Category: Travel mysteries

Mystery at Sea – SS Ourang Medan

The South China Sea has been an area of considerable political and territorial dispute for some time; in fact, it is a headline in the news today. Even the name has been subject to controversy, with the Philippines recently renaming it the West Philippine Sea, and Vietnam choosing to refer to it as the East Vietnam Sea. The name itself may not be relevant, however, as this article is about its historical significance as a graveyard for ships. Many were sunk by torpedoes and mines during wartime conflicts; some were lost because of adverse weather conditions and various shipping hazards in the area, and others remain the unexplained ghost ships of the sea. Oceanographers are quick to point to the possibility of rogue waves that simply come out of nowhere and are responsible for numerous maritime disasters.

A reasonable explanation usually satisfies our curiosity, but some mysteries at sea seem to defy all logic. In June 1947, a disturbing SOS message was heard across the ocean from somewhere within the Straits of Malacca; the exact location was never confirmed. Merchant ships have sailed through the Straits of Malacca linking the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea without incident for years, although this important shipping lane can be a target for hijackers. Dutch and British listeners identified the ship as the Dutch freighter SS Ourang Medan, but the American Grace Lines Silver Star was the nearest ship to answer the distress call. The message was brief and strangely worded, “All officers including captain are dead lying in chartroom and bridge.” “Possibly whole crew dead.” The jumbled Morse code that followed could not be read, so there was no indication of what had happened or who had been able to send the final mysterious message, “I die.”

The Silver Star rescuers arrived to find the ship afloat in a calm, peaceful sea, but no sound could be heard or movement detected from the Ourang Medan. Even more disturbing was the scene they discovered upon boarding the ship. Bodies of the crew were strewn across the decks; the captain and his officers were found lying dead above deck, and the communications officer was also deceased with his hand still resting on the Morse code sending key. As the rescuers descended into the boiler room, an ominous chill seemed to fill the air, although the temperature reading showed 110 degrees. No one was alive on this ship of death, not even the dog, but oddly enough, no one appeared to have any injuries to their bodies. Their eyes were open to the sun, and their faces appeared frozen in similar macabre grimaces of horror and disbelief. Some bodies were found with arms upraised as though reaching for help or possibly in defense from something or someone from above.

The mystery of the SS Ourang Medan has perplexed historians and mariners for years. Since the ship exploded and sank rapidly before it could be towed, this might explain why some believe that methane gas had arisen from the bottom of the sea and overpowered the ship’s crew. Another theory, however, suggests that a timer had been purposely set to detonate the ship and its cargo upon discovery before any further investigation could be carried out. According to one marine historian, Roy Bainton, there was no evidence of the Ourang Medan in Dutch shipping records, and the Singapore Maritime Division provided no answers to his queries. Lloyds Shipping Records had no verification of the ship’s registry, logbook, or a list of the crew, so it could be assumed that the Ourang Medan was a fictitious name. This is quite possible if the CIA were involved as they often used the generic Atlas Steamship Company to register ships carrying unrecorded cargo to be used in covert operations. During his investigation, Bainton did encounter another avid researcher, German Professor Siersdorfer, who was able to provide the names of the two rescue ships, Silver Star and City of Baltimore, but the Grace Line owners also remained silent, and no records were ever made available.

Refusing to believe this was just an old seafaring tale, the researchers proposed another more plausible explanation. Perhaps the ship was carrying a dangerous, combustible cargo intended for use in the development of biological or chemical warfare. Certainly, an old Dutch steamship would attract little attention in the busy shipping lanes of the Malacca Straits. Definite facts are known – Japan’s Unit 731 carried on this type of research using human experimentation during WWII; after the war, immunity was granted to many of the personnel in Unit 731, and Shiro Ishii, the head of the department, moved to Maryland to continue research. The ship’s crew may have been hired on shore and were probably completely unaware of the cargo onboard or the secret smuggling mission they were on. It is highly unlikely that any foreign government at the time would admit to being involved in violating the Geneva Convention.

Strange things do occur in wartime; plots and international conspiracies are not unusual. They may offer some vague explanation for mysteries such as the SS Ourang Medan, but without any real evidence, they certainly leave us in doubt. There are those who will insist that aliens and UFOs arrived and made contact with the ship and its crew. Yet, we have no reason to believe that really happened, and no explanation for their purpose in being there. Although a few curious, dedicated researchers will continue to speculate on this mystery at sea in hopes of finding answers, chances are we may never know what really happened onboard the SS Ourang Medan in June 1947.

Sharon L Slayton

Mysteries Of The Wilderness Triangle

From Juneau to Yakutat, north to the mountains of Barrow, and back to Anchorage, this vast expanse of landscape includes tundra, fijords, majestic mountains, and 6 million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve. Through the years, countless people, planes, and ships have been lost and remain unaccounted for within the Wilderness Triangle. This distant and unfamiliar territory was the site of the largest search and rescue mission ever attempted in the U.S. Some people had little knowledge of this area until the History Channel first aired “Alaska’s Bermuda Triangle” on June 26, 2001.

The ill-fated flight left Anchorage for Juneau on October 16, 1972 carrying prominent political leaders, Congressman Nick Begich, his aide Russell Brown, and House Majority Leader Hale Boggs. Although Don Jonz was an experienced pilot, weather conditions were poor, and the persistent fog and drizzle made flying difficult. Somewhere near the Chugach Mountains, the small Cessna and all onboard seemed to vanish into thin air.

A massive air search was launched, with the U.S. Coast Guard, 40 military aircraft from Elmendorf AFB, and over 20 civilian planes joining in the effort. Hampered by dense fog and extreme cold, the search covered the entire wilderness area including the shorelines of Icy Strait and Glacier Bay. Even though the super spy plane, SR-71 Blackbird, was also sent to photograph the area and aid in finding the missing, neither passengers nor plane could be found after an intensive 39-day search.

This was a time of political upheaval and controversy, as a few months before, in June of 1972, the FBI had become closely involved with the ongoing investigation of Watergate. Coincidentally or not, the missing plane and its passengers did arouse suspicion, as hints of conspiracy and cover-up rapidly surfaced. Other well-known figures also played a part in this venture including former president Bill Clinton, who took Boggs to the airport and later appointed his wife as ambassador to the Vatican. To add to the mystery, several interesting facts emerged about the events surrounding Hale Boggs, who was an active participant in the legislation of Alaska’s Native Claim Settlement. He had earlier requested the resignation of J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful and controversial head of the FBI, comparing his strategies to those of the Soviet Union. Boggs had also served on the Warren Commission to investigate the Kennedy assassination, which further stirred up the media worldwide, while rumors and speculation of questionable dealings circulated throughout the Internet.

