Saturday, October 20, 2012

Eastern Airlines Flight 401, Part Two

By Julie Rahm
     As you recall, last week I wrote about Eastern Airlines flight 401. Flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades when the autopilot was inadvertently bumped off. The pilots were troubleshooting a faulty “nose landing gear down” light bulb. They were distracted by the malfunction and didn’t notice the aircraft started a gradual rate of decent. There were no visual cues because it was night and they were circling over the Everglades. The airliner impacted the ground at 227 miles-per-hour. Surprisingly, of the 176 people on board, 73 survived the ordeal. The fifteen million dollar aircraft was destroyed. And it all began with two burned out light bulbs with a replacement value of twelve dollars. Ultimately, the landing gear was found to be in the down and locked position. The accident report cited the cause of the crash as pilot error, specifically: "the failure of the flight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final four minutes of flight and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground.”  Preoccupation with a malfunction of the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew's attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed." And, for Halloween, here’s the spooky part.
Over the following months, 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 flights. Parts of Flight 401 were salvaged after the crash investigation and refitted into other L-1011s. The reported hauntings were only seen on the planes that used the salvaged parts from Flight 401. 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. Regardless, the strange tales of the ghostly airmen of Flight 401 circulated in the airline community. The apparitions of Loft and Repo were described as extremely lifelike. Their ghosts were reported by people who had known Loft and Repo. And, the ghosts were also identified from photographs by people who had not known them. Many sightings came from people in highly responsible positions like pilots and flight officers. Even a vice president of Eastern Airlines allegedly spoke with a captain he assumed was in charge of the flight before recognizing him as the late Loft.
The sightings are convincing because most have multiple witnesses. A flight's captain and two flight attendants claim to have seen and spoken to Loft before take-off and watched him vanish - an experience that left them so shaken they cancelled the flight. While Eastern Airlines publicly denied some of their planes were haunted, they reportedly removed all the salvaged parts from their L-1011 fleet. Over time, the reporting of ghost sightings stopped. So, my point this week is that it is still a strange and mysterious world! Enjoy your Halloween!

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