Vanishing Act - The New Indian Express

Vanishing Act

Published: 23rd March 2014 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 22nd March 2014 04:51 PM

World’s Most Mysterious Disappearances

The Lady Vanishes

“We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.” These were the last words heard from US aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart who disappeared along with navigator Fred Noonan over central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in July 1937. She was 40. Although the official version says she ran out of fuel, one theory describes her as Roosevelt’s spy, while another considers that she landed on an island off Japan, where she died of old age. Others say she survived and moved to New Jersey, where she changed identity. She was officially declared dead in 1939. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic, a journey that began with a question from the sponsor who wanted a female flyer to repeat Charles Lindbergh’s epic flight in 1927, “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?” Earhart became a celebrity and icon in America at a time when women did not have the vote. She partly founded The Ninety-Nines, an organisation for female pilots. Sadly, Lindbergh’s baby disappeared in 1932 and the subsequent reward and search mounted made it one of the biggest media stories of the century. The body was found two months later and suspected kidnapper Bruno Richard Hauptmann was sent to the electric chair.

Missing in Action

The USS Conestoga was originally a civilian ocean-going tug, commissioned in November 1917 by the US Navy during World War I. On March 25, 1921, it sailed from Pearl Harbour to Tutuila, American Samoa, and disappeared. The only trace found was one of her lifeboats. Another WWI ship, SS Hewitt, left Sabine, Texas, on January 20, 1921, for Portland, Maine. On January 25, she made her regular radio call and reported nothing unusual. That was the last time she sent any signals. A Balao class submarine built in 1943, Capelin sailed from New London on September 3, 1943, and conducted her first war patrol.

After repairs in Darwin, Australia, she set out on her second patrol on November 17, 1943, but never returned. No wreckage was ever found.

A Med Disappearance: On March 10, 1956, four B-47 Stratojets left MacDill Air Force Base in Florida for a non-stop flight to Ben Guerir Air Base in Morocco. After descending over the Mediterranean Sea to begin their second refuelling, one of the aircraft failed to make contact. Neither the aircraft nor wreckage was ever found.


Where Did All the Tigers Go?

Flying Tiger Line was the first scheduled US cargo airline and a major military charter operator during the Cold War. In 1962, a Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation propeller plane owned by the airline chartered by the US military failed to arrive in the Philippines en route to Vietnam. It was carrying 107 passengers and crew. Ninety-three Army Rangers were on their way to replace comrades in Saigon who were training the South Vietnamese to fight the Viet Cong guerrillas. Three Vietnamese military officers were accompanying them. The flight crew included four women. Dozens of planes and several ships crisscrossed the western Pacific looking for wreckage for eight days. One of the largest search operations to ever take place in the Pacific, it covered over 520,000 sqkm of ocean, but in vain. Later, US Army officials revealed that a Liberian tanker, the SS T L Linzen, had reported seeing a “bright light strong enough to light” a ship’s decks near the aircraft’s expected position about 90 minutes after last radio contact. The sailors also saw two red fireballs falling to the ocean at different speeds. Mysteriously, on the same day, two other Flying Tiger Line aircraft—Flight 739 and another L-1049 Super Constellation—carrying military aid to South Vietnam perished in the same area, leading to suspicions of sabotage and conspiracy.

Watery Goodbyes

In 1995, a flight operated by an Indonesia-based airline disappeared over water while flying between islands in the archipelago nation. The de Havilland Twin Otter 300 with 14 crew and passengers was never found.  In 1990, a Miami-bound Boeing 727 owned by the Peruvian Faucett Airlines crashed into the North Atlantic after running out of fuel. There were 18 airline employees and relatives on board. The wreckage was never recovered.

Defective Disappearance: In 2003, a Boeing 727 vanished over Angolan capital Luanda. The plane took off from the Quatro de Fevereiro International Airport on May 25, 2003 for Burkina Faso with its lights off and a dysfunctional transponder. Its whereabouts are unknown to this day.


Did it Run Out of Steam?

SS Waratah was a steamship with 100 first class cabins and eight staterooms. On July 1, 1909, she was returning from Australia to London and was supposed to reach on  July 29. She never did. No trace of the ship was ever found. Similarly, Aurora, 1917, a steam whaler built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1876 to operate in the northern seas and withstand harsh weather and ice, disappeared in 1918, on her way from Newcastle, New South Wales for Iquique, Chile.

