The Air Up There: 6 Planes That Are Still Missing


It’s been more than two weeks since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. The missing airplane and its 239 passengers have captured the curiosity of manyamong them Courtney Love—and as a result, has led to thousands trying to crowdsource the location of the missing aircraft.

On Thursday morning, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that they had satellite images that detected massive debris over the Indian Ocean. To date, these images are the largest clues to finding the missing plane.

While we wait to see if the Australian government really has found the missing plane, let’s take a look back at other aircrafts that have vanished and have yet to be found.

1937: Amelia Earhart

You can’t talk about missing airplanes without bringing up the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the celebrated aviator who became the first woman pilot to accomplish a transatlantic solo flight.

Earhart went missing on July 2, 1937 after attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world. With roughly 7,000 miles to go, Earhart, her companion Fred Noonan, and her twin-engine Lockheed Electra disappeared as she was trying to make a difficult landing on the mid-Pacific Howland Island.

The last thing she reported over her radio? “We are running north and south,” according to her biography.

After spending $4 million and searching 250,000 square miles of ocean, the United States government called off its search.

Her disappearance prompted many theories, including one that alleged she was one of many Tokyo Roses, English-speaking women who broadcasted Japanese propaganda to Allied forces during World War II.

1945: Flight 19

The legend of the Bermuda Triangle—that region between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico infamous for unexplained phenomena—got its start thanks to the missing planes and crew members of U.S. Navy Flight 19.

On December 5, 1945, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers (and 14 airmen) went missing after departing from the Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida without explanation. Later that same day, the Navy sent out a PBM Mariner flying boat with 13 crew members to look for the missing planes. That vessel also disappeared.

The cause of the disappearance is unknown, though a comprehensive report believes that a combination of factors came into play, including equipment malfunction (the compasses might have broken) and human error.

If you think you’ve heard of Flight 19 but can’t remember when or how, it’s most likely because you saw it in Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which opens with a scene of the missing planes being found in the Sonoran Desert.

1949: British South American Airways (BSAA) Star Ariel

On January 17, 1949, the Star Ariel departed from Bermuda on its way to Kingston, Jamaica with 7 crew members and 13 passengers. The weather conditions were perfect—blue skies with minimal clouds to impede the pilot.

After two communications, however, the plane wasn’t heard from again.

The ensuing search covered an area of 55,000 square miles just south of Bermuda, but that yielded nothing. Six days and more more than 1,000,000 air miles logged later, the recovery mission was called off. The Star Ariel became yet another plane that added to the Bermuda Triangle mystery.

1950: Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501

Not all vanished planes disappear over the ocean. Case in point: Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501, a plane with daily service between New York City and Seattle. On June 23, the vessel— a DC-4 propliner— was flying over Lake Michigan when it disappeared from radar screens. The plane and its 58 passengers were never seen from again, making it the largest commercial airline to at the time to have gone missing.

An exhaustive search of Lake Michigan did not yield the bulk of the wreckage, though it is said that some light debris and human body parts surfaced. Unlike the other entrants on this list, a search for the missing plane is still ongoing, carried out on a yearly basis by the Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates and funded by novelist Clive Cussler.

1962: Flying Tiger Line Flight 739

On March 16, 1962, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation departed from Travis Air Force Base in California on its way to Saigon Vietnam. The plane, chartered by the United States armed forces, contained 107 passengers—including 93 soldiers.

Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean after refueling at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

After an eight-day search involving thousands of people from the U.S. military, the search for the aircraft and any survivors was called off. The crew of a Liberian tanker claimed to have seen a bright light in the sky at roughly the time the flight would have passed over, according to TIME. If true, the bright light would indicate that the plane exploded in midair, but that’s just a theory given that the aircraft has yet to be found

It’s worth pointing out that in addition to Flight 739, two other Flying TIger Line aircrafts chartered by the military were also destroyed/exploded on the same day, giving credence to conspiracy theorists that sabotage was involved.

2003: Boeing 727

The final entry on our list differs greatly from the others because… well, because it was stolen.

On May 25, 2003, a Boeing 727 was taken from Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Luanda, Angola. The plane was previously owned by American Airlines—which explains why it was described as “unpainted silver in colour with a stripe of blue, white, and red”—and had been sitting at the airport for over 14 months.

The major suspect of the stolen plane is aircraft mechanic and pilot Ben Charles Padilla, who was inside the plane while it was being stolen and may have actually piloted the aircraft. Neither the plane nor Padilla have been heard from since the disappearance.

Research by Julian Reyes.

Fidel Martinez is an editor at He’s also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.

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