Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared over six weeks ago. The primary search instrument is damaged, and for now, the hunt for this airplane is on hold. Some of the searchers wonder if this airplane is in the wide area in which they are looking. Meantime, let’s review some of the more famous aircraft disappearances.
8 May 1927. Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli
Charles Nungesser, French flying ace with 43 aerial victories, and Francois Coli, his expert navigator, departed Le Borget airport, Paris, bound for New York City in their biplane dubbed L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird). Their goal was to be the first persons to complete a successful transatlantic flight. Sometime after they cleared the Irish coast, they disappeared somewhere in the North Atlantic. Researchers did not fine the bodies or wreckage of the aircraft. The fate of Nungesser and Coli has spawned a raft of conspiracy theories and is called the “Everest of aviation mysteries.”
L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird)
8 November 1935. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and his co-pilot John Thompson “Tommy” Pethybridge.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, the famous Australian aviator and his co-pilot John Thompson “Tommy” Pethybridge were attempting to break the England to Australia speed record in their Lockheed Altar dubbed the Lady Southern Cross. Currently that record was held by C. W. A. Scott and Tom Campbell Black. The pair disappeared on their leg from Allahabad, India, to Singapore, somewhere over the Andaman Sea. Searchers did not find wreckage or were bodies were recovered.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith
Sir Charles Kingsford Smih and the Lockheed Altair, Lady Southern Cross
2 July 1937. Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan.
During the summer of 1937, Amelia Earhart (famous aviatrix) and Fred Noonan (expert navigator) attempted to fly around the world in her Lockheed Electra model 10E. Her planned course was to track as close to the equator as possible. On 1st of June 1937 she departed the Oakland Airport. After numerous stops en route. she landed at Lae, New Guinea, on 29 June. Completing minor repairs, she departed Lae on 2 July, at 1000 hours, local time. Her goal was Howland Island, a spec in the Pacific, about 2,200 nautical miles east. She made several en route position reports. But on her approach to Howland, some 300 miles out, and for reasons we do not know, she became disoriented. She tried to communicate with the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, her guide ship stationed at Howland, but failed to get a bearing on this ship. No trace of the Electra or her or Noonan have been found. [For a more detailed story regarding Amelia Earhart please see my anthology titled (Aviators, Assassins, and Adventurers).]
Amelia Earhart and the Lockheed model 10E
29 July 1938 Pan American World Airways, Martin M-130 Flying Boat
Early in the morning of 29 July 1938, Pan American World Airways Martin M-140 flying Boat Hawaii Clipper lifted off from Apra Harbor, Guam, bound for Manila—about 1,400 nautical miles west and about a twelve-hour flight. Hawaii Clipper’s registration number was NC14714 and its call sign was KHAZB. On board were nine crew members and six passengers
Pan American World Airways, Martin M-130 Flying Boat
Every half-hour, William McCarty, the Flight Radio Operator and Navigator, transmitted to Manila and Guam a position report and weather conditions. His last report, at noon, was routine: altitude is 9,100 feet, ground speed is 112 knots, scattered rain, and cumulus clouds with tops at 9,200 feet. At the time, the Hawaii Clipper was about 680 nautical miles out from Manila. During the next several minutes, Eduardo Fernandez, radio operator at Radio Panay (Manila), tried to raise the Hawaii Clipper—to no avail. His numerous radio requests for information during the next ninety minutes to the aircraft went unanswered. At 13:30, Pan American officials in Manila declared the Hawaii Clipper missing and broadcasted the distress call on 121.5 mega-cycles to all stations. This distress call was repeated every five minutes for twenty-four hours. No trace of this flying boat has been found.
(To read more about this story please see my anthology titled Aviators, Adventurers, and Assassins.)
14 December 1944. Glenn Miller (famous big-band leader of the 1930s and 1940s)
Major Glenn Miller, USAAF
Major Glenn Miller boarded the Noorduyn UC-64 “Norseman” shortly before it departed from the Royal Air Force Base at Clapham, Bedforshire in the United Kingdom bound for Paris. Glenn Miller was to lead his Army Air Force band in concerts for soldiers.
The Norseman disappeared over the English Channel. No trance of Miller, the pilot, or the aircraft have been found. There are no tangible clues to this tragedy. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was one of the most famous of the big-bands. His signature tunes were: Moonlight Serenade, Chattanooga Choo Choo, String of Pearls, Pennsylvania 6-5000, Tuxedo Junction, In the Mood, and Elmer’s Tune
5 December 1945. Navy Flight 19
It was a bright, sunny day. At 1410 on 5 December 1945, five Grumman TBM Avengers, comprising Flight 19, departed Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale. Turning east, the formation headed out over the Atlantic on the first leg of a routine training exercise. The flight leader was a flight instructor and the other well-qualified pilots had between 350 to 400 hours flight time.
Grumman TBM Avengers
At 1545 hours the flight leader transmited, “Cannot see land,” he blurts. “We seem to be off course.” A few minutes later he said, “We cannot be sure where we are,” the flight leader announced. “Repeat: Cannot see land.” Shortly another aviator said, “We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean.” Later the tower operators heard, “It looks like we are entering white water. We’re completely lost.” For a few moments, the pilot rambles incoherently before uttering the last words ever heard from Flight 19.
Radio contact was lost before the exact problem was determined, and no traces of the planes were ever found in the Bermuda Triangle. Nothing from Flight 19 has been found.
Adding to the mystery of Flight 19, a Martin PBM seaplane with a 13-man crew was launched to search for the missing TBM aircraft. For reasons we do not know, it also disappeared and has no trace has been found.
23 November 1953. Northrop F-89C.
On the evening of November 23, 1953, operators at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan Air Defense Command Ground Intercept radar identified an unusual target near the Soo Locks. The Duty Officer ordered an F-89C Scorpion jet from Kinross Air Force Base scrambled to investigate this radar return. First Lieutenant Flex Eugene Moncla was the Scorpion pilot; Second Lieutenant Robert L. Wilson was the Scorpion’s radar operator.
Wilson had problems tracking the object on the Scorpion’s radar, so ground radar operators gave Moncla directions towards the object. Flying at 500 miles per hour, Moncla eventually closed on the object at an altitude about 8000 feet.
Northrop F-89C Scorpion
Ground Control tracked the Scorpion and the unidentified object as two “blips” on the radar screen. The two blips on the radar screen grew closer and closer, until they merge into one radar return. Assuming that Moncla had flown either under or over the target, Ground Control thought that the Scorpion and the object would again appear as two separate blips Rather, the single blip disappeared from the radar screen, then there was no return at all. Attempts were made to contact Moncla via radio, but this was unsuccessful. A search and rescue operation was quickly mounted, but failed to find a trace of the plane or the pilots.
Some wags claim that the Scorpion was captured by a Unknown Flying Object (UFO).
16 March 1962. Lockheed L-1049. Super Constellation. Flying Tiger Line, Charter Flight 739:
Lockheed L-1049. Super Constellation
This U.S. military flight departed Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, bound for Air Force Base, Clark Field in the Republic of the Philippines. On board were approximately 96 passengers and eleven crew members. Flight 739 disappeared over the Western Pacific without a trace. The pilots did not broadcast a distress radio call. If they used visual identification methods, such as flares or markers they were not seen. The U.S. Civil Aeronautics board ruled that it was “unable to determine the probable cause of the incident.” All 107 souls were declared missing and presumed dead.