5 creepy aviation mysteries

2014-03-12 08:38

Malaysia mystery: a pilot's perspective on missing plane

2014-03-11 10:28

Captain Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who managed to execute an emergency water landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan in 2009, shares his thoughts on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.WATCH

An airplane disappearing mid-flight, just vanishing, like it seems Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 did over the weekend – that’s pretty chilling stuff.

A massive search, involving some 40 ships and 20 aircraft from 10 different countries, and civilian volunteers scanning satellite images across the globe, has entered its fifth day and still no sign of wreckage.  

The disappearance has left authorities baffled, families distraught and frustrated and conspiracy theorists spinning colourful webs of speculation, however, it’s not the first time an aircraft has simply vanished.

We take a look at five aviation incidents that still haven’t been solved.  

Amelia Earheart

The beautiful and brave pilot earned her aviation stripes when she became the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight in 1928 at the age of 30.

She soon became known as the ‘Queen of the Air’ and, nine years later, took off on her next adventure: a circumnavigation of the globe in a twin-engine Electra monoplane.  

On July 2nd 1937, almost exactly a month after taking off on the journey, Earheart’s plane went missing near Holwand Island in the Pacific Ocean.  

No trace of her plane was ever found even after a multi-million dollar search effort, and Earhart was officially declared dead in 1939.  


Theories: Some say she simply ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, others believe the plane crashed into a Japanese island, stranding Earheart, who eventually died. And then, of course, there’s the theory that she survived the whole ordeal, changed her name and moved to New Jersey.    

Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

Chartered by the US military in 1962, the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation propliner carrying 93 Army men and 3 South Vietnamese disappeared over the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Guam and Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

The airliner's disappearance prompted one of the largest air and sea searches in the history of the Pacific.

Aircraft and surface ships from four branches of the US military searched more than 520 000 km2 during the course of eight days.

A civilian tanker claimed to have observed an intense illumination in the sky round about the time of the flight, which had many believing that an in-flight explosion had occurred.

However, no debris was ever found and the US Civil Aeronautics board ruled it was “unable to determine the probable cause of the incident.”

Theories: Two Flying Tiger Line aircraft carrying military aid to South Vietnam were destroyed under similar circumstances on the same day, leading to "wild guesses" of sabotage and conspiracy by both airline officials and the media.

This, along with the tanker’s strange observation, led many to believe that the plane had exploded mid-air due to a ‘violent cause,’ as it was considered impossible for explosions to occur on the Super-Constellation in the course of normal operation.

Flight 19 and the Bermuda Triangle

On the afternoon of 5 December 1945 no less than five Navy Avenger planes, as well as a rescue aircraft disappeared off the coast of Fort Lauderdale in Florida during a training mission.  

Alarm bells started ringing when, about 90 minutes into the mission, pilots reported disorientation, inability to identify landmarks, deteriorating weather conditions and berserk compasses.  

Air Station controllers finally lost contact with the training mission and a PBM Mariner sea plane was sent out to search for them. All six aircraft disappeared without a trace and their 27 crew members were presumed dead.

The coast guard and navy combed 700 000 square kilometres of sea for five days but found no wreckage or even any sign of oil on the surface. The final report by the Navy Board of Investigation was inconclusive.  

Theories: The fact that the disappearance occurred in the so-called Bermuda Triangle, which covers an area of the ocean where the phenomenon of compass variation is particularly powerful, fuelled the sense that some mysterious force was at work.

However, a more reasonable explanation for the strange event, suggests that they had ditched into the ocean, hoping to be discovered by a rescue vessel.  


The Star Tiger disappears in the Bermuda Triangle

The British South American Airways flight en route from Santa Maria in the Azores to Bermuda went missing on 30 January 1948.  It had 25 passengers on board and took off despite relatively strong winds.

It was, however, 10 hours into the 12 hour flight that it became clear that they had been blown off course and were crabbing away from Bermuda.  

Approach control received their last message from the Star Tiger at about 03:17 in the morning and when nothing had been heard from or seen of the plane by 04:40 they declared a state of emergency. No distress call was ever sent.  

The USAF launched a rescue effort that lasted for 5 days despite worsening weather. Twenty-six aircraft flew 882 hours in total and surface craft also conducted a search, but no signs of Star Tiger or her 31 passengers and crew were ever found.

Theories: To avoid the worst of the strong winds, the plane had cruised at an extremely low altitude of 2 000 feet, compared to the usual 20 000 feet.

Some think that the crew might have forgotten this little detail and simply flew the aircraft into the sea during the descent phase. The crew may have been fatigued after the long flight, and contemporary altimeters were prone to misreading of the thousand-foot level.  

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

(Crash site memorial. Wikipedia)

Probably one of the most famous air disasters ever, a chartered flight carrying 45 passengers (including a rugby union from Montevideo) disappeared while flying over the Andes mountains in bad weather on 13 October 1972.  

Despite a search involving three countries, no sign of the plane was found and all efforts were called off after eight days. In the mean time, of the 45 people on board 16 had actually survived and had tried to attract attention in various ways – even writing SOS message in bright shades of lipstick found in the luggage.

They even managed to revive a small transistor radio, via which they heard the news that the search for their aircraft had been cancelled. Left no other choice, the survivors resorted to cannibalism, feeding on the corpses of their dead friends.

They were not found until 72 days after the crash, when two passengers made a ten-day trek across mountainous terrain, eventually finding a Chilean travelling salesman who gave them food and alerted authorities. Their story was immortalised in the 1993 film, Alive. 

It has since come to be known as 'The Miracle of the Andes.'

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