Yesterday's Myths & Mysteries

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Other Mysterious Airplane Disappearances

If there’s one thing the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has taught us, it’s that even in this age of advanced technology and satellites and global cooperation (?), things can still go missing.

In fact, Sylvia Adcock over at CNN raises the possibility that Flight 370 may never be found.

But this isn’t the first time an airliner has been lost and potentially never seen again. Consider some of these other mysterious airplane disappearances, which to this day remain unsolved.

Amelia Earhart: While attempting to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, the famed pilot Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Model 10 Electra went missing over the central Pacific Ocean. No trace of her or the plane was ever found, and on January 5, 1939, she was declared legally dead. Theories about the disappearance range from a simple crash to Earhart faking her death and changing her identity. We may never know the truth.

Flight 19: In 1945, a group of American TBM Avenger torpedo bombers vanished over the Bermuda Triangle. They’d been on a simple training exercise out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but an hour and a half into the mission they became disoriented, their compasses stopped working, and they were never heard from again. Perhaps even more bizarre, the rescue aircraft sent to look for them was also lost, presumed to have exploded in mid-air during the search.

Flying Tiger Line Flight 739: On March 6, 1962, this aircraft was transporting 93 U.S. Soldiers and three South Vietnamese from California to Saigon. It made a short stop in Guam to refuel, but on its way to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, Flight 739 vanished, never to be seen again. Curiously, two other Flying Tiger Line aircraft had been destroyed on the very same day, leading some to believe sabotage may have been at work.

BSAA Star Dust: The British South American Airways Avro Lancastrian airliner Star Dust vanished on August 2, 1947. It was missing for 50 years until a couple rock climbers from Argentina found pieces of the wreckage in the Andes mountains in 1998. But there’s something even weirder about the disappearance of the Star Dust. It’s final transmission was to Santiago airport, where it was meant to land. Sent in Morse code, the message read “ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 HRS STENDEC,” repeated twice. No one, to this day, knows what “STENDEC” means, if anything.

Image: Google Maps

BSAA Star Tiger: Another BSAA aircraft, the Star Tiger, vanished on January 30, 1948 while flying in fiercely strong winds between Santa Maria and Bermuda. They flew low due to the weather, and followed another plane, an Avro Lancastrian, which scouted ahead to ensure a smooth path. The Star Tiger, however, found itself blown off course, forcing it to fly directly into a storm to reach Bermuda. All seemed well regardless, until The Lancastrian arrived at Bermuda alone, having never received any indication that the Star Tiger had been in trouble. No sign of the Star Tiger or its passengers was ever found.

BSAA Star Ariel: And finally, to round out the BSAA Star Trilogy, the Star Ariel also disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle on January 17, 1949, about a year after the disappearance of the Star Tiger. It had been flying from Bermuda to Kingston, Jamaica when it seemingly vanished. Weather conditions had been perfect, with no clouds in the sky, although there had been some communication disruptions in the area. Once again, no wreckage was ever found.

Glenn Miller and his UC-64 Norseman: On December 15, 1944, Glenn Miller left RAF Twinwood Farm in the United Kingdom on his way to Paris. While flying over the English Channel, the aircraft disappeared, and nothing of the flight, its crew, or the band leader was ever recovered. My guess is he’s probably performing Moonlight Serenade somewhere in the vicinity of the Twilight Zone.


Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.

One Comment

  1. To bump the thread after six years (!) … more-recent investigations done by historians from the University of Colorado’s Glenn Miller Archives have shed a lot of light on the bandleader’s tragic fate.

    The researchers found documents pointing to two factors that, individually or together, likely brought down the Norseman.

    First, the plane was equipped with a fuel system that was known to have icing problems in cold weather. The AAF had a program underway to replace the systems in all affected planes, but combat craft obviously had top priority. Small transports like a UC-64 were simply repaired in place and sent back out. In particular, the plane carrying Maj. Miller had a series of repair orders for repeated icing issues – why it wasn’t sidelined is unknown. In any case the air temperature at Twinwood airfield that day was barely above freezing and would have been lower over the Channel. Even absent the lower pressure in a carburetor ice crystals could have formed at any number of points in the fuel system.

    Second, while the plane’s pilot, Flight Officer John Stuart Morgan, had made the flight from Twinwood to France numerous times, he’d only done so in good weather. He wasn’t yet qualified to fly under adverse conditions and even if he had been, the Norseman carried only rudimentary instrumentation. The weather leading up to that fateful day had been some of the worst in recent memory, with heavy fog and low clouds. Although skies were clearing at Twinwood on the 15th incoming pilots reported adverse conditions were still present closer to the French coast. However F/O Morgan only landed long enough to pick up Maj. Miller and Col. Baessell, making it unlikely he would have been aware of those reports.

    What IS known is that the three officers took off successfully and that a coast spotter reported the plane overhead at a time and place consistent with its expected route. That report negates earlier speculations that the plane may have crashed before reaching the Channel, or that Morgan had taken a more northerly route and was hit by leftover ordnance dropped by returning RAF bombers.

    No one will ever know for certain, but given the temperature and looming weather, the most likely scenarios are that the fuel supply failed, F/O Morgan made one or more navigational errors, or a combination of both … and popular music lost the brightest star of the era.