During this time, an unknown informant called in an aircraft sighting near Yakutat Bay and a report of at least two passengers being still alive. A telex released by the Coast Guard documented the report, and the FBI evidently pursued the tip, but nothing ever came of it. Verification and credibility of this person were eventually dismissed as unreliable. According to an article that appeared in the Feb-Mar 2009 issue of Vertical Magazine on the history of Search and Rescue Satellite – Satellite Aided Tracking (SARSAT), one positive result did arise from this high profile, yet unsuccessful search. The new law passed by Congress required all aircraft to use an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) we know as the “black box.” This ELT activates upon impact and transmits on a specific radio band, bypassing the frequent military alerts that previously interfered with emergency transmissions. By 1979, an agreement to coordinate satellite tracking was reached by the U.S., Canada, France, and the former Soviet Union. Today, there are over 39 countries participating in SARSAT.

As so often happens with many unexplained disappearances, intriguing legends of mysterious people and strange places often appear. The Tingit Indians of Alaska believe in Kushtaka, meaning “land otter man,” a mythical creature with amazing powers and one who is able to change its shape at will. Many believe the Kushtaka is a friendly sort of spirit who changes shape to a familiar form that will be easily recognized by travelers lost in the wilderness. With the help of the Kushtaka, these people then manage to survive or are even happily transformed into other Kushtaka. Some Tingit Indians see the Kushtaka as evil, however, seeking the very young as their prey, a legend that mothers may have used to keep their small children from wandering too far. According to the legend, sailors are frequently lost at sea when tempted by the Kushtaka, reminiscent of the Sirens in Greek mythology. Unsuspecting travelers are lured to their death by mournful sounds of babies crying or women screaming in the wilderness. Similar to the legend of the dragon who lures his victims to the bottom of the Devil’s Sea, the Kushtaka may simply carry the missing away to some mysterious domain.

Although this area is nowhere near the Bermuda or the Dragon triangles, there are similarities in the disappearances and reports of the missing. Many have been thoroughly investigated, but some have never been explained. This rugged wilderness has an appeal of its own for people who relish seclusion, the pleasure of camping, or the excitement of hunting in the great outdoors. Exploring the Wilderness Triangle can be challenging and often dangerous, as many drown in lakes of cold water where bodies do not rise to the surface, or are lost across the frozen land and in the massive glacier rifts. Hikers, mountain climbers, residents, and tourists must cope with the huge population of bears and the extreme weather conditions that prevail in the Wilderness Triangle. It is not surprising, therefore, that over 2800 cases of missing people were reported in just one year. Considering that Alaska is not densely populated, this number is much higher in comparison with other states.

Curious travelers, amateur detectives, and avid adventurists are captivated by stories of the missing and the unsolved. Should you choose to visit the Wilderness Triangle and explore some of its mysteries, perhaps you’ll come upon the Kushtaka somewhere along the way.

Sharon L. Slayton

The Enigma Of The Dragon’s Triangle

Across two continents and thousands of miles from the Bermuda Triangle, a mythical dragon’s lair exists. Dragons living in underwater palaces were legendary in Chinese history, and this “sea of the devil,” known to the Japanese as Ma-No Umi, has a history dating back to the ancient Chinese dynasties of Sung and Yuan. Kublai Khan, 13th century Mongol ruler, failed in two attempts to capture Japan, when both ships and over 40,000 crewmembers were lost in the treacherous sea. The Japanese too have their own legend, the Utsuro bune of 1803, which tells of a hollow boat containing a woman’s figure of unfamiliar characteristics that washed ashore at the edge of the Triangle. Interestingly enough, their tales of so-called USO’s, Unidentified Submerged Objects, were written long before the sightings of UFOs.

Geographically, both triangles are located at the same east and west 35° latitude, and both exhibit similar magnetic properties. Beginning about 100 miles from Tokyo off the east coast of Japan, the actual perimeters of the Dragon’s Triangle are obscure, as this vast area extends beyond the Bonin Islands down to Guam and west to Taiwan, ranging anywhere from 70 miles to 300 to as far as 750 miles to Iwo Jima.

Incidents in the Dragon’s Triangle also bear a close resemblance to those of its Bermuda counterpart in the Atlantic Ocean. Mysterious disappearances of ships, submarines, and planes have been reported; people speak of seeing strange lights and hearing unfamiliar noises. Erratic radio signals and malfunctioning compasses, as well as huge whirlpools, dense fog, and waves coming from every direction, known as sanaku-namis, add considerable danger to navigation within the Triangle. Ships are swept by strong winds and caught in the swift currents that run above the deep trenches of Ogasawara, Ryukyu, and the Mariana, the largest of these in the ocean floor. Volcanic peaks lie submerged beneath the surface, and small islands that were previously discovered and mapped by experienced explorers seem to vanish into the sea.

The scene of many WWII battles took place in the Triangle, where the Japanese thought naval warfare was relatively safe. However, they suffered considerable losses of aircraft carriers, battleships, and at least 4,000 kamikaze planes in this area. In 1942, 5 warships, 3 destroyers, and 2 more aircraft carriers were lost at sea for no apparent reason. Soviet nuclear submarines were reported missing, and American submarines proved ineffective in these waters, because of the magnetic interference and the strange redirection of their torpedoes. Although mines and aircraft fire may have caused some of these casualties of war, there seem to be no answers to many others.

Even after the war, disappearances of coast guard vessels, fishing boats, and huge super tankers carrying oil, coal, and other supplies remained a mystery, as scant evidence of the crew, wreckage, or even oil slicks was found. Japanese newspapers reported 14 small fishing boats lost from 1949 to 1955 in the Triangle between Miyake Island and Iwo Jima. At the time, the international media were not as interested, preferring to focus their news on the more familiar Bermuda Triangle. Just how many lives and tons of cargo were lost in the Dragon’s Triangle, we may never know, but we do know that more disappearances have occurred here than in the Bermuda Triangle.

