Haunted houses and campfire ghost stories are for children. If you want to scare the pants off a seasoned flyer who has passed through the gates of Newark Liberty International Airport, survived the food court at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol or battled TSA at SFO, it will require a very special breed of hair-raising horror, like these chilling tales of mystery and terror at 30,000 feet.
WARNING: Those who have a heart condition or may be pregnant should read no further.
The Ghosts of Eastern Airlines Flight 401
As proven by “Large Marge” of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure fame, there is simply nothing more terrifying than learning that the person you just met actually died years earlier. This terror is only compounded when the ghostly encounter occurs on a passenger plane thousands of feet above the ground.
Accident investigators blamed a combination of design flaws and pilot error for the crash of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 in the Florida Everglades. Captain Bob Loft and First Officer Don Repo were among the 101 passengers and crew members who died when the Lockheed Tristar jet plunged into the swamplands on December 29, 1972.
It wasn’t until spare parts salvaged from the wreckage were reportedly used as replacement parts in other Eastern planes that the ghosts of Loft and Repo began visiting cabins and flight decks. Passengers and crew members reported more than 20 instances of the pair visiting flights in progress, always describing them as “extremely lifelike.”
Rumor has it that because the visits from Loft and Repo were so common and often resulted in cancelled flights, airline officials eventually ordered every trace of Flight 401 removed from planes in the fleet.
The Astronaut Who Returned For One Last Joy Ride
Astronaut and test pilot Donald “Deke” Slayton — one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts profiled in the book and film The Right Stuff — is even more impressive as a man than as a ghost, but the well-document events that occurred hours after his death in 1993 may be a case of the absolute coolest haunting in history.
On the morning of June 13, 1993, a very distinct experimental racing aircraft triggered the noise monitors at John Wayne Airport (SNA). The unique plane was quickly traced back to its famous owner and a letter was dispatched warning Slayton that he had violated a strict noise curfew at the Orange County airport.
When the official letter arrived at Slayton’s home, the task was left to the astronaut’s widow to explain to authorities that not only had her husband recently succumb to brain tumor, dying just five hours before the noise violation was said to occur, his one of a kind plane had been donated as a museum exhibit months earlier.
The “Man With a Briefcase” Haunting Heathrow
Paranormal experts say that London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is unique not only in the fact that the airport and its grounds are haunted by more than one ghost, but also in the fact that the spirits appear to be the ghosts of men who died centuries apart.
It’s no wonder that infamous highwayman and murderer Dick Turpin haunts LHR. Turpin, who was executed for horse theft in 1739, has been spotted haunting his old stomping grounds for centuries, long before the invention of manned flight. The reasons the “man with a briefcase” haunts the busy international airport, however, may have everything to do with the advent of modern air travel.
The “man with a briefcase” was first sighted following a fiery plane crash on an LHR runway in 1948. There were no survivors among the plane’s passengers, but rescue workers who responded to the crash said that while they were pulling victims from the wreckage, a man appeared out of the fog. The man reportedly asked them about the whereabouts of his briefcase, then simply faded away.
There have been numerous sightings of the “man with a briefcase” since the crash, usually wandering the runway where he last saw his briefcase, and he’s always spotted wearing the same dark suit. Perhaps more chilling, the “man with a briefcase” has also been seen inside LHR, sometimes with his briefcase and sometimes still searching. The ghostly figure is even said to haunt lounges near the gates where he quietly waits for his final connecting flight to arrive.
The Ghost Plane of the Sahara Desert
The tale of the Lady Be Good, has all of the elements of a truly terrifying ghost story — a bomber that disappears without a trace; wreckage discovered years later, hundreds of miles off course; no trace of the crew.
The Lady Be Good simply vanished over the Mediterranean Sea on April 4, 1943, while flying its first combat mission during World War II. More than a decade later, in 1958, an oil exploration team from British Petroleum surveying the Libyan desert found the wreckage of the B-24 liberator, several hundred miles off its planned course.
The mystery of the Lady Be Good was still far from solved. Despite wreckage strewn for hundreds of yards in every direction, there was no sign of the nine crew members who went down with the plane.
Soon after salvaged parts from the Lady Be Good were used in other military planes, a more pressing mystery arose. Several of the planes with parts recycled from the wreckage began to meet similar fates as the Lady Be Good. In one case, after a U.S. Army “Otter” aircraft disappeared in the Gulf of Sidra with 10 men onboard, it is rumored that an armrest borrowed from the Lady Be Good was the only part of the Otter ever to be recovered.
Eventually the bodies of all but one of the crew members of the Lady Be Good were recovered miles from the wreckage, leading to speculation that at least some of the crew survived and were making their way to civilization, but ultimately fell victim to the harsh elements.
The Mysterious Incident With a Simple Explanation
Mysteries are sometimes labeled as “paranormal” when science and reason can’t explain events as they happened, but sometimes, the most mysterious and terrifying incidents have an all too simple explanation.
The case of British Airways Flight 009 reads more like a ghost story than most ghost stories. The Boeing 747 was flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) to Perth Airport (PER) on June 24, 1982, when the pilots were suddenly faced with near-zero visibility. An ominous sulfur odor and smoke filled the cabin as inexplicable lights flashed outside the aircraft. Moments later, all four jet engines began shooting flames.
As the plane began an unplanned descent towards earth the captain calmly made a terrifying announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get it under control. I trust you are not in too much distress.”
Every attempt to restart the engines failed. Just when all hope seemed lost, a mere 13,000 feet above the ocean the crew was able to restart the engines and began to ascend to a safer cruising altitude, but as the plane reached altitude, the eerie phenomena reoccured and the engine loss was repeated. Again the crew managed to restart the engines just in the nick-of-time. This time the captain wisely decided to head to nearby Soekarno–Hatta International Airport (CGK) at the lowest altitude possible. The plane landed safely at CGK but, unable to see out of the windshield, the pilot could not taxi off the runway.
It was several days before investigators were able to offer an explanation for the surreal incident. The flight, known as Speedbird 9, had entered the ash cloud of the Mount Galunggung volcano that had erupted 93 miles away from the plane’s flight path.
[Photos: Anomalien; NASA; iStock; U.S. Air Force; NOAA]