10 Earliest-known Flights that Vanished Without a Trace
The last time we heard an aircraft went missing was in 2014 when Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 disappeared during flight. But it was not the first time a plane went missing. Aviation history has numerous such examples where the entire plane and its passengers have gone off the radar and were never found again – no wreckage, no dead body, not even a single clue. Here is the list of ten earliest-known flights that vanished without a trace.
1 L’Oiseau Blanc – Disappeared on 8 May 1927
On 8 May 1927, the two Frenchmen boarded their plane, L’oiseau Blanc, with the intention of being the first to complete a non-stop, transatlantic flight. But they never made it to their destination.
On the morning of May 8, 1927, French flying ace, Charles Nungesser, and his navigator, François Coli, took off from Le Bourget Field in Paris in their Levasseur PL.8 airplane named L’Oiseau Blanc. The pair was hoping to complete the first successful non-stop, transatlantic flight between Paris and New York. This feat would have helped them achieve the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 reward. Their two-seat, open-cockpit biplane was painted white for easier recovery in a crash and was nicknamed “The White Bird.” It was 31 feet in length, constructed mostly of canvas and wood, and loaded with 3,800 liters of fuel, enough to keep it in the air for approximately 42 hours.
The intended flight path was a great circle route which would have taken them across the English Channel, over the southwestern part of England and Ireland, across the Atlantic to Newfoundland, then south over Nova Scotia to Boston. Then they planned to have a historic landing in the waters near the Statue of Liberty, the world’s most prominent symbol of Franco-American friendship. To cut weight on the 3,600-mile flight and to save fuel for flight, the two aviators were said to have jettisoned everything they didn’t need including a lifeboat, parachutes, radio, and even landing gear.
The flight time was estimated to be around 42 hours. Crowds of people gathered in New York to witness the historic arrival. After the expected time had passed with no word as to the aircraft’s fate, it was realized that the aircraft had been lost. An international search was launched to search the area between New York and Newfoundland for nine days, but joint search efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S., French, and Canadian navies turned up nothing. The disappearance of L’Oiseau Blanc is considered to be one of the great mysteries in the history of aviation.(1,2,3)
2 Cuatro Vientos – Disappeared on 20 Jun 1933
The aircraft Cuatro Vientos disappeared in 1933 en route from Havana, Cuba to Mexico City. The plane had just made a historic flight a few days earlier from Seville, Spain to Camagüey, Cuba.
The Cuatro Vientos was a specially built Br.19 TF Super Bidon. It made a historic 7,320-kilometer flight from Spain to Cuba in 1933 in 39 hours and 55 minutes. The three people on board the flight were Mariano Barberán y Tros de Ilarduya, Lieutenant Joaquín Collar Serra, and Sergeant Modesto Madariaga. It departed Seville on at 4:40 on 10 June 1933, and arrived in Camagüey at 20:45 (local time) on 11 June 1933.
Eighteen days after this flight, on 29 June 1933, the aircraft departed for Mexico City with only two people on board. Sergeant Modesto Madariaga stayed back. During the flight, the Cuatro Vientos, along with its passengers, suddenly disappeared. It was last sighted in the vicinity of Villahermosa, Mexico. No trace of the plane or of its two occupants was subsequently found.(1,2,3)
3 Lockheed Electra 10E Special – Disappeared on 2 July 1937
During an attempt to make a circumnavigation flight of the globe in 1937 in a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.
The disappearance of the Lockheed Electra 10E Special over the central Pacific Ocean on 2 July 1937 was a huge loss to the aviation field. On that day the world lost its foremost female aviation pioneer, Amelia Mary Earhart. She had set many records in the field of aviation along with being the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
While flying the Lockheed Electra 10E NR16020, Amelia was attempting an around-the-world flight. Amelia, along with another aviation pioneer, Fred Noonan, departed Miami on 1 June 1937. They made numerous stops in America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, and arrived at Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937. By then, they had completed 22,000 miles of the journey. Their plan was to cover the remaining 7,000 miles by flying over the Pacific. They took off from Lae Airfield on July 2, 1937, at midnight in the heavily loaded Electra. Their intended destination was Howland Island 2,556 miles away, but the aircraft disappeared during the flight. Earhart’s last known radio transmission from the Electra was on July 2, 1937, at 8:43 a.m. The circumstances under which the aircraft and its passenger disappeared is still a mystery.(1,2,3)
4 Hawaii Clipper– Disappeared on 28 July 1938
The transpacific luxury aircraft, Hawaii Clipper, disappeared on July 28, 1938, with six passengers and nine crew en route from Guam to Manila, leaving air experts baffled that the airliner could have sunk or vanish without a trace.
