Top 10 Missing Plane Mysteries

Top 10 Missing Plane Mysteries
Photo by Christoffer Engström on Unsplash

Over the years, even up till today, there have been countless of missing plane mysteries and reports. More often than not, their debris and wreckage are found, while some continue to remain an unsolved mystery.

Here is our take on the top 10 missing plane mysteries in the world:

1. Air France Flight 447 (AF447)

When: May 31, 2009

What Happened: Flight AF447, bound for Paris, France, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was flying over the Atlantic Ocean when it unwittingly plummeted into the ocean.

AF447 had a total of 216 passengers and 12 crew members on-board the Airbus A330. Around 3 hours and 6 minutes after its departure at 7.29 p.m. (BRT) from Rio de Janeiro airport, voice contact with the plane was lost. And at 10.49 p.m., the plane had already left Brazillian Atlantic radar.

There were thunderstorms along the Intertropical Convergence Zone where the then missing plane was flying through over the Atlantic. The plane’s pitot tubes were blocked by ice crystals, resulting in an inconsistency in airspeed readings and the autopilot disconnected. The cockpit crew subsequently mismanaged the situation which caused the plane to stall.

Alarms blared as things began to malfunction, and despite their desperate last-ditch attempts, there was nothing the pilots could do to save the plane from crashing.

Was It Found?

The first debris was found a few days after the incident, and gradually, more debris and 50 dead bodies were uncovered.

It took another 2 years for the majority of the missing plane’s wreckage, together with a large number of the dead victims’ bodies to be found. A total of 154 bodies were uncovered and the search ended with the remaining 74 bodies still not found.

The events that led to the missing plane back then was a puzzling mystery until the remains of the crash were found and most of the truth came to light.

2. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 (MH370)

Boeing 777-200ER
Photo by Aero Icarus on flickr

When: March 8, 2014

What Happened: Flight MH370 disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur over the Andaman Sea.

Flight MH370 is an international passenger flight which was scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER, holding 227 passengers from 13 nationalities and 12 crew members.

MH370 took off at 12.41 a.m. (MYT) as per normal. However, less than an hour after it departed, the aircrew failed to signal to the air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City when it was about to reach Vietnam’s air territory. Subsequently, at 1.22 a.m., contact and radar signal was lost.

The plane had deviated from its original flight route and headed west instead. It was last detected on military radar at 2.22 a.m, where the now missing plane was over the Andaman Sea, northwest of Penang Island. Satellite communications network showed that MH370 seemed to have continued on at least until 8.19 a.m, flying south of Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, the exact location couldn’t be determined.

There were no distress signals or any technical problems with the aircraft, nor was the weather bad.

The cause of its disappearance was never found and it was presumed that the missing plane had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

Was It Found?

The missing plane was never really found, despite the large international effort in the search-and-rescue operations. Some debris was found, in particular, on Reunion Island. The debris, which was the Boeing 777 flaperon, was confirmed to be part of MH370’s aircraft.

Unfortunately, the victims of Flight MH370 were never found and were all presumed to be dead.

3. Flight 19

Photo by Lt. Comdr. Horace Bristol, U.S. Navy on Wikimedia Commons

When: December 5, 1945

What Happened: A group of 5 TBM Avenger torpedo bombers disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle during their routine training flight exercise.

Flight 19 was the name of the training flight exercise led by an experienced pilot, Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor. They departed at 2.10 p.m. from the naval base in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with great weather.

The flight included them flying to Hens and Chicken Shoals to carry out bombing practice, and then continue towards Grand Bahama Island, before their course took them southwest back to their base. Incidentally, their flight path covered a triangular area over the ocean.

The bombing practice proceeded as planned. However, during the second leg of their flight, Taylor sent a message over the radio, saying that his compasses were malfunctioning. He also insisted that they were miles off course, in the Florida Keys. He then led Flight 19 in a few different directions before their fuel ran low. When nightfall came, they were not heard from again.

Was It Found?

The Navy sent flying boats to search for Flight 19. However, one of them suddenly vanished from the radar after following Flight 19’s lead. Investigators assumed that the flying boats had exploded in mid-air while searching for the missing planes.

The 14 members of Flight 19 and the 13 search crew were never found despite continued search efforts.

4. Indian Air Force An-32 (2016)

Photo by Dmitry Karpezo on Wikimedia Commons

When: July 22, 2016

What Happened: An Indian Air Force An-32 Aircraft went missing while flying over the Bay of Bengal.

The An-32 was a military transport aircraft, scheduled to fly from Tambaram Air Force Station in Chennai City, India to Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was supposed to be a routine trip to Port Blair.

The aircraft took off at 8.30 a.m. (IST). However, at 9.12 a.m., the aircraft disappeared from the radar and lost contact with the base while it was flying over the Bay of Bengal.

This incident eerily mirrors a similar case back in 1986 when the Indian Air Force’s An-32 transport aircraft also disappeared while over the Arabian Sea. Similarly, more recently on June 3, 2019, an aircraft of the same type as the missing plane disappeared 33 minutes after it took off from Jorhat Airport. One week later, the wreckage was finally found near Pari hills, with zero survivors.

Was It Found?

The missing plane was never found or recovered. All 29 occupants were presumed dead once the search was reluctantly called off by September 15, 2016.

5. Star Dust and “STENDEC”

Photo by San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives on Wikimedia Commons

When: August 2, 1947

What Happened: During a flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile, the British South American Airways Avro Lancastrian airliner vanished, leaving a final and strange morse code message, “STENDEC”.