A Criminal Conspiracy

In 1853, Madagascar, a large British merchant ship, went missing on a voyage from Melbourne to London. There was speculations that it sank after a fire on board, the ship hit an iceberg like The Titanic or criminals had infiltrated the passenger list and scuttled the ship after robbing and murdering them and crew.


The blog that supposedly exposes fraud has warned of a fake news link claiming that MH370 disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle—the nightmare of aviation and marine fables. In 1952, an article by George X Sand in Fate magazine, ‘Sea Mystery at Our Back Door’, on the disappearance of aircraft and ships, including Flight 19, five US Navy TBM Avenger bombers on a training mission, depicted a triangular area in the North Atlantic where they supposedly vanished. In April 1962, the American Legion magazine reported the flight leader of Flight 19 saying, “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.” The magazine quoted Navy officers as having stated that the aircraft “flew off to Mars”. Weirder still, a search aircraft with a 13-man crew also disappeared. Theories were offered about the ocean spewing methane gas, alien abductions and the mysterious powers of Bermuda Triangle. The area of the sea between Florida and Puerto Rico has seen many an unexplained disappearance of ships and aircraft. Labelled the “Devil’s Triangle”, the instances have occurred mostly between 1940s and 60s. In another case, a Cessna left Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on March 31, 1984, for Bimini Island in the Bahamas, but never made it. The passengers were all Cessna employees. A woman on Bimini Island reported seeing a plane plunge into the sea about a mile offshore, but strangely no wreckage has ever been found.

The disappearances were noted over a decade before Flight 19 vanished literally into thin air. On January 30, 1948, a Tudor IV flying from the Azores to Bermuda disappeared with a crew of six and 25 passengers. On January 17, 1949, Star Ariel vanished without a trace while flying from Bermuda to Jamaica, with a crew of seven and 13 passengers. Aircraft are not the only vanishing species over the Triangle. On February 16, 1918, the USS Cyclops, an overloaded Navy vessel, departed from Rio de Janeiro en route to Baltimore. It never arrived, nor did its 306 crew members. Two sister ships, the USS Proteus and USS Nereus, also vanished without a trace in the North Atlantic during WW II. Since no wreckage was found and no German records confirmed sinking this type of vessel, it was speculated that they were victims of the “forces” of the Bermuda Triangle.

Lost Worlds

The Vanished Colony

In 1587, 121 colonists travelled from England to Roanoke Island on North Carolina’s coast to establish a settlement, led by John White. As tensions mounted with the native population, White returned to England in late 1587 to get help. When he returned three years later, the settlement was deserted with no remains. Though theories about the Lost Colony have involved everything from stone carvings to alien abductions, historians say settlers had arrived too late in the season for an abundant harvest, and their meagre supplies would have run out rapidly.

The Great Atlantis Mystery

First described by Greek historian Plato in 360 BC, the mythological island was supposedly a great naval power before sinking into the sea over 10,000 years ago “in a single day and night of misfortune”. Despite numerous efforts on locating the remains of the city, nothing tangible has ever been found. If claims are to be believed, the lost city of Atlantis has been discovered in the Bahamas, Greek Islands, Cuba and even Japan.


The Lost Eskimo Village

In November 1930, when fur trapper Joe Labelle visited a familiar Inuit village on the shores of Lake Anjikuni in northern Canada, he discovered only an empty village with everything left as if the villagers had departed suddenly. Even more bizarre, a grave had been emptied. Despite a search by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, no one was ever found.


Romans Gone

Formed around 65 BC, over 4,000 soldiers of the Roman Ninth Legion, one of the most feared military units in the Roman army, was sent into modern-day Scotland around 109 AD but disappeared several years later. A theory says the soldiers were annihilated around 117 AD by a band of Scottish warriors—a version propagated by TV programmes, films, and the children bestseller The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff.


Missing in Action

The Netaji Puzzle

On August 25, 1945, Indian newspapers reported that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had died in a freak plane crash in Taipei on August 18 on his way to Tokyo to oversee the INA’s surrender. Viceroy Wavell wrote in his diary on August 23, “I wonder if the Japanese announcement of Subhas Chandra Bose’s death in an air crash is true. I suspect it very much, it is just what should be given out if he meant to go underground...” British intelligence discovered that Netaji was not going to Tokyo. They reportedly had information that he was on his way to Russia at the time of his death. Conspiracy theorists presume the cremation held near the crash site was fake and so were the ashes that were brought to Renkoji Temple, Japan.

