These three aviation stories are spooky… but are they true?

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A lot of people find flying scary, even without the thought of ghosts and ghouls. For this Halloween, AeroTime decided to look at three popular aviation ghost stories that many may consider as an argument to take a different mode of transportation. 

However, here comes the twist: there is hardly any evidence that these stories are real. They originate in less-than-trustworthy tabloids, weirder corners of the internet, or simply the heads of overly-imaginative people.  

Still, we can’t argue with the fact that all of them are quite shudder-inducing and perfect for Halloween. So, let’s take a look! 

The haunted museum 

Tales of haunted aircraft are quite common: there are lots of spooky stories claiming that after the death of somebody on a plane,   its passengers and crew started hearing voices or seeing apparitions. 

By that logic, an aviation museum full of old planes, would be rife with ghosts and things that go bump in the night. 

That is exactly the kind of story many people tell about the National Museum of the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the United States. 

The museum is full of old aircraft that participated in various conflicts. Some of them,  such as WWII-era strategic bombers like the B-17 and the B-24, saw some of their crewmen perish in combat.  

Hence stories about museum workers and visitors hearing voices, seeing glowing figures, and experiencing other ghostly hijinks around the aircraft. The museum has even been featured on various ‘ghost hunting’ TV shows, their hosts allegedly recording voices and images of the museum’s spirits, or even conversing with them. 

It seems the shows and the stories did little to convince the museum’s management the ghosts are real. In 2017, after the museum was featured on yet another TV program, Cleveland 19 News got in touch and asked for a comment.  

“There has been no physical evidence to support the theory that the National Museum of the United States Air Force is haunted. No ‘ghostly’ sightings have been officially reported or documented,” the museum’s spokesperson said. 

However, the US Air Force, which owns the museum, has been more enthusiastic about such coverage, even viewing it as a chance to reach out to a new audience. In 2008, after  an episode of a ghost hunting show was filmed in the museum, Col. Colleen Ryan, 88 ABW Commander, explained: “We are really looking forward to the episode. This was such a great opportunity for us to get the Air Force and Wright-Patterson messages out to a young, technically-savvy audience within our ideal recruiting age.” 

Pan Am flight 914 

There is no shortage of stories all over the internet about this mysterious flight.  

In 1955 a Douglas DC-4 supposedly took off from New York en route to Miami, Florida. It then disappeared, before suddenly reappearing over Caracas, Venezuela 30 years later, in 1985. According to the legend, the aircraft’s crew landed as if nothing had happened. The story goes that the plane and its passengers did not age a bit, as if they had travelled through a time portal, a wormhole, or some other plot device from a science-fiction TV show. 

First appearing in the late 1980s, the story was first widely covered by tabloid magazines. The arrival of the  Internet gave the story new life, many retellings and versions providing fresh details, each spicier than the next: according to some, the aircraft crashed in Venezuela, or took off and disappeared again. Some describe the passengers as being possessed or insane after the flight, while others say all of them were dead upon arrival. The dates and the locations of where the flight eventually landed tend to vary as well. 

There are countless photos and video snippets purporting to show the aircraft and its crew either before the take-off in 1955 or after the mysterious reappearance. Some of those even feature a Pan Am DC-4, though most don’t bother with that and display any old stock photo with an airplane.  

The story was first published in Weekly World News, a US tabloid, in 1985, along with a story about a magic mud that reverses ageing and another one about a woman whose house was invaded by shrieking demons from hell (they burned her husband to a crisp, in case you’re wondering!). 

Needless to say, Weekly World News was not a particularly reliable news source: it specialized in publishing made-up, often comically over-the-top stories and it is hard to tell why the one about Pan Am flight 914 was the one to gain viral popularity.  

Santiago Flight 513 

This next story of a spooky flight might sound familiar… 

In 1954, Santiago Airlines Flight 513 took off from Aachen, Germany on its way to Porto Alegre, Brazil. It then disappeared while flying over the Atlantic Ocean. 

Decades later – in 1989, to be precise – an old aircraft appeared over Brazil. It landed at the airport as if nothing happened, and when the ground crew approached to service the airplane, they froze in horror: the aircraft was full of skeletons. The pilots, the passengers, the flight attendants – all were just dry bones with no indication as to what had happened.  

You might have guessed it, this is yet another Weekly World News story. After the success of the first plane reappearance, they clearly just had to try again. This time, the fact that the Lockheed Constellation pictured on the tabloid’s cover could not make the 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles) journey between Germany and Brazil did not bother the tabloid’s writers. The fact that Santiago Airlines did not exist was also a minor inconvenience. 

Eagle-eyed readers with a penchant for old TV shows may realize that the tales of both Santiago Flight 513 and Pan Am flight 914 bear an uncanny resemblance to “The Odyssey of Flight 33” – an episode of American TV show The Twilight Zone. Its plot featured, you guessed it, a time-traveling airliner. 

A spooky coincidence? We don’t think so.  

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