Because of these losses, the Triangle was officially named as a danger zone for shipping in 1950 by the Japanese government. Two years later, the Japanese ship, Kaio Maru No 5, embarked on a research project in hopes of solving the mysteries of the Dragon’s Triangle, but the ship with 22 crewmen and 9 scientists inexplicably disappeared. As recently as 1978, a small plane piloted by Frederick Valentich was lost on a flight from Melbourne to King Island somewhere within the Triangle. After the pilot radioed to air traffic controllers that there were 4 strange lights directly above him, his last communication indicated that the object was definitely not a plane. Strange clanging noises were heard briefly, and moments later, Valentich and his plane were gone.

In 1989, Charles Berlitz, a distinguished linguist and author of numerous books on anomalous subjects, wrote “The Dragon’s Triangle,” a fictional account of many of the bizarre circumstances and events that have taken place. He offers a solution to the unsolved mystery of Amelia Earhart, in which she was supposedly directed by the U.S. government to fly over this area and spy on Japanese islands. His idea has merit, as bad weather here is not uncommon, and it adds some credibility to the author’s theory that the bodies of Earhart and Noonan were secretly removed from their graves on Saipan and returned to the U.S. as part of the government’s plan. Although we may not attach much significance to some of the author’s writings, there is substantial scientific information in his book. Volcanic activities below the sea, which create seaquakes and massive tsunamis and bring small islands to the surface, are all real possibilities. Violent storms and unpredictable changes in weather are well known in the Pacific Ocean, and these may account for some of the disasters in the Dragon’s Triangle. In any event, Berlitz’ book does present a realm of possibilities that may pique further interest in the mysteries of our planet, many of which have yet to be discovered or explained.

Some propose that ships and planes were lost in other locations and not reported by radio transmission, but that does not explain the absence of debris or other evidence of disaster on the shore or in the sea. Perhaps, these disappearances can be attributed to the powerful forces of nature, environmental changes, methane gas eruptions, or even the shifting of tectonic plates. Still, much conjecture exists, as many people are fascinated with the supernatural and the unexplained. Eerie tales of silent, phantom “Flying Dutchman” ships drifting aimlessly across the sea only add fuel to the speculation and imagination of an ever-curious public. Of course, there are always those who believe in alien abduction, and they will insist that these occurrences were carefully planned and controlled by UFOs. A few have even suggested that the ships and aircraft disappeared through a black hole into another world, another Atlantis beneath the sea.

Realistically, we know there is no dragon that lives in a “stately pleasure-dome” in the depths of the sea, but fairy tales and fantasies still intrigue many of us. Indeed, no single, logical explanation may exist for such disappearances, but the Dragon’s Triangle is a fascinating mystery that some may choose to explore.

Sharon L. Slayton

Solving The Mystery Of S-T-E-N-D-E-C

On 2 August 1947, the British South American Airways Flt CS 59 Star Dust was enroute to Santiago, Chile from Buenos Aires, Argentina when it mysteriously disappeared. An extensive search by British Airways personnel, Argentine, and Chile troops found no sign of the aircraft or its occupants. There seemed to be no reasonable explanation for the disappearance, as the flight crew were all experienced members of the RAF, and the plane, a civilian version of the Lancaster bomber, was less than two years old. As in many cases of lost airplanes, speculation ranged from conspiracy and sabotage to abduction by invaders from outer space.

The passenger list included a colorful, if not sinister, assortment of individuals, certainly enough to arouse curiosity. Among these were two businessmen, one British and one Swiss, and an agent from the Dunlop tire company (who was once a tutor to Prince Michael of Romania). Also onboard was a King’s Messenger carrying diplomatic documents from the UK to the South American embassy, possibly containing important information surrounding the political turmoil that existed under Juan Peron, president of Argentina at the time. Then there was the German emigrant, believed to be a Nazi sympathizer as was Peron, but in actuality was an elderly widow simply returning her husband’s ashes for burial. Adding to the mystery was the wealthy Palestinian, thought to be carrying a huge diamond in the lining of his coat, which later led to imaginary tales of lost treasure in the Andes. Although this does sound like a cast from an Agatha Christie novel, in retrospect, this diversified group were probably no more than typical post-war travelers.

In 1947, the aircrew of the Star Dust would have relied on wind, speed, and ground observation, rather than radar. Winds of the jet stream that exist at such high altitudes were not readily understood by pilots at the time. Severe weather, which was common in the Andes, offers a logical explanation for the crash of the Star Dust, but the plane should have been well above the mountains and the storm. At an altitude of 24,000 feet, the crew could very well have supposed they were flying over Santiago. In fact, the plane was actually over the glacier on the opposite side of the mountain. It is assumed that the Star Dust descended at a high rate of speed and flew directly into a snow bank, causing an avalanche that buried the plane and its passengers.

The disappearance of the Star Dust remained a mystery for some 50 years until a mountain guide found a Rolls Royce engine at the foot of the Tupungato glacier in the Andes in 1998. Further exploration of the area by a group of 100 soldiers, led by Dr Carlos Bauza from the Argentine army, uncovered another 10% of the wreckage including a propeller part, two wheels (one still inflated), an oxygen canister, and shattered pieces of the fuselage. GPS was used to record the position of each item of debris for reconstruction of the crash site. No identification could be made of the remains of the victims, however, because of the decomposition and degradation of DNA that had occurred. At this writing, at least 90% of the aircraft has not been found, but as global warming increases and the glacier continues to melt, it is quite possible that more of the debris will emerge.

In January of 2000, the BBC announced this exciting discovery heralding its historical significance as the last remaining Lancastrian aircraft in existence. Although this ended the speculation of alien abduction, we are left to ponder the mystery of the final message from the Star Dust.

Four minutes before its arrival, a Morse-code transmission was received with the message “ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 (standard time) STENDEC.” Various theories about the meaning of the last word of the message have been proposed, but none seem to be valid or documented. Some have suggested it was an acronym for Starting Enroute Descent, or a longer one, Severe Turbulence Encountered Now Descending Emergency Crash Landing, which seems doubtful. It is also improbable that S-T-E-N-D-E-C was an unintentional scrambling of Morse code by the plane’s radio operator, which resulted in an anagram for Descent.

It is relatively easy to interchange dots and dashes in Morse code, which would result in entirely different messages; for example, ST End EC (Standard Time, End, End of Message). However, the radio operator in Santiago requested and received the same clear message three times in quick succession, so misinterpretation does not seem likely. Neither does the message indicate problems on the aircraft – if there had been, then why not simply use the SOS distress signal recognized worldwide.

