It turns out that vanishing aeroplanes are not as rare as I imagined: apparently we lose an average of 1.2 planes per year. Often wreckage is discovered many years or even decades after the disappearances, as in the case of the Star Dust or perhaps even Amelia Earhart, but there are still plenty of unsolved aviation disappearances, including my chosen ten below.
This legendary explorer, who beat Scott to the South Pole in 1911 and led the first expedition to indisputably reach the North Pole, volunteered to assist in the rescue efforts to find an airship that had itself disappeared while surveying the North Pole in 1928. Unfortunately he and the crew were all lost when their plane disappeared, and although a couple of parts were found some time later, neither the wreckage nor bodies have ever been found, despite continuing searches.
The American Nurse
The first plane to cross the Pacific non-stop was called Miss Veedol and it achieved this record in 1931. Less than a year later, now called The American Nurse, it was being used for medical experiments to study the effects of long-distance flights. Last sighted by the SS France when over the Atlantic, 400 miles from its destination, the plane and its occupants were never seen again.
The Disappearing Crew of Blimp L-8
Submarine warfare was a genuine threat to the US during WW2, and a watch needed to be kept. Dirigibles were perfect for this task, and on 16th August 1942 L-8 and crew set out on patrol. After radioing that they were investigating an oil slick, no further contact was made. Later that morning L-8 drifted ashore and came to rest in Daly City. Emergency parachutes and life rafts were still aboard, as were confidential documents, but the crew had vanished and no trace of them was ever found.
Desperate to do something for the war effort but considered too old (at 38) to fight, Miller joined the Army anyway and travelled to entertain the troops. Flying from England to Paris, his plane disappeared without trace. Although friendly fire seems the most likely explanation, it’s also been suggested that Miller reached Paris and died in the arms of a prostitute, which was then covered up.
Probably Not the Bermuda Triangle
In 1948, a Douglas DC-3 flying from Puerto Rico to Miami with 29 passengers and 3 crew aboard vanished, and no wreckage was ever found. The pilot’s last transmission was that he was 50 miles south of Miami, though strangely this was not picked up by Miami and had to be relayed by New Orleans. Often claimed as a victim of the Bermuda Triangle, wreckage of a similar plane was spotted by divers exploring in that area, though it was not possible to definitely identify it.
In 1956, a Boeing B-47 Stratojet took off from its base in Florida to fly non-stop to Morocco. It refueled (in the air) for the first time on schedule, but as it descended through cloud to meet the tanker for its second refuelling it vanished without trace. No trace of wreckage or the three crew members was ever found, and neither was the cargo: two cases of nuclear weapons material.
En route from Lisbon to Madeira, a worrying final transmission of, “I am forced to land immediately” was made by the crew an hour into the flight before it disappeared without trace. Although it was broad daylight, there was nowhere for the crew to land apart from the Atlantic. 30 passengers and 6 crew were killed and no wreckage was ever found in the worst accident to befall this type of plane.
In 1972, two US congressmen were travelling on a fundraising trip in Alaska but disappeared between Juneau and Alaska. Both were re-elected in the vote later that year, as neither had yet been declared legally dead. One of the victims, Hale Boggs, was a dissenting member of the Warren commission who did not support the “single bullet” theory of JFK’s assassination. In 1979, Robert Ludlum wrote a novel in which Boggs was killed to stop his investigations into the assassination.
In 1979, a Boeing 707 cargo plane travelling from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro with six crew aboard vanished 30 minutes after takeoff. Despite no wreckage being found, the cause of the accident was concluded to be cabin depressurisation. The cargo included 153 paintings by Manabu Mabe, a Japanese-Brazilian artist, worth $1.24 million.
In May 2003, after being grounded for over a year and accruing $4million in unpaid airport fees, a Boeing 727 was stolen from Luanda airport in Angola. It just taxiied down the runway and took off, having turned off the transponder. Despite a worldwide search led by the CIA and FBI, the plane was never found, and the man believed to be the pilot was never seen again. His family believe he was kidnapped.