The Ghost of Flight 401

Perhaps the spookiest aeronautical tale ever told...

Eastern Air Lines Flight 401, operated by a four-month-old Lockheed L-1011-1 Tristar (the tenth example delivered to the carrier) carrying 163 passengers and 13 crew members, left New York's JFK Airport on Friday, December 29, 1972 at 9:20 p.m., en route to Miami International Airport. The flight was under the command of captain Robert 'Bob' Loft, 55, a veteran Eastern Air Lines pilot ranked 50th in seniority at Eastern. His flight crew included first officer Albert Stockstill, 39, and second officer (flight engineer) Donald 'Don' Repo, 51. A company employee—technical officer, Angelo Donadeo, 47, returning to Miami from an assignment in New York—accompanied the flight crew for the journey.

The flight was routine until 11:32 p.m., when the flight began its approach into Miami International Airport. After lowering the gear, first officer Stockstill noticed that the landing gear indicator, a green light identifying that the nose gear is properly locked in the "down" position, did not illuminate. This was discovered to be due to a burned-out light bulb. The landing gear could have been manually lowered either way. The pilots cycled the landing gear but still failed to get the confirmation light.

Loft, who was working the radio during this leg of the flight, told the tower that they would abort their landing and asked for instructions to circle the airport. The tower cleared the flight to pull out of its descent, climb to two thousand feet, and then fly west over the darkness of the Everglades.



The cockpit crew removed the light assembly and second officer Repo was dispatched into the avionics bay beneath the flight deck to check visually if the gear was down through a small viewing window. Fifty seconds after reaching their assigned altitude, captain Loft instructed first officer Stockstill to put the L-1011 on autopilot. For the next eighty seconds, the plane maintained level flight. Then, it dropped one hundred feet (30 m), and then again flew level for two more minutes, after which it began a descent so gradual it could not be perceived by the crew. In the next seventy seconds, the plane lost only 250 feet (76 m), but this was enough to trigger the altitude warning C-chord chime located under the engineer's workstation. The engineer (second officer Repo) had gone below, and there was no indication by the pilot's voices recorded on the CVR that they heard the chime. In another fifty seconds, the plane was at half its assigned altitude.

As Stockstill started another turn, onto 180 degrees, he noticed the discrepancy. The following conversation was recovered from the flight voice recorder later:
Stockstill: We did something to the altitude.
Loft: What?
Stockstill: We're still at 2,000 feet, right?
Loft: Hey—what's happening here?

The jetliner crashed at 25°51′53″N 80°35′43″W25.86472°N 80.59528°W
The location was west-northwest of Miami, 18.7 miles (30.1 km) from the end of runway Nine Left (9L). The plane was traveling at 227 miles per hour when it flew into the ground. The left wingtip hit first, then the left engine and the left landing gear, making three trails through the sawgrass, each five feet wide and more than 100 feet (30 m) long. When the main part of the fuselage hit the ground, it continued to move through the grass and water, breaking up as it went.



In all, 77 had lived through the ordeal—69 of the 163 passengers and 8 of the 10 flight attendants survived the crash, with 99 initial fatalities. Of the cockpit crew, only Flight Engineer Repo survived the initial crash, along with technical officer Donadeo who was down in the nose electronics bay with Repo at the moment of impact. Stockstill was killed on impact, while Captain Loft died in the wreckage of the flightdeck before he could be transported to a hospital. Repo was evacuated to a hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries. Angelo Donadeo, the lone survivor of the four flightdeck occupants, eventually recovered from his injuries and died on October 4, 2004.



Over the following months and years, employees of Eastern Air Lines began reporting sightings of the dead crew members, captain Robert Loft and second officer (flight engineer) Donald Repo, sitting on board other L-1011 (N318EA) flights. The aircrafts involved in the sightings were discovered to have been serviced using the recovered parts of Flight 401. These parts were salvaged after the crash investigation and refitted into other L-1011s.

The reported hauntings were only seen on the planes that used the spare parts. (Even though some parts were salvaged and re-used to maintain other airplanes in Eastern's fleet, the accident resulted in the total hull loss of N310EA and it was written off.) Sightings of the spirits of Don Repo and Bob Loft spread throughout Eastern Air Lines to the point where Eastern's management warned employees that they could face dismissal if caught spreading ghost stories. While Eastern Airlines publicly denied some of their planes were haunted, they reportedly removed all the salvaged parts from their L-1011 fleet.

Once the original parts belonging to Flight 401 were removed, the ghostly crew members were never seen again...

 

 


3 comments


  • Scott Taylor

    Wasn’t delta 191 a Tristar?


  • R

    Could you make the text black on color. Super hard to read.


  • Craig Carpenter

    Wasn’t there a movie made regarding this topic? I remember one line from the movie being, “there will never be another crash of an L-1011”. And there wasn’t.


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