The missing plane carried 6 passengers and 5 crew. It left Buenos Aires, Argentina at 1.46 p.m. The flight went on as scheduled with nothing out of place. At 5.41 p.m., the Santiago airport received a report that the aircraft was expected to arrive at 5.45 p.m.

However, the plane never landed. Over at Santiago, they received a final transmission from the aircraft — a morse code “S-T-E-N-D-E-C”. The radio operator requested clarification and “STENDEC” was repeated twice before they lost contact with the aircraft.

Even today, no one knew what “STENDEC” meant. There were many speculations and theories. Some suggested that it could be an anagram of “DESCENT”, some posited that the operator at Santiago had misheard.

Was It Found?

53 years later, in January 2000, the missing plane was found. Its wreckage was uncovered on Mount Tupungato, in the Andes Mountains, west of Argentina.

It was likely that the crew met with a jet stream which wasn’t well understood back then. The crew didn’t realise that they were being carried off course and crashed into the mountain while descending. The crash killed all on-board, burying the plane into snow and ice.

6. EgyptAir Flight 990 (MS990)

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Isaac D. Merriman, U.S. Navy. on Wikimedia Commons

When: October 31, 1999

What Happened: Flight 990 was a scheduled flight from Los Angeles, U.S., to Cairo, Egypt, with a stopover at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York City. It plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, south of Nantucket Island.

Flight 990 held 203 passengers from 7 countries and 14 crew. The Boeing 767 took off at 1.20 a.m. (EST) from JFK airport. However, at around 1.50 a.m., the plane started to dive steeply, its speed close to the speed of sound, exceeding what the Boeing 767 could withstand. The plane supposedly regained altitude, at a safer speed. Unfortunately, that was when things went wrong. The aircraft lost its electrical power and began its fatal plunge into the ocean, killing all 217 people on-board.

The final cause for the crash was still undetermined. EgyptAir concluded that it was a mechanical failure that resulted in the accident. However, the NTSB (U.S. National Transportation Saftey Board) believed that the co-pilot had deliberately caused the accident due to his control inputs.

Was It Found?

The missing plane’s wreckage was found in the next few days after the crash. The remains of the crash were found on the seabed and debris field.

7. Angola 727 Disappearance

Angola 727
Photo by Aero Icarus on flickr

When: May 25, 2003

What Happened: A Boeing 727-233 was stolen at Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Angola.

Before the incident, two men were allegedly on-board the Boeing 727 — American pilot and flight engineer, Ben C. Padilla and John M. Mutantu, his recently hired Congolese mechanic. They had been working on getting the aircraft flight-ready.

Around evening just before sunset, the Boeing 727 began to taxi without communication towards the control tower. It moved erratically and entered a runway without any clearance. The lights in the aircraft were off and contact with the plane also failed. However, neither men had the certification to fly a Boeing 727. The aircraft had taken off southwest, disappearing into the direction of the Atlantic Ocean.

Was It Found?

The missing plane and the two men had never been found. There was no debris found in the ocean as well.

8. BSAA Star Ariel Disappearance

When: January 17, 1949

What Happened: Star Ariel, an Avro Tudor Mark IVB passenger aircraft, vanished without a trace over the Atlantic Ocean while en route to Kingston, Jamaica, from Bermuda.

The Star Ariel was from the British South American Airways (BSAA) and during the incident, the plane carried 13 passengers and 7 crew. It departed at 8.41 a.m., with great weather conditions. Thus, the pilot decided to fly at a high altitude at around 5,486 metres The last contact Star Ariel had with Kingston was at 9.42 a.m.

The cause of its disappearance was unknown. The aircraft had been inspected and was good to go and the pilot was also experienced on the route. Communications with the aircraft had been great as well, though radio communications were poor during the flight.

Was It Found?

The missing plane remained unfound. The search went on until January 23, with no signs of any debris or wreckage of the aircraft.

9. Lady Be Good Aircraft

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

When: April 4, 1943

What Happened: The U.S.’s Air Force’s B-24D Liberator called Lady Be Good disappeared during its first combat mission after a bombing raid on Naples.

The Lady Be Good consisted of 9 crews who were new and it was their first mission. The plane was part of the last wave of planes to depart from Soluch Field at 2.15 p.m.

However, a sandstorm raged on during the operation. Lady Be Good persisted on, and by the time they reached Naples, visibility was poor. They also had to fly back to their base in Libya alone. At 12.12 a.m., pilot William Hatton radioed to ask for the location of the base because his automatic direction finder wasn’t operating correctly. The crew never received any reply and they overshot Soluch, going deeper into the Sahara desert.

At 2 a.m., the crew had to abandon Lady Be Good as it was low on fuel and thus, parachuted to the ground.

And they were never heard from again.

Was It Found?

Despite a search-and-rescue operation, it was only in 1958 that the missing plane was found in the desert on accident by an oil survey exploration team. And in 1960, the remains of all but one crew member were found; they were located at different parts of the desert.

10. Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

When: March 16, 1962

What Happened: The U.S. Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation vanished over the Western Pacific Ocean.

The Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 held 96 passengers (ranger-trained army specialists and Vietnamese military) and 11 crew. It was scheduled to fly from Travis Air Force Base, California to Saigon, Vietnam. At Guam, the plane stopped for a refuel and to be serviced.

The aircraft departed from Guam at 12.57 p.m. (GMT) towards the Philippines. At 2.22 p.m., the pilot radioed their position. Communications were also difficult due to the heavy radio static. They were expected to reach the base at 7.16 p.m.

However, they never made it.

Was It Found?

After searching for the missing plane for eight days, neither the plane or its occupants were found. The search was called off and everyone was presumed dead. The possibility of sabotage on the missing plane was brought up when investigations found that an explosion had taken place.

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