Perhaps the airplane’s radio operator meant to use Star Dust in his message, which is similar in code to S-T-E-N-D-E-C. But, most agree that planes are usually identified by their registration, not by personalization. Others have offered various interpretations, some credible and some simply amusing — Stardust Tank Empty No Diesel Expected Crash — not logical for an experienced radio operator. For whatever reason, we can only conclude that S-T-E-N-D-E-C was not the intended message

Star Dust and its puzzling message have received a lot of attention worldwide including the PBS NOVA program, “Vanished,” Matt Castle’s article on the damn interesting website, and Jay Rayner’s book “Star Dust Falling.” A Spanish UFO magazine adopted a variation of the message, using the name Stendek for its publication. Many knowledgeable people, Morse code experts, and even amateur sleuths who love a good mystery, have tried to solve the message of S-T-E-N-D-E-C. Perhaps, some of our readers will find this intriguing, as well, and present us with yet another interesting interpretation.

Sharon Slayton

The Ustica Massacre – Itavia Flt #870

On June 27, 1980, the Italian airliner left Bologna, Italy for Palermo at 8:08 pm with four crew members and 77 passengers. Messages retrieved from the cockpit voice recorder appeared normal early in the flight with good radio communications. Control tower monitoring was consistent until the plane was some 80 miles southwest of Naples when no further contact was made. Approximately one hour after departure, the DC-9 crashed and sank in the depths of the Tyrrhenian Sea near the small island of Ustica. Other than housing prisoners of the Fascists during the war, and criminals in the Mafia in the 1950’s, not much else was known about Ustica or its estimated 1300 inhabitants until this disaster.

A brief search and rescue attempt by two Italian Air Force jets was unsuccessful, poor visibility given as the reason. Years went by until 1987, when the Italian government reopened the investigation, which had produced few results up to then. From the recovery of the flight data recorder and most of the wreckage, their technician Luigi Di Stefano was able to reconstruct the aircraft. He also provided a photograph of the reconstruction, which clearly shows a gaping hole just behind the forward door and a matching one on the opposite side. This evidence added even more credence to the popular theory of a missile impact.

In 1989, Senator Pellegrino of the Parliamentary Commission on Terrorism issued an official statement of a terrorist attack in a deliberate act of war. This seemed logical, as Italy had been through a series of bombings in the 70’s, and the incident occurred just one month before the disastrous attack in the city of Bologna. Others also came to the same conclusion based on a report released later in 1994 stating that a bomb had been planted on Flt 870. Then too, there had been a delay of over 2 hours in the plane’s departure, which certainly would have been enough time to set an explosive device.

The investigation continued into the 1990’s, and in August 1996, a press release indicated that Italian government officials were in discussion with NATO, which leads us to wonder why NATO was so interested in the loss of a civilian aircraft. A representative for the victims’ families, Daria Bonfietti, insists that the disaster was purposely covered up by the Italian air force and the political regime at the time. In any event, the majority of the media agreed that the plane was inadvertently shot down by a missile.

Other explanations for the crash were investigated, which included the possibility of Italian, French, and US aircraft participating in a routine training exercise in the area. More disturbing reports by the media, however, suggested a conspiracy by NATO members, which included the US, France, and Italy, to bring down an aircraft carrying the Libyan leader Gadafi, although he denied being in the airspace at the time. Radar tracking reports released in 1997 showed at least 7 warplanes in the area at the time of Flight 870’s disappearance. The wreckage of a Libyan fighter jet, found in the Calabria region of southern Italy just 21 days after the crash, adds substance to these reports. It is possible that the Itavia airline came within the firing range of a missile intended for the Libyan plane. Most aviation experts agreed that the extensive damage to the airplane indicated a missile impact. In any event, there is no question that military aircraft were in the area for some purpose. Certainly, the civilian airline should have been alerted of their activities and perhaps been able to avoid the disaster that occurred.

Rumors of conspiracy continued for some time as more strange events added to the mystery. The French ship involved in the search had released the recovered parts of the aircraft, but only to the US, and important radar reports were removed from the investigation. Several prominent political figures, Itavia employees and pilots, and Italian Air Force pilots died unexpectedly; some committed suicide and others were apparently targeted by terrorists and unknown assailants. Was this a well-planned cover-up, and one about to be exposed? Although several Italian generals were later indicted for obstruction of justice, they were eventually cleared. Other more serious charges of treason were also dismissed in 2007; the obvious grave misconduct was apparently never punished, nor was the mystery solved.

In June of this year, 2008, the Italian government remained determined to pursue the matter and decided to reopen the case of Itavia Flt 870. Papers with a claim for damages were served to the French president in July 2008, whose warplanes they held responsible for downing the aircraft.

Accessible from Palermo by ferry service, the primary attraction on Ustica for tourists today is the pleasure of scuba diving in its natural sea preserve. Relatively few visitors will remember or attach much significance to the disaster of Itavia Flt 870. The Italian government, however, established a Museum for the Memory of Ustica in Bologna in June 2007. The reconstruction work of Luigi Di Stefano and objects recovered that belonged to the passengers are included in the exhibits. All the personal items are kept in a wooden box, covered with black plastic, and a book of photographs and pertinent information is available for visitors to the Museum. The exact number of people who died in the massacre is used throughout the impressive display with 81 large hanging lights and mirrors. Eighty-one loudspeakers add a dramatic, but somber, effect in various messages to visitors; e.g., “when I will arrive, I will go to the sea.”

(Note: Itavia Airline, a successful company in the 1960’s, ended its operations after the Ustica disaster.)

Sharon Slayton

Mysterious Cargo

South African Airways Flt #295 left the Taiwan Taoyuan Airport, then known as Chiang Kai Shek airport, on November 27, 1987, enroute to Johannesburg. The Boeing 747 Combi, the Helderberg, carried 140 passengers, 19 crewmembers, and six platforms of cargo on the same flight deck. The passenger list represented 11 different countries, with the majority from China, Japan, and South Africa. About 135 nautical miles from its first stop at Mauritius, the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean, leaving no survivors.

Search efforts were delayed for some 12 hours because of the hasty and inaccurate reporting of its location by a crew who were not prepared to handle the catastrophic fire that occurred onboard. Two ships from the South African Navy, two tugboats, and one ship from environmental affairs were sent to investigate the crash. The flight data recorder, if found, would have been virtually useless for pinpointing the location of the plane in the depths of the Indian Ocean at over 16,000 feet. After a two-month search over a vast area, a deep ocean recovery team was brought in from the U.S. to go beyond the sonar exploration. Three separate areas of debris were recovered well north of the probable location of the crash, and at some distance from each other, which seemed to indicate that the plane had fallen apart before impact

Eight bodies were recovered from the surface, and strangely enough, three wristwatches were found in the baggage; two were still running, and one had stopped. Luckily, investigators were able to determine the approximate time of the crash from this watch, a mere 3 minutes after the plane’s last communication with air traffic control. Blood samples from these victims were analyzed and found to have soot present in the respiratory tract, but no other real evidence of any type of explosive device was discovered. Customs officials in Taiwan had found nothing in their investigation of the cargo before departure.

