Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Ghosts of Flight 401

On December 29, 1972, at 11:42pm, Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 and its 163 passengers crashed in the Everglades. It was the first crash of a wide-body aircraft and at the time, was the second deadliest single-aircraft disaster in the nation.

A landing gear indicator light had blown in the cockpit, and the crew busied themselves with the problem. In so doing, they failed to notice they were allowing the plane to go into a gradual descent. In the darkness of the night and without visual reference over the swamp, they realized their error far too late, as the black box cockpit recording reveals the Captain saying, "Hey! What's happening here?" just seconds before impact.

In the aftermath of the disaster, spare parts salvaged from Flight 401's crashed Lockheed L-1011 were used on other planes. According to some sources, Eastern Air Lines employees on those flights using 401's spare parts began seeing ghosts of the dead Captain Loft and his flight engineer Don Repo.

The ghosts of Loft and Repo seem to have an unusual fixation on galley ovens. In one anecdote, a flight attendant observed the ghost of Repo fixing a galley oven; Another attendant claims to have seen Repo's face looking out at her from inside the oven on board Tri-Star 318. She ran to get two colleagues to see the apparition, and they saw it too. One of them, so the story is told, had been a friend of Repo's and recognized him immediately. All three say Repo's head in the oven spoke, and warned them, "Watch out for fire on this airplane."

One of the vice-presidents of Eastern Airlines even claimed he sat next to Captain Loft's ghost on a plane, and that the ghost then vanished right before his eyes.

John G. Fuller, in his 1976 book The Ghost of Flight 401, collected and compiled these anecdotes. Eastern Air Lines CEO Frank Borman was not happy about the ghost stories and decried them as "garbage". For a time, he considered suing Fuller and his publisher for libel, but decided in the end that would only provide further publicity for the book. He was no doubt even less thrilled when the book become a made-for-television movie in 1978.

The Flight Safety Foundation, on the other hand, seemed to take the matter very seriously, and commented on the phenomena: "The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant."

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