Nothing says "fear of flying" like a good aviation-related ghost story. So, in time for Halloween, we present a few haunting tales for your reading pleasure.
First up: It makes sense that the United States’ largest international airport is home to both ghosts and outsize conspiracy theories. At least one Web site claims that Denver International (pictured during a lightning storm) is built atop Native American burial grounds. The rumor may have started, says the site, when the airport’s public art program began playing Native American chants on a continuous audio loop near the pedestrian bridge linking Concourse A and the Jeppesen Terminal building. To be safe, in April 1995, Native American spiritual leaders performed a night-time ceremony to put any ancient spirits to rest. (Read the 1995 story in the alternative weekly newspaper Denver Westword here.)
Laura Coale, the director of media relations at Denver International, confirms that blessings were done at the site, but notes that archaeologists surveyed the area before airport construction began, and found no traces of any burial grounds.
Other reasons for the spooky vibe at DIA include the 32-foot-tall sculpture “Mustang,” by artist Luis Jimenez (who was killed while working on the sculpture), which inspired 200 “protest haiku” to be delivered to the Denver mayor’s office (Sample: Because of this thing / People think they are in hell / instead of Denver). The airport's underground tunnels, originally meant for a computerized baggage system, also are believed by some to be secret bunkers built for the 2012 apocalypse, or a place to warehouse space aliens. Then there are the airport's “scary” murals depicting the destruction of the environment and the horrors of war, and a Masonic plaque (under which a time capsule is buried) bearing the words “New World Airport Commission.”
The ghost of a World War II Royal Australian Air Force airman (dressed in uniform, goggles and cap, and carrying a deployed parachute under his arm) is said to haunt Archerfield Airport in Queensland, Australia. The Southern Star reported in 2009 that the ghost “is that of a man who was on board a Royal Australian Air Force transport plane, which took off from Archerfield just after 5 a.m. on March 27, 1943, on a mission to Sydney to pick up radar equipment. Less than a minute later, the C-47 Dakota rolled on to its left side and plummeted to the ground, smashing into trees and exploding in swampland…. All 23 Australian and US military servicemen and women on board died.”
The crash did actually happen, and there is a memorial plaque at the airport dedicated to the 36 Transport Squadron.
Another possible reason for the ghost story, says Archerfield Airport General Manager Corrie Metz, “may have something to do with the fact that the airport was first acquired from a pioneer who started a family burial plot that turned into a small cemetery called ‘God’s Acre.’ The cemetery (in the bottom right corner of the photo) is on airport land, and is still being maintained by the airport. It was originally for the Grenier family, who buried their 16-year-old son, Volney, after he died in a horse riding accident in 1859. The plot was then used for the family and later for other pioneers of the area. The last Sunday in June of each year is still used by direct descendants to commemorate the site.”
On December 29, 1972, Eastern Air Lines flight 401 took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport carrying 160 passengers. The new Lockheed L-1011 Tristar—Eastern Air Lines named its fleet “Whisperliners”—was headed for Miami, Florida. It crashed into the Florida Everglades, 18 miles from its destined runway, killing 77 people on board.
A Web site created by survivors, rescue workers, and journalists summarizes the NTSB’s crash investigation, which decided that the crash—the first of a wide-body aircraft, and the deadliest in the United States at that time—was a result of the flight crew’s failure to recognize that the autopilot had been deactivated.
The site notes that “although there is no factual evidence to support the claim, legend has it that after the crash investigation, surviving avionics and galley equipment was salvaged from the crash site…” and were fitted into Lockheed’s production line. “Not long after,” the site continues, “'ghosts’ of [Captain Robert Albin] Loft and [engineer and second officer Donald Louis] Repo were seen on more than twenty occasions by crew members on other Eastern Tri-Stars…. An account of the paranormal happenings even appeared in a 1974 issue of the US Flight Safety Foundation newsletter.”
We called the folks at Flight Safety, hoping for a copy of this frequently mentioned report, and were told, “as far as we can determine, this cite does not exist. It’s popped up around the internet, but we can’t find any reference to it in our archived materials.”
John G. Fuller wrote the 1976 book The Ghost of Flight 401, which later became a TV movie starring (of all people) Ernest Borgnine and Kim Basinger.
Several ghosts are said to populate London's Heathrow Airport. Dick Turpin, the legendary highwayman from the 1730s, supposedly can be seen riding a large black stallion (he committed a robbery on Hounslow Heath, which abuts the perimeter of the present airport). The Web site spookystuff.co.uk says that "people usually see, hear, or feel him behind them, especially airline employees. Many report feeling hot breath upon their necks or hearing a man barking and howling, only to turn around and find no one there." (How they could differentiate Dick Turpin's ghost from the ordinary traveler, given that description, remains a mystery.)
Other alleged ghosts include the victim of a 1948 DC-3 crash who wanders around looking for his briefcase, and a "half" ghost (seen from the waist down, and wearing a nice business suit) who frequents one of the VIP lounges.
A number of people claim to have seen ghosts on the aircraft carrier Hornet, a floating museum berthed at Pier 3 at the former Naval Air Station Alameda, California.
As Lily Iona MacKenzie noted in the December 2000 issue of Naval History, a ship named Hornet has been around (in one form or another) since 1775. The modern-day ship (pictured is its Combat Information Center) was commissioned on November 29, 1943, and served as an attack aircraft carrier and antisubmarine warfare support carrier, taking part in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. The ship also recovered the Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts (Neil Armstrong's steps are marked on the museum's floor).
