Posts Tagged ‘aviation’

Not the band! or the kids show… But the Phenomenon.

In World War II the pilotes of Allied aircraft described lights or strange things in the sky as foo fighter. Originally it was termed for the UFO sighting by the US 415th Night Figher Squadron but took on the name from there for all unexplained objects in the sky. The original assumption was that the lights or objects might be enemy craft, secret weapons etc but they were reported by both sides.

The term foo was taken from Bill Holman’s Smokey Stover by Donald J Meiers from 415th Night Fighter Squadron.  However a RAF Pilot’s report from a bombing mission over Germany in 1942 also contains the term so there is no confirmation about where it really began to be used.

Pilots described objects that were glowing red, white or orange. Some said they came across the sky like Christmas lights and that they circled around like they toyed with the aircraft before they vanished. The other common factor is that they seemingly flew with intelligence but never seemed to act in a hostile manner. They were also known as “kraut fireballs” and the military did seem to take them seriously, strangely enough both German and Japanese pilots were reporting a similar thing. A rationale for the sightings was a possibility of afterimages from flak bursts, or perhaps St Elmo’s fire.

On one occasion a gunner of a B-29 hit one and it was said that it fell in large pieces setting buildings on fire. Again people still unable to confirm this report state that they feel it is still more likely to be an electrostatic phenomena like St Elmo’s fire.

So what is St Elmo’s fire? It’s a weather blip if you like, named after St. Erasmus of Formiae who is the patron saint of sailors. It is bright blue or violet and has at times been confused with ball lightning. The fire is a mix of gas and plasma, and they are often witnessed during thunderstorms as the right conditions are met to ignite them.

Various legends for the beautiful natural event and some have been named. Welsh Mariners called them Spirit Candles, and the Chinese Goddess Mazu is believed to create a fire on top of a ships mast to bless lost sailors.

St Elmo’s fire was also reported to have been seen in 1453, at the Seige of Constantiniple by the Ottoman Empire. It was reported to be on the top of the Hippodrome and the Byzantines said it was a sign that the Christian God would come to destroy the Muslim army. It then disappeared just days before Constantinople fell and ended the Byzantine Empire.

Ball Lightning

Stockstill: We did something to the altitude.
Loft: What?
Stockstill: We’re still at 2,000 feet, right?
Loft: Hey — what’s happening here?

Eastern Air Lines, Flight 401 is famous due to the tragic accident that occurred, 29th December 1972. The crew did not see the deactivation of the autopilot during a troubleshoot with a malfunction on the landing gear indicator system, as a result 101 people lost their lives. 77 survived but of those 2 died shortly afterwards. It was the first crash of a wide-bodied aircraft and the deadliest in the USA, as it crashed into the Florida Everglades.

Bob Loft had been with the airline for over 30 years, the flight carried 163 passengers and 13 crew. Upon reaching Miami International Airport and all looked fine until first officer Stockstill noticed the green light for the landing gear was not showing and as it was possible the gear was not all the way down so they tried again to try but aborted it when no light arrived.  They flew out around the Everglades to try and resolve the problem, so the autopilot was put on and for 80 seconds they carried on with a level flight.

When it was noticed that they had already descended below, the initial message above is the one recovered from the flight recorder later on. The plane was travelling at 227 miles an hour when it hit the ground and broke up as it slid along the swamp ground.

A hero of the crash is Rob Marquis (Bud) who was in the swamp when the plane hit. He rushed to the scene and assisted with the rescue. His efforts gave him the Humanitarian Award and the Alumitec Airboat Hero Award. In 2007 he was awarded a plaque, but sadly the injuries that he had suffered also contributed to his death in 2008 (Rest in peace hero).

The swamp that they landed in helped to save the lives of some crash survivors as it lessened the impact on the plane, and blocked up some wounds.  Eight passengers were however infected with gas gangrene and hyperbaric chambers had to be found for them to ensure they could recover.

Of the survivors 60 received serious injuries, 17 had minor injuries and did not have to be hospitalised. The most common injuries included fractures and 14 of the survivors had varied degrees of burns.

I am going to leave the crash causes etc and move on to the reason I picked this for a post. Ghosts…

The plane had some salvageable parts and Flight 401’s parts were re-used amongst Eastern’s planes.  Reports had been made on planes amongst the fleet about sightings of the crew and passengers of the flight being aboard. Sightings of Don Repo and Bob Loft were so becoming a worrying problem, the company warned staff of dismissal if they were caught spreading the ghost stories.

It is worth noting that the sightings were only on planes with the salvaged parts too. Whilst the rumours were washed away by the company it is reported that all the parts were then removed and replaced. An original floorboard remains in the archives at History Miami in South Florida. Reports have since petered out.

the crash and a mention of the ghost story is mentioned in Series 5, Episode 9 of Air Crash Investigations.