Built in 1935, the Hawaii Clipper was the epitome of luxury aircraft during its time. Its interior was designed to provide luxurious accommodations to passengers, similar to those found on ocean liners. Equipped with giant pontoons, this flying boat could take off and land on water. In July 1938, it was flying from California to Manila with intermediate stops at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, and Guam. There were nine crew members and six passengers. The passenger list included distinguished men such as Dr. Earl Baldwin McKinley, Dean of Medicine at George Washington University, and Dr. Fred C. Meier, a plant pathologist of the Department of Agriculture.
On 28 July 1938, the Hawaii Clipper departed Guam on the last leg of the westbound journey at 11:39 local time. Three hours and 27 minutes later, the last radio contact was made. At that time the aircraft reported it was flying 565 miles from the Philippine coast. Suddenly, the Hawaii Clipper disappeared over the Pacific. The disappearance launched one of the most intensive sea and air searches in Asiatic waters. During the search, an oil slick was found along the course of the lost aircraft, but tests indicated no connection with the aircraft.(1,2)
5 G-AAGX Hannibal – Disappeared on 1 March 1940
The aircraft G-AAGX Hannibal disappeared on 1 March 1940 over the Gulf of Oman while in the service of the RAF with eight passengers. No trace of the aircraft or the air mail it carried have been found.
Hannibal was a prototype of British four-engine biplane airliners. The aircraft was named after Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian military commander. It was lost over the Gulf of Oman while in RAF service.
At sunrise, on 1 March 1940, Imperial Airways Handley Page HP42E Hannibal departed from its eastern base at Karachi Drigh Road airfield bound for Egypt with eight people aboard. Some six hours later it departed from Jiwani after refueling. The last known location of the airplane was when it was crossing the Gulf of Oman. The loss of Hannibal is still a mystery as no crash site was identified and no debris was recovered.(1,2)
6 Liberator II AL504 Commando – Disappeared on 27 March 1945
On the 27th of March, 1945, Commando went missing over the Atlantic in the vicinity of the Azores while on a flight to Canada. The cause of its disappearance remains unknown to this day.
RAF Liberator AL504 was one of the best-known individual aircraft of WW II. Named Commando, the plane was assigned as a VIP transport. It had carried many high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Churchill.
On Monday 26 March 1945, Commando took off from RAF Northolt at 23:00 hours GMT to fly to Ottawa, Canada. Passengers on board the aircraft were Under-Secretary of State for Air, Rupert Brabner, and other dignitaries who were scheduled to attend a ceremony marking the closure of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. The flight was proceeding routinely when the last contact was made with RAF Transport Command at RAF Prestwick at 07:16 hours GMT on the morning of 27 March 1945. During the last contact, civilian Radio Officer Frederick Williams aboard the aircraft advised an estimated time of arrival of 08:10 hours at Lagens Field. There were no further signals.
When Commando failed to arrive at Lagens Field at the estimated time, emergency calls were made and air-sea searches initiated. Close to the flight path which Commando would have been following, aircrew of the searching RAF Coastal Command aircraft spotted some yellow dinghies, a small amount of wreckage, and an oil patch on the surface. It was considered probable that Commando had crashed at sea while approaching the Azores.(1,2)
7 Flight 19 – Disappeared on 5 December 1945
The disappearance of five Avenger torpedo bombers known as “Flight 19” during a training run out of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida lead to the beginning of “Bermuda Triangle” buzz.
Flight 19 was the designation of a group of five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers. On 5 December 1945, at 2:10 p.m., five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers along with 14 airmen took off from a Naval Air Station in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for a routine flight. They were scheduled to tackle a three-hour exercise known as “Navigation Problem Number One.” Their triangular flight plan called for them to head east from the Florida coast, then they would turn north and proceed over Grand Bahama Island before changing course a third time and flying southwest back to base.
Everything was going fine until the patrol turned north for the second leg of its journey. As the group turned north, the flight’s leader, Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor, became convinced that his Avenger’s compass was malfunctioning and that his planes had been flying in the wrong direction. Lieutenant Robert F. Cox, another Navy flight instructor, was the first to overhear the patrol’s radio communications. He immediately informed the Air Station. The situation became worse due to rain, wind, and heavy cloud cover. Over the radio, Taylor conveyed that they were confused about the direction and whereabouts. Around 6:20 p.m., Taylor’s last message was received.