The media was quick to exploit theories of terrorism and conspiracy on the part of the government of South Africa, which served to arouse the public and add to the international uproar that circled the globe. Not only did the government own the airline, but also the incident took place during the cruel and dangerous times of the apartheid regime. Some reports suggested that the government was smuggling in weapons on civilian aircraft to be used in their ongoing fight against Angola.

Although rare on this type of plane, the question that a major fire had occurred was never in doubt, but the cause of the fire and the contents of the cargo were a mystery. Everything from fireworks to the highly controversial red mercury, better known as plutonium or uranium, in the cargo was mentioned. Whether the government was importing this for weaponry, we can’t say, as no proof was established that this type of dangerous cargo was even onboard.

Standard procedure was followed and a commission was appointed to investigate. The presiding judge, Cecil Margo, was thought to be highly experienced in such investigations as a pilot and having led many such inquiries on the Board of Inquiry. The transcript from the cockpit voice recording was dismissed as invalid, although its significance may have been intentionally or accidentally overlooked. It is thought that the captain, who had been reluctant to fly the aircraft, may have alerted the crew of the dangerous cargo onboard — explosives. If this was the case, the crew was obviously inexperienced in handling this type of cargo. Unfortunately, the Margo Commission arrived at no satisfactory conclusion at the end of its investigation.

The mystery did not end there, however, and the case was brought to the attention of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) in 1996, dedicated to investigating the many atrocities committed by the former Nationalist Party of South Africa. Numerous discrepancies were found in the Margo Commission inquiry and witnesses were interviewed, but much of the necessary information was not available, ignored, or lost. Dr David Katzlow, a forensic expert, stated that the fire was not caused by the obvious things such as wood, cardboard, or plastic, negating the idea of computer packaging or other types of cargo igniting. He went on to suggest that the plane might have been carrying a new type of rocket. A former agent of the FBI provided his interpretation of the words on the voice recorder that stated there was a bomb onboard. This too was quickly pushed aside by the Civil Aviation Agency, as being no more than just undecipherable noise on the tape. The TRC concluded in 1998 that nothing on the cargo list, if accurate, could have caused the explosion. A special investigative unit, the Scorpions, was also ineffective in its investigation of the incident. No further inquiry was carried out, for one reason or another, perhaps because of financial limitations.

But, freight is one thing, and explosives are another. Some time later, comments by a retired South African Airlines employee definitely pointed to a conspiracy. In his words “we murdered the people aboard the Helderberg,” by carrying weapons and explosives as cargo, but listed as agricultural products, on this and other routes at the time including London, Frankfurt, and Lisbon.

Boeing conducted various simulated fire tests, but the only conclusion drawn from these was that there was probably inadequate protection for the passengers from the cargo. The manufacturer also agreed that more than likely the fire regulations were insufficient, a weak argument at best, and proved nothing about the cause of the fire. (Note: Subsequently, fire and safety regulations and cargo handling procedures were improved, and the FAA imposed new standards. As a result, the use of the Combi aircraft was deemed no longer practical, and it was eventually discontinued.)

What was lacking in 1987, and is even more important today, is the fact that cargo investigation and control must continue to receive top priority. This, and many other disasters, might have somehow been prevented. No one person, group, or country was ever held accountable, however, and as is often the case, no specific cause for the disaster could be determined. The case was considered officially closed in 2002 by the South African Board of Transport, leaving us with one more unresolved travel mystery.

Sharon Slayton

SS Waratah — The Other Titanic

Three years before the tragic sinking of the Titanic, another ship went down with all hands lost. This time, however, there was no iceberg, and no explanation for its disappearance. The 500-foot liner was the pride of Scotland, named after the flower of New South Wales, Australia. Designed to carry passengers and cargo, there were 100 first class cabins, 8 staterooms, and luxurious lounges. In addition to its first class passengers, the Waratah also carried emigrants from Europe to Australia in steerage dormitory-like quarters, capable of housing 700 or more of these lower paying passengers. Although the ship could transport refrigerated cargo and had a large desalination plant onboard, it had no radio or telegraph communications, typical of the times.

After an uneventful journey that began on April 27 from London to Australia, the Waratah left Melbourne on the return trip to London on July 1, 1909. The ship reached Durban, Australia and departed on July 26,1909 for Cape Town, South Africa. One passenger, Claude Sawyer, debarked at Durban after wiring his wife that the ship was top heavy and he was suffering from nightmares. On July 27, the ship exchanged signals with the Clan McIntyre, the last verifiable sighting of its location. One day later, two more sightings of the Waratah were recounted, but thirty-foot waves and 50-knot winds had made visibility poor. The Guelph, a passing ship, received light signals, commonly used instead of radio communications, but could only identify the last 3 letters t — a — h.

That same evening, the Harlow detected a ship, possibly the Waratah, following behind her from about 10 to 12 miles away. Two lights flashed in the darkness, but the captain and the first mate of the Harlow assumed these were simply brush fires onshore, a usual occurrence, and paid no particular attention. This sighting was not recorded in the ship’s log, and it is doubtful that the Waratah had somehow reversed her course back to Durban. The exact location of the sinking SS Waratah is unknown, although a policeman on horseback patrolling the east coast of South Africa, the Transkei area, may have been an actual eyewitness. In any event, for whatever reason, the ship did not arrive at Cape Town as expected on July 29.

Turbulent weather off the Cape hampered the search efforts of three ships from the Royal Navy. A possible sighting of the Waratah was announced in the Australian Parliament and people in Adelaide were elated, but this news was short lived; it was not the Waratah. It is now September and the ship’s owners have charted the Sabine to resume the search, which covered over 14,000 miles. Still nothing! Relatives of passengers on the Waratah also chartered their own ship, the Wakefield, but its 3-month search found no evidence of the ship or the 211 passengers and crew.

