On 29th December 1972, Eastern Airlines Flight 401 came crashing out of the sky and into the Florida Everglades. Captain Bob Loft and Second Officer Don Repo died in the crash, as did ninety-nine other people on board in what was one of the worst commercial air disasters in United States history. It seemed a combination of system malfunction and temporary distraction of the crew was to blame for the crash.
In the following years, however, passengers and crew alike began to not only see Loft and Repo on and around Eastern Airlines flights, many unknowing people even had brief conversations with them. Although Eastern Airlines were tight-lipped on the sightings, it quickly became one of the aviation industry’s worst-kept secrets. Loft and Repo had indeed lost their lives that December evening in 1972. Now, though, it seemed they were acting as “guardians” over their former employer’s flights.
Investigations into the sightings would prove not only that the witnesses were of sound mind (and some very high-ranking, to boot), but the details and descriptions offered of these apparent visitors from the other side matched the former pilots almost exactly. It is arguably one of the strongest indicators of the presence beyond death on record.
Disaster Over The Everglades
Perhaps the final conversation heard by the control tower between Captain Loft and First Officer Stockstill is the best place to start when unfolding the tragic circumstances of 29th December 1972. As the plane made its way across the marshlands of the Florida Everglades, Stockstill is heard to say, “We did something to the altitude”. Loft expresses concerned surprise before Stockstill asks, “We’re still at 2,000 feet, right?” As realization appears to dawn on Loft the transmission cuts out. The Eastern Airlines flight had just impacted into the ground.
The final conversation gave investigators enough of a clue to then piece together the timeline that led the pilots to be in the fatal position they found themselves. As they went through the records of the flight it came to light that an apparent problem in the cockpit had drawn the crew’s attention. So much so, that an increased amount of movement took place. During this time, the plane’s autopilot system was set to maintain the plane’s altitude at 2,000 feet. However, a “push” on the steering systems in a specific way, would disengage the autopilot. It appears this happened during the temporary commotion among the crew.
The plane dropped around 500 feet, but no one among the crew realized it as their systems didn’t register the drop. Only when they dropped their altitude shortly after did they realize the error, by which time it was too late. The Everglades were rushing towards them.
Whether or not there is a connection to the incidents that would follow, many rescue workers would report seeing and hearing “strange things” in the Everglades in the days and weeks that followed the crash.
The short video below is a reconstruction of the disastrous incident.
A Surge Of Sightings
Sightings of the pilots on Eastern Airlines planes began in the immediate months following the accident. Although Eastern Airlines themselves refused to publicly speak of them, many paranormal investigators managed to speak to their employees. Many of them were happy to tell of their experiences. Some high-ranking employees and pilots would do so only under the cover of anonymity.
For example, one unnamed flight engineer would tell how he almost screamed when, while performing the standard pre-flight checks Don Repo appeared in front of him stating he had already done the checks for him.
Another account from a flight attendant would tell of how she could see someone in the galley of the plane, seemingly in a flight engineer’s uniform. However, they appeared to be fixing the oven. She made her report to the serving flight engineer who promptly informed her he was the only engineer on board the flight. She would insist, however, and began to describe the person she witnessed. When she was shown photographs of employees in an attempt to pick out the mystery person, she immediately singled out Repo.
An unnamed female passenger also had a chilling experience during an Eastern Airlines flight. She would leave her seat temporarily to find a staff member as one of their staff, a flight attendant who was sitting next to her was obviously feeling unwell. When she returned to her seat with the stewardess following behind her, both women saw who was later “identified” as Don Repo just fade away and vanish before their eyes. Incidentally, the witness refused to fly and left the plane right before it was due for take-off.
A further sighting is even more spine-tingling.
The Encounter Of Faye Merryweather
Faye Merryweather was a serving flight attendant for Eastern Airlines in the mid-1970s. On one particular occasion, on Flight Tri-Star 138, while performing her normal duties, she could clearly see the face of Repo in the oven door in the plane’s kitchen. Scared but calm, she went to find other colleagues and returned with two other flight attendants. All three of them now saw Repo’s face in the oven door. One of them had worked with the dead pilot years earlier and positively identified him.
Even more chilling, however, was the warning that all three of the flight attendants heard at the same time. Out of thin air, Repo’s voice would say, “Watch out for fire on this plane”. During the last leg of the flight, the plane would experience engine trouble. Fortunately, it managed to make an emergency landing. Coincidentally or not, the entire galley area where the flight attendants saw Repo’s face was made from materials recovered from the downed Flight 401.
Even the Vice President of Eastern Airlines would go on record stating a mysterious encounter before his flight. He began a conversation with who he thought was the pilot on his plane in the first-class section. Only when he vanished into thin air did he suspect it was one of the “ghost pilots” whom so many employees spoke about. He would later identify the mystery man as Loft when looking up a picture of the deceased pilot.
The “hauntings” of Eastern Airlines planes is certainly the most well-known. It is not, however, the only such incident of its type on record.
Other Ghostly Tales Of Airports And Air Travel
Spooky tales unfolding high above us in planes shuffling people from one destination on the planet to another are, in certain circles, more common than we might think. Indeed, perhaps it is understandable that airlines might not want such sightings spoken of publicly lest people choose another plane to make their journey. One reserved for the living perhaps.
One account from a flight attendant working for Virgin Atlantic is particularly hair-raising. The attendant in question would approach a gentleman who was standing in the galley to ask him if required assistance. The man would ask the attendant to pass a message to a woman, whom he named, that was on board the flight. He wished her to tell this lady that he was OK. A little perplexed the woman passed along the message to the lady. When the woman produced a photo of the man, the attendant beamed to confirm that was him. That was until the lady informed him that the man in question was dead. And furthermore, laid in a coffin in the cargo hold.
While he has not yet been reported in planes over Heathrow, the airport itself is said to contain the spirit of the highwayman, Dick Turpin who was sentenced to death for his crimes of brutal robbery in 1739. Whether Turpin used the grounds to conduct his robberies over 250 years before the conception of air travel is unknown. Many believe they have seen his ghost, however, and that of his black horse, near the main terminal.
Why Was Flight 401 Special?
As spine-tingling as other ghostly aerial sightings are, however, the ones connected to Flight 401 are arguably the most consistent. Perhaps if we one day can understand the reasons for that, we can understand more of afterlife existence generally speaking.
Sightings of Don Repo would continue sporadically for several years before Eastern Airlines’ closure in 1991. Although they were much less, so did sightings of Bob Loft. For reasons unknown, there are no reports of them together. One anonymous captain claimed to have seen Repo before a flight he was about to pilot. And was informed by the dead officer, “There will never be another crash! We will not let it happen!” While history would suggest they were unable to deliver this promise, most consider the sightings to be completely genuine.
Perhaps the spirits (energies?) of the men simply moved on from our realm of existence after so long? Maybe the salvaged pieces of Flight 401’s wreckage also contained the final energies of the crew. Perhaps they carried with them a sense of guilt at missing the altitude drop? It is certainly a unique case. And one of the better-documented cases of the existence of “something” beyond death. We can only imagine how many more accounts might be on record if not for the eventual ban by Eastern Airlines on any of their employees speaking publicly of their sightings.
The short video below looks at the incident in a little more detail.