DECEMBER 21, 1948
SHANGHAI TO HONG KONG -- BALSALT ISLAND


"On December 21, 1948, three CNAC flights left Shanghai’s Lungwha airport in the early morning hours bound for Hong Kong. In light of the fact that Communist forces had made a number of crucial advances in recent weeks around Shanghai, there was a great deal of panic and with respect to plane tickets and even as the planes sat on the tarmac there was a significant amount of shuffling of tickets and seats right until moments before take-off. The flights, XT-103, XT-104 and XT-106 (all DC-4's) were all cleared for an Instrument Flight Rules flight to Hong Kong at 8000 feet via Wenchow, Foochow, Amoy and Swatow. The lead plane, XT-104 was piloted by Capt. Charles Marinus Sundby a Danish Citizen aged 39 and co-piloted First Officer Jack Au a Hong Kong native. Sundby was an extremely experienced pilot with 7931 hours of total flight time with experience in the Danish Air Force, the RAF Bomber Command and countless trips over the “Hump” starting when he joined CNAC in November of 1942. Sundby was CNAC’s senior DC-4 Pilot at the time. His Co-Pilot Jack Au was a Hong Kong native with over 1500 hours of experience on DC-4s and extensive experience and training with the US Army Air Force. Passengers on the plane included Quentin Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a Senior Vice President of CNAC and Paul Yung, the older brother of Rong Yiren, who would later become the Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China.

The three planes had been given inaccurate weather information in Shanghai that reported clear weather with very good visibility in Hong Kong. As the three planes approached Hong Kong they discovered extremely poor visibility. Pilots in other non-CNAC aircraft reported descending to 300 feet and finding no break in the weather. Aware of the inaccurate weather information originally provided to the CNAC planes, the Hong Kong control tower attempted to relay new accurate information to each aircraft. As the lead aircraft, Sundby’s plane had already commenced descent and was in the shadow of the mountains and unable to hear the Hong Kong tower. Sundby’s last radio transmissions were to XT-106 asking them to standby for his report and that he was attempting to lead them to a safe landing. XT-103 and XT-106 were later able to land safely in Hong Kong and were clearly saved by Sundby’s willingness to take his plane in first looking for a break in the weather.

Search parties later found the burning wreckage of XT-104 on a ridge on Basalt Island (an island in Mirs Bay in Hong Kong waters). Investigation of the wreckage showed that Sundby had reversed course on the Hong Kong approach when no break in the weather was found and was climbing back to safe altitude when the plane struck the ridge of the highest mountain on the island. The DC-4 struck the mountain at full power in a sharp left banking climb. Sundby was literally within 15 feet of clearing the mountain when the nose of the aircraft and tip of the wing struck the crest of the peak catapulting the plane over top of the mountain where it rolled down the opposing side and burst into flames. All on board were killed instantly.”

The crew:

Captain Charles Sundby.

F/O Co-Pilot: Jack Au (I found his first name in his burial records). Hong Kong Native. (at DOD age 24, Buried Chinese Christian Cemetery Pokfulam HK)

Flight Engineer: Frank Chang of Fukien Province China. Joined CNAC June 2, 1941. (at DOD age 32, buried N0. 7 cemetery Hong Kong)

Flight Operator: P.H. Kao of Chekiang Province China. Joined CNAC April 4, 1944.

Supernumery Crew: C.N. Ioh, No information other than killed.

Flight Stewardess: Miss S.M. Wong of Shanghai, China. Joined CNAC August 4, 1947.

Flight Stewardess: Miss H. Chu of Wenchou, China. Joined CNAC October 27, 1947. We are pretty sure this is Hilda Chu

Source: Provided by Tobias Brown, Hong Kong historian and archeologist, with reference to various sources obtained and released under the “Access to Information Act” from the Hong Kong SAR Government Public Records Office ( P.R.O.)
(Note: SAR is Special Administrative Region. This is the new title of Hong Kong since retrocession in 1997 i.e. HK is part of China but is self-governed. So the press etc will say “the SAR government today announced …..”

Click here (16 MB) for a detailed search and recovery report done in 2007 by David Pickerell.


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