December 29, 1972, is a day that will forever be etched on history, not only because it was on that day that Life, a magazine that was famed for how it celebrated the beauty that we often fail to see, ceased publication, but because on that Friday, 101 lives were lost in one of the deadliest accidents in aviation history.
The Tragic Fate of the Eastern Airlines Flight 401
On a cold December night, 163 passengers and the plane’s 13 crew members boarded the Eastern Airlines Lockheed L1011 Tristar, looking forward to celebrating the New Year in Florida. The plane, which was four months old, was the pride of Eastern Airlines, often described as the most modern and technologically advanced aircraft at the time. It was one of the largest too, sitting as high as a five-story building.
Tristar was quietly resting on the parking area of John F. Kennedy International Airport Terminal One before it took off at 21:20 heading toward Miami International Airport. The first few hours of the flight were uneventful; it was when the crew prepared for landing that things suddenly took a tragic turn.
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Approaching landing, FO Albert John Stockstill was instructed to lower the landing gear. After he did, Stockstill noticed that one of the landing gear indicators had not turned green. Failure of the said light to illuminate meant that the nose gear was not properly locked in the “down” position. Flight commander Capt. Robert Albin Loft believed it was just a faulty bulb issue. Stockstill tried to remove the bulb. Flight engineer Donald Louis Repo went to the hell hole to properly check if the gear was actually down.
In their attempt to fix what they believed was a gear issue, the pilots failed to notice that the autopilot had detached, causing the whole plane to descend toward the Everglades, a wetland in Miami, Florida.
It wasn’t long before Tristar descended and slammed into a swamp filled with alligators, leading to the immediate death of the people onboard, including First Officer Stockstill. Flight Commander Loft, and Flight Engineer Repo. Some of the passengers survived the initial crash, but all had to suffer through the agonizing wait for help. Some of the initial survivors died, including Captain Loft who passed away waiting and Engineer Repo who made it to the hospital but later succumbed to his injuries.
Investigations into what exactly caused the accident were conducted. It was later found out that the pilots had all their attention on the undercarriage issue that they failed to monitor the altitude. The pilots thought the nose wheel wasn’t properly locked down because the bulb that should’ve indicated so was not illuminated. However, it was later revealed that there was no problem with the nose wheel; it was just that the bulb was faulty.
The Mystery of the Ghosts of Flight 401
The crash left majority of the plane destroyed, but the airlines found some parts could still be used. And so they did. Some parts of the craft were salvaged and fitted into new Tristars.
Little did they know, it was then that strange apparitions would start to haunt them.
A lot of these happenings involved sightings of Flight 401’s flight commander, Capt. Bob Loft. One noteworthy instance was when an Eastern Airlines vice president boarded the N318EA, one of the planes that used parts of the Lockheed L1011 Tristar. As he was a VIP, the vice presidents was allowed on first. He then seated himself in the first-class cabin. Noticing a man in a company captain uniform, he decided to pass the time by talking to him. It wasn’t until minutes later that he noticed he was actually talking to the late Bob Loft. He then went to find a crew member, and a search ensued, but they found no sign of the man the vice president talked to. Only months after the incident, the same thing happened on the same plane. The crew boarding the craft also reported seeing Loft, starting a conversation with him, not knowing who he was.
Another crew managing a different flight also saw one of the pilots of the infamous Eastern Airlines flight. A flight engineer reported seeing Flight 401 flight engineer Don Repo who told him, “You don’t need to worry about the pre-flight, I’ve already done it.”
Weeks later, Repo appeared before another pilot. The captain was doing pre-flight preparations when Repo appeared and told him, “There will never be another crash on an L1011. We will not let it happen.”
These are just few of the numerous stories of sightings of the ghosts of flight 401 shared by crew members, caterers, and even passengers. But no matter how strange things got and how scarier the stories became, Eastern Airlines decided to pay no attention to them, even going on to warn employees that they could terminate their employment should they be caught spreading ghost stories.
Eastern Airlines Flight 903
Everything changed after the ordeal faced by the crew members of Flight 903 bound for Mexico City from NYC.
One of the stewardesses was preparing meals when she saw the reflection of Don Repo on the oven door staring back at her. The stewardess went to gather more crew members, another stewardess and the flight engineer, and all three reported seeing the same apparition. They also said they heard Don Repo say, “Watch out for fire in this plane.”
The plane left for Mexico City as planned. No problems arose on the way to the city, but on the way back, the plane’s engine started to fail, back-firing several times. Thankfully, they were able to shut it down before it caught fire. Everybody on the plane got off unscathed, but all of them could not get what they saw and what they heard off their mind.
This and other more sightings of the ghosts of flight 401 struck fear into Eastern Airlines employees, with some refusing to fly on the planes that inherited some parts of the crashed Tristar.
Eastern Airlines continued to deny everything. When paranormal investigators requested to take a look at the planes, they did not grant them permission. But later on, the airlines decided to remove the doomed Tristan plane’s parts from the jets they were fitted into. Since then, no other sightings of Bob Loft and Don Repo were reported.
It’s been decades since the tragedy, but there remain remnants of that day that continue to make its presence known in the present time. One thing that stays is Loft and Repo’s promise to protect the Lockheed 1011 fleet, as never again, to this day, was there any fatal crash involving the Tristars.