Transocean Air Lines 1946 - 1960
Flying "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime"
1,350 passengers in a DC-4?
Sounds impossible until you realize that it was rhesus monkeys. On the
return trip to the United States that completed the chick mission, Transocean
carried back 774 Rhesus monkeys for use in medical experiments.
In 1955, Eli-Lilly was involved in the production of the Salk polio vaccine and
was using the kidney tissue of these animals as a culture medium in the
manufacture of life-saving polio serum. They were tarsiers, the smallest of
all primates and indigenous to the Philippines. These monkeys are
nocturnal, goggle-eyed tree climbers. Exporting them from India in large
numbers was done so extensively that the population was threatened, and
shipping them out of the country is now prohibited.
Among other animals, monkeys are sacred symbols to the Hindus, so the
Indian government expected Transocean Air Lines to spirit them out of the
country secretly, in the middle of the night. The plane were scheduled to
depart at 4 in the morning but a mechanical delay prevented the cages from
being loaded until after the aircraft had been test-flown. By that time there
was enough daylight to take pictures as the little creatures were placed
Even though special venturi tubes had been installed down each side of the cabin for added
ventilation, the sickening putrid stench emanating from the cages was overwhelming. Urine and
feces collected in trays beneath their cages and there was no way to dispose of it. Accustomed to
a hot, humid environment, these small animals were subject to pneumonia when flown to
altitudes where temperature and humidity were low, and could die within hours. As many as half
a dozen expired during each trip.
The chore of feeding and watering the animals en route fell to a monkey handler who also had
the unpleasant task of disposing of their carcasses when they died. With the help of some of the
crew, the main cabin door could be pried open against the slip stream while in flight, and their
bodies shoved out. The crew laughingly speculated that a future anthropologist might some day
startle the world with the announcement that rhesus monkeys had once inhabited Saudi Arabia.
Several of the tiny animals escaped their ultimate fate at Eli-Lilly when ground crews along our
route asked for and were given a monkey as a pet. One of the airline's captains took a fancy to the
pet idea. Before landing in Indianapolis, he stashed one away in his flight case, but instead of
being sent home, his aircraft was diverted to Miami, Florida, for 2 days. What to do with the
monkey? He smuggled the little fellow into his room at the exclusive Fontainebleau Hotel out on
Miami's "strip", where he allowed the monkey free run of his room. But when the time came to
check out, his entire crew could not catch the little critter. The hotel manager finally had to be
notified and the fire department called in. The captain? The police investigated, and a local judge
fined him $100 for littering.
Back home, the crews’ foul-smelling clothing, thoroughly impregnated after 3 days and nights in
“monkeyland”, had to be thrown away. No amount of washing seemed to be able to rid the
garments of the putrid smell. Even so, a faint, but persistent, monkey odor continued to plague
the crew until it was finally discovered it was coming from their shoes. These they also had to
*Taken from the account of Ralph Lewis, By Dead Reckoning
(Above) Monkeys are loaded aboard in New Delhi, India, on the morning of June 23, 1955, With
no way to circulate the air inside the aircraft while loading, hatches on both sides of the cabin were
opened for ventilation. The overwhelming stench from the animal cages was indescribable.