Mysterious Apparitions Of Ghosts on Flight 401. On December 29th, 1972, Eastern Airlines flight number 401, was preparing to land at Miami Airport, after a flight from New York. The aircraft, a L-1011 was only 4 months old, and the 163 passengers and 13 crew members had been in good mood. As the cockpit crew began the landing procedures, several pieces of equipment began to malfunction.
This led to one of the pilots, Don Repo, climbing down into a 'hell hole', to try and fix an apparent faulty landing wheel. Whilst the crew were distracted by the chain of faults, they didn't realize that the autopilot had disengaged itself and the plane was slowly veering towards the swamps of the Florida Everglades. The plane crashed into the swamp at 227 mph, resulting in the deaths of many passengers and crew.
Amazingly, some of the parts of the stricken plane were reusable and were placed into other L-1011 aircraft. As the weeks and months passed, odd occurrences began to happen on some of the aircraft with parts from Flight 401.
In 1973, less than a year after the crash, a vice president of Eastern Airlines was heading down to Miami. As a V.I.P., he was allowed on board the plane first and made his way down to first class seating. As he did so, he noticed a captain in full uniform and went over for a conversation. After a while, it gradually dawned on the V.P. that he was actually talking to Bob Loft, a pilot who had perished on Flight 401. As he realized this, the apparition disappeared in front of him and the V.P. quickly left the aircraft, completely terrified by the experience.
Slowly, across 1973, various reports began to emerge from many cabin crew about eerie sightings and events aboard many L-1011 aircraft. One full crew approached their cabin, to see Captain Bob Loft again, sitting in a pilot's seat. They spoke to him for a while before he dissipated away into nothingness. The crew ran and refused to fly for the rest of that day. What were causing there mysterious apparitions?
Various engineers working aboard L-1011 aircraft encountered mysterious apparitions, including an incident where Don Repo who appeared and told the startled engineer that he didn't need to worry about anything going wrong, because 'they' would make sure another L-1011 never crashed again.
During a flight from Atlanta to Miami, severe knocking sounds emerged from the 'hell hole' section of the plane at 39,000 feet. When the flight engineer opened up the hatch, he was astonished to see the floating face of Don Repo staring up at him.
Various stewardesses reported icy chills suddenly appearing on board the planes. Ginny Duffy was working alone in the galley to send food up to the crew. As she prepared meals, she was amazed to watch a 'cloudy ball of light' form in front of her, whilst working on catering. By now she had sprinted away through the kitchen and was hurriedly pressing an elevator button which seemed to take an age to function. In the words of researcher, John Fuller:
‘She pushed the elevator button again and turned back to look. The cloud was now the size of an elongated basketball and was forming into a thicker, more solid shape. Ginny pushed the elevator button again and turned her face away, thinking that if she ignored it, the cloud might disappear. When she finally looked, the cloud was forming into a clear face; half solid, half misty. As the elevator eventually arrived she took a last look and saw a clear, floating head, complete with steel-rimmed spectacles.’
A month after this event in Albany, New York, the senior stewardess on a Miami-bound L-1101, was doing her usual checks before take off and head counting the passengers inside the first class section. She discovered that her count was off by one passenger; a captain in Eastern Airline uniform.
Confused by the fact that she had an extra passenger who wasn’t on the official list, she asked the captain why he was there, yet the mystery man simply stared straight ahead and kept his silence. Despite numerous appeals, she received no response and went to talk to the flight supervisor, who also had no luck with the captain. Now utterly bemused, both ladies went to consult with the flight captain. He was also surprised and agreed to come back into first class to talk to the man. As he reached the seat occupied by the mysterious stranger, the flight captain froze. When the stewardesses asked him what was wrong, he simply said ‘Oh my God, that’s Bob Loft.’ The silence in the first class section was now deafening; likely made even more so when the ghost of Bob Loft simply vanished in front of their eyes, without any gradual fading. One moment he was sitting there, the next moment he was gone.
By now, many stewardesses and crew had witnessed something paranormal on flights, but Eastern Airlines decided to get extremely tough on anyone who engaged in spreading rumors of paranormal activity. So many crew were now sharing stories about full-figure apparitions and other surreal events. The policy of the company quickly became that anyone reporting stories would be immediately sent for psychiatric evaluation. Of course this meant a probable loss of their existing jobs. However, despite the warnings of the aircraft company, the events continued and now passengers and airport staff began to witness mysterious apparitions. A captain sat next to a woman passenger on a flight, engaged her in conversation and then disappeared into thin air. A catering crew ran screaming from a grounded plane, after seeing a man in a captain's uniform appear from nowhere and stare at them. When each of these witnesses was shown a book of different photos, they all picked out the face of the expired Don Repo.
Flight #903 had just taken off from JFK Airport, en route to Mexico City when one of the stewardesses, Fay Merryweather, looked out of a window and saw the face of Don Repo staring back at her. She calmly went to get another stewardess and she also saw the face staring back. An eerie voice said 'Watch out for fire in this plane'. On the return journey to JFK Airport, a starboard engine began to malfunction and quickly caught fire, although the aircraft landed safely.
