Ghosts On A Plane? The Story Of Eastern Air Lines Flight 401
The accident in a nutshell
According to the Aviation Safety Network, Eastern Air Lines had 163 passengers and 13 members of crew onboard, totaling 176 occupants altogether. The flight was largely uneventful, but, on approach to Miami, the flight crew had become fixated on a faulty indication in the cockpit. They had not realized that the autopilot was disconnected, which ultimately caused the plane to lose altitude and crash.
Although 75 people survived, the accident still resulted in the deaths of 101 occupants, including Captain Robert 'Bob' Loft and Flight Engineer Donald 'Don' Repo. It was the first fatal crash involving not only the Lockheed TriStar, but, indeed, a widebody aircraft of any kind. The tragedy was also the 2nd deadliest plane crash in US history at the time, although, today, it now ranks in 16th place.
Days later, the wreckage of the aircraft was retrieved from the swamp, and some of its parts were able to be salvaged, including a galley. Those still in a sufficiently usable state were used again on the Eastern Air Lines fleet. After this, sightings started of Bob and Don, standing in the aisle, cockpit, and galley.
For example, the vice president of Eastern Air Lines once boarded a flight from New York and chatted with a pilot, who he assumed was in charge of that sector. Later, he recognized that the pilot he'd been speaking to was, in fact, Bob. How could this have happened? In any case, it was far from the first time that the deceased pilot had supposedly been spotted after his death.
Another time, a captain was asked to check on a passenger in first class who was in a pilot's uniform. The senior flight attendant said he was dazed and unresponsive when spoken to and was not on the passenger list. The captain recognized him as being none other than Bob. Flight engineer Don Repo is also said to have appeared onboard flights in a strange, supernatural manner.
Meanwhile, a flight attendant on a New York to Miami flight (the very route of the December 1972 crash) opened an overhead locker to find Bob's face peering out at her. On another flight, a flight attendant is said to have seen Don's face on the oven door. She called two of her fellow crew members in to witness what she had seen. He reportedly then said, "Watch out for fire in this plane."
On the returning flight, an engine failed and had to be shut down before it caught fire. On returning to the galley, another flight attendant saw an engineer fixing the oven. She asked the flight engineer later about the oven, and he said he hadn't fixed it, and it didn't need to be fixed. Who could this have been? As you might expect, she later picked from some photos that Don was the engineer she had seen.
An unexpected presence
On another day, a crew was in the cockpit of an aircraft when they were said to have seen Don sitting with them. He warned them of a faulty electrical circuit, which was then found and replaced. There were also reports of Bob having been seen doing his pre-flight checks of the aircraft and telling the ground staff he'd already completed them. The pilot was unnerved by what had happened and canceled the flight.
While in the cockpit one day, preparing for the flight, another pilot heard loud knocks from under the floor beneath him. He opened the trap door to see a vision of Don looking at him, which then promptly disappeared. He wanted to look further and reportedly found a problem that could have caused a serious accident.
Swept under the carpet?
Although the sightings were reported in a Flight Safety Foundation publication, the Eastern Air Lines CEO dismissed the claims, and employees were warned not to talk about the sightings. The crew had previously been encouraged to report every incident pertaining to the flight in the aircraft log books, and many sightings were recorded. Mysteriously, the log books started to go missing from the aircraft.
Eventually, all of the salvaged parts were removed from aircraft, and neither Bob nor Don were ever seen again. Truth or scare? We'll probably never know. Throughout the course of aviation history, there have been several other ghost stories.