Since there were no survivors, the Board of Trade had to rely on testimony from passengers, builders, and crew from the ship’s maiden voyage in November 1908. All agreed that it was well built and in excellent condition, further verified by Lloyds of London who gave it an A1 rating. One witness stated that the ship did seem to have a problem with maintaining equilibrium in heavy seas, but former crew members and passengers disagreed with this theory. There was some speculation that inspections were not thorough enough, and seemed to concentrate more upon the design and detail of the cabins and public rooms, rather than its overall seaworthiness. The formal inquiry did conclude that the supposed sightings by the Guelph and the Harlow were questionable. Based upon its location on July 27, these could not have occurred at the same time.

Many more sightings were rumored including one by a pilot from the South African Air Force in 1925, one in 1929 by a soldier onshore, and again, by a Cessna pilot flying over the area in 1962 who reported seeing a passenger ship lying beneath the surface of the ocean. But, whether any of these reports were fantasies or realities is not known.

In 1977, Emlyn Brown and his diving team discovered a wreck off the Xora River. At first it was thought to be the Waratah, but later determined that it was too far north of its approximate location. In all probability, it was a ship destroyed by German U-boats in WWII. More recent attempts to find the Waratah were made in 1991, 1995, and 1997. A discovery in 1999 turned out to be another transport ship sunk during the war.

Other theories arose about the extreme weather conditions and a possible rogue wave, which frequently occur (as recent as August of this year) in deep water off the coast of Africa. Resulting from high winds and strong currents, these waves are unpredictable and might well have been the cause of the disappearance of the Waratah. A few people have suggested that the ship was swept as far south as Antarctica, having lost its rudder in the turbulence, but no evidence exists to prove or disprove this theory.

The suggestion of a whirlpool has little substance, as it is doubtful that any whirlpool would have been powerful enough to completely submerge a ship of this size. Neither is the possibility of an explosion of coal dust a valid one. Again, there would have been some wreckage, and some indication of lifeboats being launched. Then too, there are the believers in the paranormal including the passenger Sawyer who claimed to have had visions of a man with a sword covered in blood on three occasions, and decided to leave the ship in Durban. It has been mentioned too that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famed mystery writer, held a séance in hopes of locating the Waratah.

The mysterious disappearance of the SS Waratah has attracted divers and expeditions for over 95 years. Perhaps, the most notable of these is millionaire Clive Cussler, well-known author of Raise The Titanic, and other adventure novels. As a marine archaeologist and founder of the National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA), Cussler, Brown, and Dr Peter Ramsey, a geoscientist, have led at least nine diving expeditions to find the Waratah since 1983. Paid for once again by Cussler, a group of 16 led by Brown planned an expedition in 2004 to explore the Xora and Bashee rivers off the Transkei coast. (Note: This writer could find no further information on the results of this venture.)

Was the ship overloaded on its return trip with a diverse 6500 tons of cargo including food supplies and an additional 1,000 tons of lead concentrate? Did it capsize in stormy weather as a result of instability? Were the ballast requirements accurately determined to take into consideration this added weight? These are all credible answers to the mystery, but until evidence is found that the SS Waratah lies somewhere on the bottom of the ocean, then we are left to draw our own conclusions to the mystery of the other Titanic.

(Note: The ship’s owners, the Blue Anchor Line, was forced into liquidation in 1910 after ticket sales dropped, and the lack of adequate insurance did not compensate for the huge financial losses.)

Sharon Slayton

Disappearing Ships — Cape Hatteras & The Atlantic Coast

Most of us are familiar with the unexplained disappearances of aircraft and ships in the Bermuda Triangle, but there is another fascinating story of two ships lost off Cape Hatteras in 1921. Hurricanes and storms have always been prevalent in this area, and the Cape serves as a navigational point about 25 miles off the North Carolina coast for ships sailing the Atlantic Ocean.

The Hewitt, originally named the Pacific, was one of two ships owned by the Union Sulphur Company. Its twin, named the Atlantic, was torpedoed in 1917, an interesting omen in itself. The Hewitt left Sabine, Texas on January 20th enroute to Portland, Maine, and radioed in her location somewhere off the coast of Georgia on the 25th of January. A 5-mast wooden schooner, the Carroll A. Deering, was traveling the same northern route, returning to its homeport of Bath, Maine. It is believed that both ships encountered turbulent weather near the Cape, and somehow, the Deering ran aground on Diamond Shoals, with sails full set, on January 31. This may not have been an unusual occurrence in the midst of a storm, but it is here that the mystery begins.

Coast Guard boats and rescuers, unable to reach the ship until February 4th when the storm abated, found a strange scene onboard. It appeared that some sort of mutiny might have taken place, as some personal belongings were missing, as well as navigational charts and instruments. The handwriting in the ship’s chart appeared to be different from that of the captain’s at the beginning of the journey. The lifeboats were also gone, which indicated a possible planned escape from the schooner. Further investigation of the ship’s papers revealed that that there had been a confrontation between the first mate and the captain after leaving Barbados. The lighthouse keeper at Cape Lookout, NC recalled a message from the Deering on January 29th saying that the ship had lost its anchor near Cape Fear and to alert the ship’s owner of their location. This seemed odd to him, as the group of men sending the message did not appear to be officers, and ordinarily, such a group would not be assembled on the quarterdeck. To add to the mystery, a passing ship heading south at the same time did not respond to his radio signal and appeared to have no name or identification.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, the hull of the Deering was dynamited, supposedly to prevent it from becoming a navigational hazard, and more evidence was lost. We don’t know if the Hewitt had rescued any of the Deering survivors – there were no radio communications to that effect, as might be expected. Further search on shore and at sea revealed nothing of the 11 crewmen from the Deering.

About 2 a.m., on February 1, a strange light was seen from the Absecon Lighthouse at Atlantic City, and as far as 20 miles up the coast. The Coast Guard quickly dispatched patrol boats to the area thinking there might have been an explosion on a ship, possibly the Hewitt. It was possible that the cargo of sulphur, not generally considered hazardous, had ignited and caused the explosion. However, the Hewitt had regularly carried cargoes of sulphur to chemical and ammunition industries for use during the war without incident. The location raised another question too, as the distance traveled from their last radio contact would probably not correlate with the ship being in this spot at the time. A seaplane also explored a 30-mile area from 5,000 feet and detected no sign of debris or other evidence of a missing ship, nor were any radio messages received from a ship in distress. A more plausible explanation might be that mines planted in the Atlantic Ocean before 1921 caused an explosion, and like the Atlantic, it too became another casualty of war.