Over time, many crew simply refused to fly in any aircraft which contained parts from the doomed Flight 401 until, secretly and quietly, every single part of the fallen plane was removed from each L-1011. When this happened, these mysterious apparitions ceased and were never seen again. Interestingly, the prediction from the ghostly Don Repo was also true and no L-1011 was ever involved in a crash.
In his fascinating 1976 book, 'The Ghost of Flight 401', the journalist, researcher and author John G. Fuller (1913-1990) made a full investigation into the ghostly sightings, including apparently contacting deceased pilots from Flight 401 in a form of seance. Teaming up with a fellow researcher, Elizabeth Manzione, they delved into the supernatural for possible answers as to why the deceased pilots were seemingly returning from the grave, to be witnessed by so many people.
Firstly, at the Arthur Ford Academy of Mediumship, which nestles in the Blue Ridge Mountains, they worked with Pat & Bud Hayes, two tutors at the academy. Fuller had acquired parts of the stricken L-1101 and it was decided to experiment with psychometry - the belief that unknown information can be gained from touching objects.
Top students in psychometry were chosen and each was given objects to hold, while meditating. At no point were they made aware of what they were holding. From this experiment, some interesting phrases were given, such as ‘some sort of accident’, ‘buried in water’, extreme suffering’ and ‘filth - mud - river’. One thirty-year old student gave the following message: ‘an airplane that lands in water...missing people...close to an airport...head injuries...restless spirits at the crash site’.
Other messages spoke of people dying, a sense of being in heaven and some descriptions that matched the deceased pilots. Suitably emboldened by these early results, Fuller and Manzione attempted direct contact with spirits by purchasing a ouija board. At first the messages from the board were garbled and made little sense, but each time they tried, the messages became clearer until the board spelled out ‘know Repo’. From this point, the messages became clearer still and eventually they found themselves in the middle of an intense conversation. Key questions were asked, concerning personal details of Don Repo’s life and the key events of the day that Flight 401 met its grizzly demise. All were answered correctly, although the researchers still couldn’t be sure that they were actually conversing with a spirit and that they weren’t simply answering the questions themselves.
Eventually, a message came through concerning Repo’s daughter, Donna, whereby the spirit of Repo allegedly gave evidence that neither Repo or Manzione could possibly have known, concerning a stack of ‘Indian Head’ pennies kept in a bathroom. It was only later, upon meeting Donna, that they got their confirmation that Repo had a fascination for ‘Indian Head’ pennies and kept them exactly where the ouija board communicator had stated. Based on Fuller’s book, there was also a made-for-television movie completed concerning these events in 1978, starring Ernest Borgnine as Don Repo and a young Kim Basinger.
Some interesting aspects arise from researching this alleged paranormal incidents concerning Flight 401, but it’s also both logical and imperative to search for natural, non-paranormal answers amongst the collected data. Could the sightings be simple cases of illusion, fueled by overhearing the stories claimed by others? Certainly, once the rumors began spreading amongst air company employees, it could be that tensions and emotions were massively increased. Were people expecting to see a ghostly airman during their working day, fueled by persistent rumors from colleagues that had quickly spread around Eastern Airlines and into other aeronautical companies also?
Whilst this may account for some, or indeed all, of the later sightings, we would also need to ask whether this could realistically apply to the earliest sightings? The Eastern Airlines vice president certainly would not have been expecting to see a spectral Don Repo in 1973, nor the air crew who engaged a similar captain in conversation, just before he disappeared. It would also seem irrational for a female passenger, with no apparent knowledge of any paranormal activity, to report an apparition, who just happens to exactly match the physical description of Don Repo. Additionally, intention for fraud would have to be scrutinized.
With the airline aggressively threatening dismissal, questions would need to be asked as to why many staff would purposely invent stories that would jeopardize their careers? Regarding Fuller’s investigation as published in ‘The Ghost of Flight 401’, the incident with the ouija board might possibly be explained by the ‘Ideomotor Effect’ - essentially the theory that we can unconsciously move a ouija planchette by simply wanting something to happen and for specific words to be formed. Whilst this is a worthy argument for information which is already held within the subconscious minds of Fuller and Manzione, the element of unknown information being supplied, as with Repo’s daughter, Donna, raises further questions. Another fascinating aspect of this story concerns a possible correlation between the use of materials stripped from the doomed Flight 401 into other L-1101 aircraft and the subsequent appearances of Captain Repo and Loft. Could this lend weight to a theory that certain objects hold, or retain, certain energies and create paranormal episodes? Once the materials were removed from the aircraft, the apparitions appeared to cease. The psychometry experiments initiated by John Fuller would also appear to lend some weight to this argument.
Perhaps, a matter worthy of discussion for another occasion?
'Confessions of a Trolley Dolly' - https://confessionsofatrolleydolly.com/2012/10/31/the-ghosts-of-flight-401/
'This Day in Aviation' - https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/lockheed-l-1011-tristar/
Fuller, J. G. (1976). 'The Ghost of Flight 401'. London, Great Britain, Souvenir Press.