On the 29th of December 1972, Eastern Airlines flight 401 was descending towards Miami after its flights from JFK airport in New York. The L1011 (N310EA) aircraft also known as 'The Tristar', was only 4 months old and was considered to be one of the most technologically advanced and modern aircraft of its time. 163 passengers and 13 crew members were on board. As the crew was preparing to land, first officer Albert Stockstill was instructed to lower the landing gear. The crew noticed that not all of the wheel indicator lights had turned green. Captain Robert Loft believed at the time everything was fine and it was just a faulty bulb and the warning was nothing to be concerned about. The First Officer began to remove the light bulb while the Flight Engineer Donald Repo went below the flight deck to see with his own eyes if there was in fact an issue with the landing gear. While this was happening, they noticed that the autopilot featured had turned itself off which meant that the plane was now slowly descending towards the Florida Everglades. Soon after, traveling at 227 miles per hour, the plane crashed into the everglades which were likely infested with alligators. Most passengers were killed on impact with some surviving and having to wait for rescue. The Flight Engineer and Captain initially survived, but later died in hospital. All up, 101 people died in the crash. It was found that the crew had failed to monitor the flight equipment properly while dealing with the 'light bulb' issue and not noticing that the autopilot feature had disengaged. In a cruel twist, it turned out that it was indeed a case of a faulty bulb and the landing gear had been fine. Even though most of the aircraft was damaged or destroyed, some parts were deemed to be salvageable and were refitted onto other L1011 aircraft. It is here that our story starts to get a little strange.
Crew and passengers on certain Eastern Airlines flights began to have spooky sightings. There were at least 20 reported incidents all on L1011 aircraft that contained reused parts from flight 401. Many of these have been documented in the book Ghost of Flight 401, by John G. Fuller published in 1976 - 4 years after the crash. A movie was also made out of this book, (see the bottom of the post) many documentaries and even an episode of Air Crash Investigations covers this story.
The most common sighting was that of Flight Engineer Don Repo, most often seen in the First Class cabin. While most sightings were only for seconds, some crew members claimed he spoke to them and originally thought he was a member of the crew. When he disappeared, the crew was so shaken that the flight was canceled. On other occasions, he was sighted in the flight deck and advised the crew not to worry about the pre-flight checks because WE have already done them. The eeriest sighting was reported by a pilot who claimed he saw the ghost of Captain Robert 'Bob' Loft who said '“There will never be another crash on an L1011. We will not let it happen.” Were the crew looking over the other aircraft?
Eastern Airlines denied all reported 'hauntings' and apparently threatened staff with dismissal if they continued to spread or fuel these rumours. One notable sighting was that of flight 903 which had left JFK en route to Mexico city. Stewardess Fay Merryweather reported she was getting ready to hand out the meals to the passengers. When she went to open the oven door, she saw the face of Don Repo before her. She went and got another 2 crew members to make sure she was seeing correctly. They both returned and saw his face staring back at them. All 3 of them heard him say the words "Watch out for fire in this plane". The flight arrived safely, but on the flight's next leg, there were problems reported with one of the engines. After an inspection, the aircraft was cleared for take-off, but as the plane climbed the engine failed and backfired. It was quickly shut down before it caught fire and returned to the airport. After the warning from Don Repo, the crew was obviously quite shaken.
It supposedly wasn't long after this incident that Eastern Airlines reportedly quietly removed any borrowed parts from flight 401 and the sightings stopped. It may also give you comfort to know that Loft's words of not allowing another crash on a L1011 aircraft with the airline came true, there were no reported crashes on an L1011 aircraft up until the day the airline closed.
So what do you think? Do you think the crew was really up there looking out for the rest of the fleet?
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