More rumors circulated and speculation arose, as interest in the disappearance of the two ships increased. The media including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times were quick to offer their own opinions. The Times attributed the disappearances to either piracy or a deliberate attempt by the Soviets to confiscate another U.S. ship, a common practice at the time. Russia was a known enemy, and piracy had been a part of history for years and still is; both were certainly a consideration. Lloyds of London disagreed, however, stating these disappearances were not an unusual occurrence at all considering the weather conditions that prevail around the Cape.

As Lula Wormell, daughter of the missing captain of the Deering, continued her search, another possible clue to the mystery emerged. A bottle found by a local fisherman, Christopher Gray, in April 1921 contained a message with the following excerpt: ”Deering captured by oil-burning boat…crew hiding…handcuffed…no chance to escape…finder to notify Deering headqtrs.” Initially, handwriting experts determined that the message had probably been written by Bates, the engine man of the schooner. This discovery encouraged a determined Lula Wormell to use her influence and gain the support of Herbert Hoover, then Secretary of Commerce. Hoover enlisted other agencies including the Navy, State, and Justice Departments to join the search, and consulates around the world were alerted to possible piracy attempts. Soon, the FBI was brought in to investigate the validity of the discovery and the message in the bottle. They concluded that the whole thing was indeed a hoax, perpetrated by Gray in an effort to impress the people at the Cape Hatteras lighthouse where he was seeking employment.

Subsequently, some effort was made to locate any of the 40 seamen from the Hewitt that may have survived its disappearance. One man and possible survivor had aroused the suspicion of the Consulate in Istanbul because of passport discrepancies. The FBI discovered upon questioning Raney that he had indeed signed on with the Hewitt, but an unfortunate accident onboard just 20 minutes before the ship was scheduled to leave Sabine had put him in the hospital and he was unable to sail. In Raney’s opinion, the ship had simply broken up because of overloading, which was often the case. Whether this was true or not is hard to say, but the FBI accepted his explanation.

Considering the perseverance of Lula Wormell in seeking an answer to the disappearance of the Deering, the lack of interest by the Bureau of Inspection and Navigation and the Steamboat Investigation Service in finding the Hewitt or its survivors, if any, was deplorable. Unfortunately, with no ship or cargo to provide revenue, the courts and insurance companies refused at the time to provide compensation for the seamen’s families. The settlement amount paid to Union Sulphur is unknown, but it is doubtful that it covered the full value of the Hewitt at $1,200,000 and its cargo worth $175,000. If the families of the missing members of the merchant marine were ever compensated for their loss, it was certainly not nearly enough. Regrettably, seamen’s rights were not widely recognized, and members of the merchant marine had little influence in the 1920’s.

Whether the Bolsheviks, pirates, weather, or other circumstances were the cause, the mysterious disappearances of the Hewitt and the Deering have never been explained. Although it is presumed the Hewitt was somewhere near the area of Cape Hatteras and Diamond Shoals, based on their last radio contact, this too may be incorrect. In fact, the ship may never have reached the coast off Atlantic City, and sailed no further than Jupiter Inlet in Florida. In any event, it is strange that with all the numerous diving expeditions off the Atlantic coast, no further evidence of either ship or its survivors has ever been found.

Sharon Slayton

What Happened To TWA Flight #3 – Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard, the famous Hollywood starlet of the 1930’s, is probably best remembered as the wife of the legendary Clark Gable. She, like many others, was an active participant in the sale of war bonds shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Accompanied by her mother and a press agent, she returned to her hometown of Indianapolis in January 1942. The sale’s success of over $2 million in bonds was not surprising, but the circumstances surrounding the event were puzzling. Rather than returning to California by train, Lombard changed her plans at the last minute to TWA Flight #3. Her mother, an avid numerologist, was hesitant from the beginning and superstitious about the number 3, the letters and flight number of the airline. In addition, there were 3 people in their group, and Carole’s age at the time was 33.

The first hint of something amiss was the unscheduled stop at Lambert Field in St Louis, Missouri. Grounded for inclement weather is not an unusual occurrence; however, the weather had been perfect for the flight up to this time. For no apparent reason, a dense smoke screen arose unexpectedly in front of the aircraft, and visibility dropped quickly from 12 miles to 2 in about an hour. After a 2-hour layover at Lambert, the ill-fated flight continued on to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where another strange incident took place. Four people on the flight were asked by TWA to release their seats to a group of Army pilots. Not only was this an odd request at the time, but also the airport’s close proximity to the secret Area 51 military facility in Roswell aroused even more curiosity as time went by.

Normally, the flight to Los Angeles would have been non stop, but the layover delay and strong headwinds meant refueling was necessary. The next logical stop at Boulder, Colorado was considered; however, the runway there was unlighted, so the plane continued on to Las Vegas. After refueling in Las Vegas, the plane departed for California at 7 pm in clear, cold weather. Only one runway light was left on as ordered by the war department, which might have increased the glare from the lights in the cockpit. It is doubtful, however, that this interfered to any great extent with the pilot’s capability, as the radio beam and other equipment were functioning correctly. Although Captain Williams, an experienced pilot, and the co-pilot had not flown together on this particular segment of the flight, this seemed to be irrelevant. No reasonable explanation could be given why the plane veered some 6.7 miles off course shortly after takeoff. All pilot bulletins for 6 months previous had directed a flying altitude of 8,000 feet, yet the aircraft was several hundred feet below that when it crashed on Table Mountain, the eastern slope of Death Valley about 30 miles southwest of Vegas.

Workers from the Blue Diamond Mine in nearby Arden, Nevada, reported hearing an explosion and seeing fire on the mountainside. They were able to assist a group of soldiers, Indians, and riders on horseback led by Major Anderson from the gunnery school at McCarran Field in searching the trails on the Potosi mountain range. The wreckage, however, was eventually sighted by Western Airlines pilot Art Cheney, enroute to Vegas from California. Unfortunately, the tremendous impact and fire had destroyed all the evidence including the flight plan and navigational log that might have been helpful in explaining the crash.

Adding to the mystery surrounding the flight were 100 highly classified documents, which were released many years later by the FBI in 1985. These included reports of UFO sightings in the same area just hours before the untimely disaster. This might explain why the group of military pilots requested immediate space on the flight, perhaps on an urgent mission to investigate these sightings. We probably will never know if numerology or aliens from outer space had anything to do with the crash of TWA Flt #3 – perhaps it was nothing more than an unfortunate twist of fate.