At around 7:30 p.m., a pair of PBM Mariner flying boats took off to hunt for the missing patrol. One of them, a Martin PBM Mariner flying boat carrying 13 crewmen, suddenly vanished from the radar. The next day, the Navy dispatched more than 300 boats and aircraft to look for Flight 19 and the missing Mariner. But not even a single body or any debris was found, neither was there any wreckage or oil slick. All 14 airmen on Flight 19 were lost, as were all 13 crew members of a Martin PBM Mariner flying boat. The strange events of December 5, 1945, gave rise to the speculations around the “Bermuda Triangle.”(1,2)
8 BSAA Star Tiger – Disappeared on 30 Jan 1948
On 30 January 1948, a BSAA Avro Tudor IV plane disappeared without a trace over the Atlantic Ocean. Twenty-five passengers and a crew of six were on board but no bodies or wreckage were found.
Star Tiger was an Avro Tudor IV passenger aircraft owned and operated by British South American Airways (BSAA). The flight on which it disappeared was en route to Kingston, Jamaica from England. The aircraft landed on the island of Santa Maria in the Azores for refueling and some minor repairs were done. It took off from Santa Maria on January 29, 1948, at 3:34 p.m. to make the 12-hour journey between Santa Maria and Bermuda.
As was common practice in transatlantic flights at the time, the Star Tiger followed another plane, a Lancastrian. The Lancastrian was being flown by Frank Griffin 200 miles ahead. Ten hours into the flight, Star Tiger received bad news from Griffin. Unforecasted south-westerlies blew the Lancastrian 60 miles north of its intended track. By then, Star Tiger had also gone off course. At 3:00 a.m., Captain Griffin called Star Tiger to say that he was switching to voice telephony to contact Bermuda Approach Control. At 3:15 a.m., Radio Officer Robert Tuck aboard Star Tiger requested a radio bearing from Bermuda. The Bermuda operator transmitted this information, and Tuck acknowledged receipt at 3:17. This was the last communication with the aircraft.
At 4:11 a.m., Captain Griffin landed at Hamilton. Controllers at Kindley Field called the Star Tiger at 3:50 a.m., but there was no reply. They tried again 15 minutes later and still nothing. When there was still no response at 4:40 a.m., an emergency was declared. A rescue operation was organized by the USAF personnel that lasted five days, but no signs of the Star Tiger or her 31 passengers and crew were ever found.(1,2)
9 Airborne Transport DC-3 (DST) – Disappeared on 28 Dec 1948
The Douglas DST airliner was carrying 29 passengers and three crew members from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami, Florida, but near the end of the flight, the airplane suddenly disappeared.
The disappearance of a Douglas DST airliner, registered as NC16002, occurred during the last leg of its journey from San Juan to Miami. Captained by pilot Robert Linquist, the flight took off at 11:03 p.m. on 27 December 1948. Before take off, it was known that there were some problems in the electrical systems of the aircraft. The batteries were also nearly discharged so the radio could not transmit. It was decided that the plane would stay close to San Juan until the batteries were recharged enough for a two-way contact. Takeoff clearance was given under the condition that the crew contacted San Juan Tower after take off to file an IFR flight plan. At 11:23 p.m., Linquist radioed that they were at 8,300 feet and had an ETA of 04:03.
At 4:13 a.m., on 28 December 1948, Linquist reported he was 50 miles south of Miami. Nothing more was heard from Linquist and the aircraft has never been found. In subsequent years, researchers have included the flight among others said to have disappeared in what came to be termed the “Bermuda Triangle.”(1,2)
10 BSAA Star Ariel – Disappeared on 17 Jan 1949
Exactly one hour after departure from Bermuda on 17 January 1949, the pilot of the Star Ariel sent a routine communication of his position. But then the plane vanished without a trace at 18,000 feet.
On 17 January 1949, Star Ariel took off at 8:41 a.m. with seven crew and 13 passengers. Weather conditions were excellent. So, the pilot, Captain John Clutha McPhee, decided on a high-altitude flight to take advantage of it. About an hour into the flight, McPhee contacted Kingston by radio. The next message came at 9:42 a.m. After that, no more messages were received from Star Ariel. When Kingston reported Star Ariel was overdue, a search was launched which went until 22 January. But no sign of debris, oil slicks, or wreckage was found.(1,2)
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