Haunted Airfields

For Halloween, a collection of weird tales about airports and aircraft




On December 29, 1972, Eastern Air Lines flight 401 took off from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport carrying 160 passengers. The new Lockheed L-1011 Tristar—Eastern Air Lines named its fleet “Whisperliners”—was headed for Miami, Florida. It crashed into the Florida Everglades, 18 miles from its destined runway, killing 77 people on board.

A Web site created by survivors, rescue workers, and journalists summarizes the NTSB’s crash investigation, which decided that the crash—the first of a wide-body aircraft, and the deadliest in the United States at that time—was a result of the flight crew’s failure to recognize that the autopilot had been deactivated.

The site notes that “although there is no factual evidence to support the claim, legend has it that after the crash investigation, surviving avionics and galley equipment was salvaged from the crash site…” and were fitted into Lockheed’s production line. “Not long after,” the site continues, “'ghosts’ of [Captain Robert Albin] Loft and [engineer and second officer Donald Louis] Repo were seen on more than twenty occasions by crew members on other Eastern Tri-Stars…. An account of the paranormal happenings even appeared in a 1974 issue of the US Flight Safety Foundation newsletter.”

We called the folks at Flight Safety, hoping for a copy of this frequently mentioned report, and were told, “as far as we can determine, this cite does not exist. It’s popped up around the internet, but we can’t find any reference to it in our archived materials.”

John G. Fuller wrote the 1976 book The Ghost of Flight 401, which later became a TV movie starring (of all people) Ernest Borgnine and Kim Basinger.


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