(Note: Carole Lombard’s remains were interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, at her request. The Army’s offer of a military funeral for her war bond support was refused, but a WWII Liberty ship was given her name.)

Sharon Slayton

Unanswered Questions — Korean Airlines (KAL) Flight 007

The Boeing 747 KAL Flight 007 left JFK on August 31, 1983, with 269 occupants including 240 passengers, 22 of which were children, and flight crew personnel. The majority were American and Korean, with a few other nationalities such as Taiwanese, Japanese, and Filipino. After refueling, the plane took off from Anchorage, Alaska at 4 am (1300 GMT) on September 1, 1983 bound for Kimpo Airport in Seoul. Shortly after departure, the airplane began to deviate from its assigned North Pacific course to Japan. This route was extremely close, within 17½ miles, to Soviet airspace and the off-limits zone for civilian aircraft. Failing to make radar detection at Bethel, the last navigational point on the mainland of the U.S., it continued off course to enter the designated Air Defense buffer zone of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The area was carefully monitored by Soviet surveillance, and plans were in place to test fire their SS-25 ICBM, a missile declared illegal through the Strategic Arms Limitations Treaties (SALT) between the Soviet Union and the U.S.

Information from the cockpit voice recorder indicates that the pilot and crew were unaware that they were entering a controlled airspace. It has been considered, but it is doubtful, that they chose this particular flight path to save fuel. After attempting to contact the pilot of Flt 007 and getting no response, the Soviets fired several warning shots at the aircraft. Within minutes, the order was given to bring down the airplane as it was about to leave the airspace for the second time. After two missiles were fired by the Soviet interceptor jets, Flt 007 disappeared from the radar, but there were no Mayday broadcasts as it continued to descend. There is considerable discrepancy in the time element with some information pointing to a rapid descent and decompression. Other data reflect a leveling off of the aircraft for at least 5 minutes after being hit. This would indicate that Captain Chun, the pilot, was able to switch to manual control as the plane descended.

Although the initial press report stated that the plane had landed safely on Sakhalin Island, a disputed territory between Japan and Russia, this proved untrue. KAL Flt 007 crashed in the sea just north of Moneron Island, with no survivors. Just 9 days after the crash, the Chief of General Staff of the Soviet Union said they did not know where the crash had occurred and could not locate it. This was refuted, however, 9 years later, when military communications revealed that within minutes, the Soviets had launched KGB border guard boats, helicopters, and civilian ships to the site. Whether or not this was only a simulated rescue effort was not determined. Although they claimed nothing of the wreckage was found, Yeltsin’s report in November 1983 stated that the black box tapes were top secret, but had been recovered and sent to Moscow for interpretation. Apparently, they did not furnish proof that the plane was on a spy mission or actually in Soviet airspace when shot down. Further rescue efforts through October by the U.S., South Korea, and the Japanese were met with hostile interference by the Soviets, who claimed territorial rights to the crash site.

The Soviet interceptor pilot, Major Osipovich, admitted in a 1996 interview with the NY Times that he was aware that it was a civilian aircraft because of the double rows of windows and blinking lights. Yet, he failed to alert the ground controllers of its probable identity, and these lights were not detectible by them. However, he added that he could not be sure that the plane was not an RC-135, a U.S. reconnaissance plane, or possibly a civilian aircraft that had been converted for military purposes. This argument was weak, however, as there was little similarity between the Boeing 747 and the 135.

Through intensive investigations, numerous theories were offered, with differing opinions on all sides. A suggestion that the plane was indeed a military aircraft, carrying no civilian passengers, was quickly dismissed. The strategic commander of the Soviet operation proposed a theory of a wind tunnel formed when the nose and tail broke off, and passengers were then sucked through and out of the plane. If so, then why were there no remains? Although the passenger cabin was punctured in numerous places, the overall area was too small for anyone to be sucked out from there. According to a flight crew broadcast, oxygen masks were deployed and passengers were warned of an emergency descent. There should have been enough oxygen left for some to remain conscious for at least 12 minutes after impact.

There was yet another theory proposed – an assassination plot planned by the Soviets. The most noteworthy passenger on the flight was U.S. Congressman, Larry McDonald, a well-known anti-communist on his way to the 30th anniversary of the U.S./South Korea Mutual Defense Treaty. McDonald was also president of the John Birch Society, whose mission was to expose the communism of the Soviet Union. No evidence existed, however, that the Soviets knew of this passenger until the media revealed the information after the crash occurred.

The pilot of the accompanying KAL Flight 015, also carrying U.S. Congressmen, believed that the coordinates of the flight plan might have been improperly entered in the Inertial Navigation System. When discovered, Captain Chun of Flt 007 then chose to follow the aircraft’s magnetic compass, rather than returning to Alaska, which might explain the flight path deviation.

Overall, a total of 1,020 items were recovered, and of this total, only a few unidentifiable body parts were found eight days after the crash along the shores of Hokkaido, Japan. Reports from the media stated that a few items of clothing had apparently been dry cleaned before being sent to Japan, and others were found zipped up, but nothing inside. Some speculated that giant crabs or sharks may have devoured the bodies, but this would not explain the absence of any bones. Other non-human remains were also found including seats, books, shoes, and a camera, but no luggage was found by either the Russians or the international search parties. This led many to suppose that the passengers and their belongings were trapped within the aircraft itself. Civilian divers claimed to have found a plane filled with garbage, but again no bodies.

The U.S. and Korea were understandably outraged at this unbelievable tragedy, and protests arose around the world. President Reagan deemed this a “massacre…a crime against humanity…,” and proceeded to revoke the license of Soviet Aeroflot flights to the U.S, the revocation enforced until 1986. Although the Soviets expressed their regret over the loss of lives, they insisted that the entire unfortunate incident was caused by the CIA’s involvement and instigation of a spy plane mission. The International Civil Aviation Organization disagreed and determined that the violation of Soviet airspace was accidental. As a result of the disaster, military radars from Anchorage were extended, and Reagan directed that GPS be used for civilian as well as military aircraft (a directive finalized by Clinton in 1996).

There is no question that KAL Flt 007 was shot down, but what really happened to those inside the aircraft? Was the plane within the off-limits zone, or in neutral waters? Was it a deliberate “act of brutality” by the Soviets, or a justifiable defense of their territorial zone? Why did Air Traffic controllers in Anchorage somehow fail to note the positions of both KAL flights? These are just a few of the many questions that may remain unanswered, for one reason or another.

Sharon Slayton