If you’ve turned on any news show over the past couple weeks, you likely know about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that apparently disappeared into the ether. And while the search and investigation continues, why not find out what happened to these planes too?
1. March 10, 1956: B-47E 52-534
The weather wasn’t perfect, but US Air Force B-47E 52-534 was on its way from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for a non-stop flight to Morocco. Four other B-47Es took off with 52-534 and the flight was going as planned. While over the Atlantic, the four planes underwent aerial refueling and continued on their way.
Then they were over the Mediterranean and it was time for a second aerial refueling. The cloud ceiling was at 14,500 and tanker waited for the crafts to descend to 14,000 feet to perform its task in clearer conditions. All communications were a go and everything seemed fine. But only three out of the four planes appeared. 52-534 was just… gone. No distress or radio signals, nothing. The plane came down to refuel and just didn’t show up.
A French news agency stated that the plane may have exploded in eastern French Morocco, near Sebatna, based on eyewitness accounts. This corresponded with where the planes were at that time. American and French troops searched the area. Nothing.
Here’s the kicker: 52-534 was carrying two weaponized nuclear bomb materials that were outside their bomb shells (but in carrying cases). According to the Department of Defense, this meant a nuclear detonation was impossible. Nonetheless, there’s some plane with nuclear materials still missing nearly 60 years later.
2. January 17, 1949: BSAA Star Ariel
You knew it was coming: a Bermuda Triangle plane. What’s notable about the British South American Airways (BSAA) Star Ariel incident was its pivotal role in the development of the Bermuda Triangle mystery.
The Abro 688 Tudor Mark IV, registration G-AGRE, took off from Bermuda heading to Jamaica. The weather was great. In the morning, the Captain reported that everything was going well. Shortly after that communication, the Captain sent out a more “cryptic message,” stating that he was changing his radio frequency. And that was the last of the BSAA Star Ariel. After searching 55,000 square miles, the search was called off on January 23rd. No debris was ever found. Not even an oil slick.
The Star Ariel incident didn’t bode well for the future of the Tudor IV aircraft — other vessels had experienced some hiccups before and after the Star Ariel’s disappearance. BSAA took the planes out of service in 1949 (via The Times, 21 Dec 1949, p. 4).
The Star Ariel wasn’t the first or last vessel to disappear over the Bermuda Triangle. But this particular incident launched the area’s pop culture fame.
3. March 15, 1962: 21 Charlie
Nearly 300 people have vanished on MA Flight 370, and here’s another big one. Back on March 15, 1962, Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 (a Lockheed Constellation L-1049H) was carrying 107 American Army personnel from Guam’s Agana Naval Air Station to the Philippines’ Clark Air Force Base (making their way to Vietnam). The evening weather was peaceful with no turbulence. At 12:22 AM, 21 Charlie called in its position and it was never heard from again.
No wreckage was ever found, despite the fact that 48 planes, 8 surface vessels, and 1,300 people searched 144,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, 21 Charlie evaporated over the Mariana Trench — it goes 6.78 miles down into the ocean. The search was called off eight days later on March 23rd.
Some suspected sabotage due to reports of “a mysterious flash of light in sky” — or that the Liberian tanker that saw the light were seeing 21 Charlie explode in mid-air. To add some intrigue to this mystery, another Flying Tiger Line craft carrying “secret military cargo” crashed in the Aleutians on the same day. But, despite the Civil Aeronautics Board’s inability to determine probable cause, 21 Charlie is likely at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Did you notice the dates? Two out of three of these planes disappeared in March — same as Malaysia Airlines. The majority of the mysterious aerial disappearances I researched also took place in March. Maybe there’s something to the soothsayer’s words in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
CASSIUS: Follow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
CAESAR: What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.
SOOTHSAYER: Beware the ides of March.
CAESAR: He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
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