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I’m sitting upstairs in my office on Wednesday night scaring myself for your benefit. The house is quiet, the wind is howling, the night is dark – pitch, black, dark, and I am reading ghost stories to come up with something for Freaky Friday. I’m alone in the house. Well, alone as someone can be with two giant dogs and two ever-curious cats. There are noises – thumps, bumps, gurgles and rattles. But I’m sure they’re nothing to be concerned about.
You see, if something happens in my house and I get really frightened, I can always leave. I can go outside, get in my car and drive away. I have an escape. But how would you feel if the noise you heard or the specter you saw was with you…inside an airplane?
Flight 401 was an Eastern Airlines flight traveling from JFK in New York to Miami/Dade in Florida. The crew was experienced and top-notch. The pilot, Bob Loft, was a 30-year veteran. His first officer was Al Stockhill and the flight engineer was Don Repo, both admired and well-liked professionals. Everything seemed to be going well. They were in Florida airspace when the first officer noticed that the landing gear indicator light wasn’t working. They radio the tower and were put in a holding pattern over the everglades while the crew tried to fix the problem. We may never know what truly happened, but the account states that the crew engaged the autopilot during the holding pattern so they could all work on the troublesome landing gear. Somehow the autopilot was turned off and the plane crashed into the swamps of the Everglades. Ninety-seven people of the 163 on the plane died. The pilot, first officer and flight engineer were numbered in those who perished.
After the initial rescue and recovery efforts, Eastern Airlines sent a crew to the site to retrieve and remove what remained of the airplane. Months after the tragedy, rumors began to spread that salvaged pieces from Flight 401 had been used on other planes for repairs and replacements. And all of those flights who shared pieces of the doomed aircraft also shared something else, visits from their crew.
One incident was reported by flight attendants who said they saw the deceased pilot, Bob Loft, walking up and down the aisle of the plane just before take-off, warning the passengers that they needed to deplane before it was too late. The crew and passengers were so frightened by this occurrence that the flight was actually cancelled and tickets were transferred to other flights.
The vice-president of the airlines was enjoying his first-class seat, chatting with a silent fellow sitting beside him. It wasn’t until he had a chill run down his spine that he realized the man looked familiar. It was Bob Loft. He turned to make sure and the man next to him faded away.
During another flight, a flight attendant noticed an engineer working on a malfunctioning oven. She nodded and smiled at the man and then went on with her duties. Later on, she saw the regular engineer and asked him who the new guy was. Puzzled, the engineer said there was no new guy. When she described the man she saw, the other crew members located several photos to show her. When she pointed out the man she’d seen in the photos, they let her know that she’d just seen Don Repo, the deceased flight engineer.
Another time a flight engineer, who had known Repo before his untimely death, saw him in the back of the plane. Just before he disappeared, he warned them to keep a lookout for possible fires. Halfway through the flight, the plane had engine problems that caused a fire. Luckily, they landed safely.
Ghosts or guardian angels of the sky?
They only appeared in the planes that had used parts from the ill-fated Flight 401. But, we don’t have to worry today. Eastern Airlines is no longer in business. Its last flight was in 1991. Those old planes have long since been sold. Hmmmm, I wonder if they were sold for parts.