10 of the Biggest Aviation Mysteries of All Time

by Ayushi Rastogi4 years ago

6Itavia flight 870, a passenger jet en route from Bologna to Italy, crashed on 27 June 1980. There are numerous theories about the crash. While some speculated that it was a terrorist bomb attack, others felt it was attacked by a missile. However, nothing has been proven.

McDonnell Douglas DC-9
Image credits: Piergiuliano Chesi/Wikipedia

Itavia flight 870, a passenger jet en route from Bologna to Italy, crashed on 27 June 1980. Later, the search team found the debris and dead bodies. All 81 people on board died. This was just the beginning. Multiple speculations arose while trying to find the cause behind this fatal event.

McDonnell Douglas DC-9
Remains of the plane. Image credits: Ghedolo/Wikipedia

Francesco Cossiga, the prime minister of Italy at that time, blamed a dogfight that involved Libyan, United States, French, and Italian Air Force fighters. Media in Italy claimed that this could be an assassination attempt to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was flying in the same airspace that evening.


Later, in 1994, a few people proposed that the crash was a terrorist attack followed by a series of bombings in Italy in the 1970s. The flight was delayed three hours before it took off. This time might have been used to set a bomb’s timer, causing an explosion.

However, the truth never came out. The court questioned the officers of the Italian Air Force under the charges of falsification of documents. Some claimed that they might be hiding the truth. Finally, Italy’s top criminal court issued a statement on 23 January 2013. The statement reported the flight was brought down by a missile. However, it did not mention the perpetrators. (1, 2)

7 Frederick Valentich was an Australian pilot who disappeared on a training flight on 21 October 1978. Before his disappearance, he informed the air controllers that an unidentified aircraft was following him. They told him that there was no known traffic at that level. Many believed that he was followed by a UFO, and it abducted him. Others said that Frederick staged his own disappearance.

Frederick Valentich
(left) A Cessna 182 similar to the aircraft involved. Image credits: Australian Department of Transportation/naa.gov.au via Wikipedia, Robert Frola/Flickr

Frederick Valentich was a 22-year-old Australian pilot. On the evening of Saturday, 21 October 1978, he informed air traffic controllers about a large, unknown aircraft. However, he failed to identify the aircraft. The authorities checked the radar but did not find any aircraft near Frederick.

He said the aircraft was above him and that it had a shiny metal surface and a green light on it. Finally, Frederick mentioned that “it’s not an aircraft.” Just after this, air traffic controllers heard some unidentified noise, and soon, they lost all contact.


Investigators discovered that Frederick informed the authorities that his final destination was King Island. However, he never informed King Island Airport of his intention to land. He acted against the standard procedures. Also, his motivation for the flight remains unknown. He told flight officials that he was going there to pick some friends, while he told others that he was going to pick up crayfish.

Various theories have been proposed to understand this incident. Some claimed that he staged his own disappearance. A few mentioned that he was attacked and captured by aliens. Another proposed explanation is that Frederick became disoriented and was flying upside down. No one knows the truth yet. (1, 2)

8 A Boeing 727 was stolen from an airport in Luanda, Angola, without clearance or a flight plan, on May 25, 2003. It is believed Ben Charles Padilla, an aviation engineer and pilot, was on the plane when it disappeared. However, Ben could not fly it as he had no experience. The mystery is still unsolved.

Boeing 727
Image credits: RuthAS/Wikimedia

A Boeing 727 was stolen from Quatro de Fevereiro Airport, Luanda, Angola on 25 May 2003. On that day, two men boarded the flight. One of them was Ben C. Padilla, an American pilot and flight engineer. The other, John M. Mutantu, was a hired mechanic from the Republic of the Congo.


They did not have the certification to fly a Boeing 727 plane. According to US authorities, Ben handled the controls, and he guided the plane to enter a runway without clearance. Airport authorities tried to contact the plane, but no response was received. Ben and John never came back home.

Benita Padilla-Kirkland, Ben’s sister, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper in 2004 that her family suspected that Ben was flying the aircraft. They feared that he subsequently crashed somewhere in Africa or was being held against his will.

The investigation team discovered the wreckage of a 727 plane in the Sahara Desert in West Africa in November 2009. It had 10 tons of cocaine. Nine jeeps with false number plates collected the cocaine, and the smugglers destroyed the plane. Many claimed that this was the same plane that was earlier stolen. However, no conclusive statement has been issued yet.

(1, 2)


9 A British airplane took off from Buenos Aires on a flight to Santiago, Chile, and vanished, apparently, just a few minutes before landing. The only clue it left was a puzzling message, “STENDEC,” which was transmitted three times from the plane. No one has been able to interpret the meaning of the word.

Stardust' BSAA (British South American Airways)
Image credits: San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives/Flickr

Star Dust, a British South American Flight, crashed in the Argentine Andes on 2 August 1947. The investigation team initiated an extensive search mission. However, they found nothing. The search team even looked for plane wreckage around the area of the crash site.

Authorities had only one clue. The last Morse code message sent by Star Dust was “ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 HRS STENDEC”. The airport radio operator heard “STENDEC” three times in succession before contact with the aircraft was lost.

A BBC television series, Horizon, presented an episode in 2000 on the Star Dust disappearance. They received hundreds of messages from viewers proposing explanations of “STENDEC.”

However, the show concluded that none of the explanations were enough to substantiate their claims behind the meaning of the word. The meaning of the word is still a mystery. and probably, the only source to find the truth. (1, 2)


10 An Indian Air Force aircraft lost contact with ground control on 3 June 2019. The search planes found wreckage almost after a week. All passengers died during the crash. While some felt that bad weather was the reason behind the crash, others blamed the government for using faulty planes. The truth never came out.

K2717 Antonov
Image credits: David/Aeroprints.com via Wikimedia

An Indian Air Force aircraft en route from Jorhat Airport in Assam to Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh lost contact with ground control about 33 minutes after takeoff on 3 June 2019. None of the 13 people on board survived. After one week, the search planes found the wreckage in Arunachal Pradesh at an elevation of 12,000 feet.

The search team recovered the aircraft’s flight recorders. According to air authorities, the plane entered the wrong valley due to an error caused, in part, by bad weather. Due to poor visibility, the crew failed to change their direction, leading to the crash.

However, some reports claimed that the Indian Air Force planes were old and faulty. The accident occurred due to a technical error because these planes were not fit to fly. The mystery has not been solved yet. (1, 2)

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