineering (so the legend goes).