The Aliens Did It

Frederick Valentich disappeared midair in 1978 over Australia. In the last radio contact from his Cessna 182L, Valentich reported a strange aircraft chasing him. His last words were: “It is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.”


Dead Pan

Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince is called the “Father of Cinematography”. He mysteriously vanished from a train on September 16, 1890, on his way to a public demonstration. His body and luggage were never found.


The Case of the Vanished PM

Many hope that politicians go missing, and in December of 1967 the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt vanished after he went for a swim. Rumours include he faked his own death in order to elope with his girlfriend. Urban myths down under speculate kidnap by a Chinese submarine, or abduction by a UFO.




STAR DUST BSAA Star Dust took off from Buenos Aires for Santiago with 11 people on board on August 2, 1947, but never reached its destination. The pilot’s message in Morse code, “STENDEC”, sent twice before disappearing, hasn’t been deciphered yet. Climbers in the Andean region found the airplane 50 years later.


Uruguay 571: In October 1972, a Fairchild FH-227 turboprop carrying a rugby team and others crashed in the Andes mountains. Many survivors became cannibals to continue living.



Lost Civilisations

What Brought End of Angkor?

India was one of the countries that restored Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but it was only a part of a massive urban civilisation during the Khmer Empire called Angkor that flourished during 1000-1200 AD. Speculation of how it ended still remains just that.

Whatever Happened to the Clovis?

Considered the ancestors of all North and South American indigenous

cultures, did the decrease in mega fauna and extinction of many species due to over-hunting and a comet crash finish these 10,000 BC people?

Was Nature the Nemesis of Minoans?

Living in what is now Crete from 3000 to 1000 BC, they were the first known civilisation in Europe. Starvation and damaged ships finished them off.

How did the MayanCivilisation Disappear?

Though the languages and traditions of one of the largest Mesoamerican civilisations still survive, no credible explanations explain its disappearance after 900. Climate change and war are offered as reasons.

Did the Weather End the Cucuteni-Trypillians?

Between 5500 BC and 2750 BC, they built the largest Neolithic settlements. Strangely though, every 60 to 80 years, they would burn their villages and rebuild on top of the old ones. Anthropologists say either war or drought could have finished them off.

What Happened to the People of the Indus Valley Civilisation?

One of the great civilisations, it thrived 4,500 years ago and may have boasted up to five million people spread over parts of India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. By 1500 BC, it vanished off the face of the earth. Climate change and fall in trading are the reasons offered for its disappearance.

Why Did the Anasazi Leave the Cliffs?

A Native American culture that emerged around 1200 BC, the Anasazi carved whole towns out of nearby cliffs in the Pueblo II and III eras. Around 1300 AD, the Ancestral Puebloans abandoned their cliff houses and scattered. Recent studies suggest that a violent conflict led to their end.

Where Did All the Crew Go?

The Mary Celeste Mystery: One of the greatest seafaring mysteries of all time, the ship was found floating unmanned in the Atlantic Ocean in December 1872.

Schooner Jenny’s Last Message: “May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.” The captain who wrote this message was still sitting in a chair with a pen in his hand when this message was found in his logbook 17 years later. His body, and those of the six others, had been preserved by the frigid Antarctic weather.

Enough Food, Not a Single Crew: Like the Mary Celeste, a Taiwanese ship was found adrift in Australian waters without its crew in October 2002, but with plenty of fuel and provisions left. The only crew member tracked down claimed that the captain and engineer were murdered and the crew headed back home, but no reason was given.

Why Was Laptop Left On?

On April 15, 2007, three men set out on a journey along the coast of Australia—and three days later, their ship turned up drifting toward the Great Barrier Reef with everything perfectly in place—except for the men themselves. Food was set out on the table, a laptop still on, emergency systems fully functional and life jackets hung on their hooks.

The Mystery of Rice 

Officially nameless and stateless, the 80-m tanker found floating empty in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria was named Jian Seng after customs boarded the ship and sorted through its documents. With dead engines and the electronics stripped out, the only thing remaining was a huge amount of rice.


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