Some 300 people died while working on the Hornet during the carrier's active service, which spanned 1943 to 1970.
MacKenzie interviewed several of the museum's volunteers, including electrician Derek Lyon-McKeil, who related a story of five volunteers who slept on the Hornet during Fleet Week in 1995. Lyon-McKeil said, "We'd all just bunked down, and we had a rule. No exploring. All of a sudden, I heard this banging noise like someone was opening the hatches who shouldn't have been. Peter Clayton, our supervisor, came charging around, saying, 'Okay, who's sneaking around opening hatches?' We realized that everyone in the group was there. As we were all standing there staring at each other, we heard it again. At that point, we were pretty secure. It couldn't have been anyone who'd gotten aboard."
In 1998, museum volunteer Keith LaDue and a crewmate were putting up a 15-foot Christmas tree in hangar bay 1. They saw someone run into the tree. LaDue told MacKenzie, "It looked to me like he was wearing one of those long pea coats and a dark blue Navy uniform. [I said to the other crew member] 'Did you see that?' My buddy said, 'Yeah, I did, with my own flashlight. Let's go investigate.' We walked all around the perimeter of the tree, and no one was there."
Museum employee Daphne Tallmadge told MacKenzie, "On my way down [to the flight mess lounge], I saw an image and I said 'Hi.' It was a man. I couldn't really see his age; it was dim down below. I saw a shape and a little of his image. I could see enough to know it was a man, wearing khaki. I thought he was someone from the Hornet. I was sitting down and eating when I thought, wait a minute. He made no response to me. He didn't say anything. He just stared. I saw him full front just standing there, still, arms to his side. Right then I went back to see if the guy was there, but he wasn't. I hadn't heard anything about ghosts on the Hornet before that."
The museum offers flashlight tours and mystery tours; see details here.
Haunted America Tours claims that the Sacramento International Airport is haunted by "Old Mr. Tibble," who "died October 5, 1982 of a heart attack. It is not known if he died inside the airport, but reportedly he has been encountered in the waiting area of a well known airline as he waits for his overseas flight. Stories [say] that when his flight to England was called, he did not answer, and the flight left without him. His body lay seemingly asleep through two crew changes until a flight customer asked him to wake up, and give his seat over to a woman with a small child. He fell to the floor. Apparently Old Mr. Tibble's spirit has been there ever since."
Unfortunately, the story isn't true. The airport (pictured during a tornado in 2005) didn't even have overseas flights in 1982, says Gina Swankie, a public relations officer with the Sacramento County Airport System. Looks like this one was a wild-ghost chase.
Avro Lincoln Bomber
Ghost in the machine: In 2006, Flight Global reported that “A classic example of an aircraft haunting is that of an Avro Lincoln bomber at the UK’s Cosford Aerospace Museum. Investigations followed sightings of an apparition in and around the Lincoln, and perplexing sounds—some of which were apparently recorded during an overnight vigil inside the aircraft by a BBC reporter and a paranormal investigator.”
According to this video clip, the staff of the museum started the rumor in an effort to increase visitor numbers. In the late 1970s, staff learned that the Avro Lincoln was to be transferred to a museum in Manchester. “The star of the museum should always remain there,” says engineer Richard Carside in the video. “And when we found out [the aircraft] was going to be moved to Manchester, we were horrified.” The engineering team came up with a plan to prevent the transfer: They invented a ghost, “Pete the Poltergeist.” “The more people who actually came to see the aircraft at Cosford,” continues Carside, “the more chance the aircraft had of staying here.” By 1981 the engineering team’s efforts had paid off; the aircraft would stay at Cosford.
Even though the prank was over, things took a strange turn when paranormal investigator Ivan Spenceley claimed that sounds recorded inside the aircraft “were later identified by ex-Lincoln crews as typical of those that would be caused by flightcrews either going through pre-flight checks or during a flight.”
According to Jayne Hitchcock, who has written a book on the topic, Okinawa, Japan is crawling with ghosts.
Of the former Naha Air Base (pictured ca. 1966), she writes, "A U.S. military base gate on Hwy 58 (rumored to be the old Makiminato gate 2) used to have a frequent visitor, a GI from WWII. Each Friday and Saturday night at the same time, the GI in full combat gear would approach the gate, which was manned by Marines. When he reached the gate guard, he had a cigarette in his hand and would ask, 'Gotta light?' After the gate guard lit the cigarette, the GI would disappear into thin air. When this happened many times, Marines refused guard duty at this gate and it was finally closed. One theory about why the GI showed up every weekend is that sometimes when people die, their images are caught in a kind of time warp 'record player.' A certain thing could trigger this record player so that an event the person did when they were alive is replayed. Some say if you go to the area where this gate used to be you can still see the GI ask for a light, even though the guardhouse is no longer there."
Since the book's second edition, which was published in 2000, the story has morphed a little, and the ghost now wears a "bloody uniform," and is said to appear at Camp Hansen's Gate 3.
Hitchcock's book includes stories about Kadena Air Base, including ghostly Japanese marchers from World War II, and a house (now used for storage) that apparently hosts several different ghosts, including a woman washing her hair at the sink, a samurai riding a horse, and the voices of several children laughing or crying.