The disappearance of the MH370 flight in 2014 has become one of the greatest mysteries in aviation. Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777 jet took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014 and disappeared hours later while flying over the China Sea.
After months of unsuccessful searches, the Malaysian authorities ended their work. Only in 2015 was a flaperon found on a beach in Reunion Island, in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Africa, which later proved to be part of the 777 9M-MRO register. But to this day, it is not known for certain what happened to the widebody and the 239 people on board.
The MH370 flight, however, is not the only one to be a ‘ghost’ on a list of mysterious disappearances that have been perplexing for a long time. Here are some of those flights:
Lockheed Model 10 Electra – Amelia Earhart
When: July 2, 1937
Where: Pacific Ocean near Howland Islands
One of the greatest mysteries of aviation is occurred with aviator Amelia Earhart. The US pioneer was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, five years after Charles Lindbergh.
In 1937, while trying to go around the world in a Lockheed Electra, Earhart disappeared when she tried to approach the Howland Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, along with her navigator, Freed Noonan. With the sky overcast and apparently disoriented, the two occupants lost contact with a United States Coast Guard ship on the morning of July 2.
After several weeks of searching, in the largest operation of its kind to date, nothing was found. The mystery ended up generating several theories about the aviator’s whereabouts, from a landing on another island far from the destination to assumptions that she was shot down by the Japanese because she was considered a spy or even more surprising: that she survived the accident, changed her name and lived to the end of his life in New Jersey, in the United States.
US Air Force Boeing B-47E
When: March 10, 1956
The United States and the Soviet Union were at the height of the ‘Cold War’ in the 1950s. The increased friction between the two countries motivated several military exercises to show strength to the enemy. The Americans used their bombers on training missions taking off from the country and, after several aerial refuelings, flew over regions in Europe and North Africa.
On one of these flights, carried out with four B-47 bombers in March 1956, an event would remain unexplained until today. Flying over Morocco, in the last refueling stage, only three planes emerged from the clouds in order to connect with the KC-97, a US Air Force tanker.
The B-47E serial number 52-534 disappeared without showing any signs of problems. Most strikingly, the bomber was carrying two capsules with nuclear weapon material. Although detonation was impossible, the contents could be used in a weapon.
Some testimonies from locals described an explosion in the air, but no sign of the aircraft was found nor of the extremely dangerous contents it carried.
Flying Tigers Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation
When: March 16, 1962
Where: between the Guam Islands and the Philippines, in the Pacific Ocean
The United States was already involved in the Vietnam War when a Flying Tigers Line plane was hired to take 96 soldiers to Saigon, the country’s capital. The aircraft, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, took off from a base in California, made stopovers in Hawaii and the Guam Islands and should have landed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, before reaching its final destination.
After 1 hour and 20 minutes, the four-engine Constellation lost contact with the Guam radio around midnight even in clear weather and a calm sea. The next morning, the plane was reported missing. The US Navy then began the largest search ever conducted in the Pacific, covering an area of more than 500,000 square kilometers without, however, finding any trace of the plane.
The case ended up generating controversial theories. On the same day of the disappearance, another Flying Tigers Constellation, also on a military mission, crashed in the Aleutian Islands and caught fire, creating a precedent over alleged sabotage. A tanker sailing in the region reported seeing a bright glow on the horizon 90 minutes after takeoff. Despite this, no signs of wreckage were ever found.
Varig’s Boeing 707 freighter
When: January 30, 1979
Where: In the Pacific Ocean, about 200 km from Japan
Brazilian pilot Gilberto Araújo da Costa was an experienced Varig captain in 1973 when he suffered one of the most serious air accidents involving a Brazilian aircraft, the forced landing of a Boeing 707 near Paris Orly airport.
Costa was one of 11 survivors of Flight 820 between Rio and Paris, which was carrying 134 people and had a fire in the passenger cabin probably caused by a cigarette lit in one of the bathrooms.
Recovered from the tragedy, Costa continued his career in the airline until on January 30, 1979 he took off again on board a Boeing 707 freighter, from Tokyo’s Narita airport.
About half an hour after leaving Japan and en route to the United States, the jet disappeared in the cold winter night. On board, 153 paintings by the Brazilian artist Manabu Mabe, in addition to other common items. Traces of the plane have never been found, but theories have also emerged as the one that claims that the Soviets shot down the jet.
Another hypothesis considered at the time was that of a sudden depressurization, which would have caused the crew to faint and left the 707 adrift, flying to the end of the fuel and resting somewhere in the Pacific at the bottom of the sea.
End of mystery after 50 years
These planes remain in the minds of many people in the hope of one day finding something that can explain such a mystery.
That day may never happen, but there are cases that ended up being clarified much later, such as the British aircraft Avro Lancastrian whose disappearance in the Andes in South America was only explained 50 years after the accident, which occurred in 1947.
The aircraft was carrying 11 people from Buenos Aires to Santiago de Chile when it disappeared on August 2, 1947, just minutes before landing. Several searches in the Andes found no trace of the twin engine, which led to rumors that the disappearance had been on purpose – some spoke of a shipment of gold, others of escape from the Nazis.
But in 1998, Argentine climbers discovered parts of a Merlin engine, which equipped the plane. Two years later, a new expedition located other parts of the aircraft.
The fate of the flight had been interrupted due to bad weather, a cause more common than the theories imagined in the decades after the disappearance.