Spooks on a plane: The scariest ever aviation stories
Despite the fact that flying is still the safest way to travel, there are plenty of nervous fliers out there. That’s fair enough; rough turbulence, go-arounds and steep turns can make even the most laid-back travellers grab at their armrests.
It’s not just flying that can make passengers feel ill at ease. If you’ve ever had to spend the night at an airport, you’ll know how alarming it can be when a loud noise wakes you from your fitful sleep at 3am.
However, what about ghouls, ghosts, and things that go ‘bump’ inside the overhead storage?
As Halloween approaches, we’ve taken a look at some seriously spooky aviation stories. The next time you take your seat on a plane, ask yourself this – is that the air conditioning chilling the back of your neck, or something more sinister?
The shuffling spectres at Phuket International Airport
In July 2017, Bangkok Airways pilot Voravit Vejjajiva filmed footage of ‘ghostly passengers’ floating jerkily through a gangway towards the airport’s terminal. However, the suspended gangway wasn’t linked to a plane at the time – or to the airport building – which caused panic among people watching the eerie crowds on their way to nowhere.
Before you cancel your trip to Thailand, relax – the ‘ghosts’ were just travellers’ reflections from the brightly-lit airport which were mirrored in the glass windows of the gangway. Phew!
The ghosts of Flight 401
In December 1972, Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 suffered a terrible accident after the crew, distracted by a landing indicator light, didn’t notice the plane’s autopilot has been disconnected and the Lockheed L-1011-1 Tristar jet crashed into a Florida swamp. Pilot Bob Loft and flight engineer Don Repo were among the 101 people killed.
The accident should have put an end to their careers, but the two dedicated airline employees were seen on several other Lockheed flights after their deaths – especially on the planes which had been fitted with parts salvaged from the Flight 401 wreckage.
There are over 20 reported incidents of Loft and Repo being seen by colleagues, well-respected airport staff and passengers. A shaken Eastern Airline captain cancelled a flight after he and his two flight attendants spoke to Loft before take-off, and then watched him vanish.
Repo is known to be the more gregarious of the pair – it’s said that he approached a flight engineer carrying out a pre-flight inspection and said, “You don’t need to worry about the pre-flight, I’ve already done it.” He’s also been seen fixing a galley oven, and on one occasion warned bewildered cabin crew to “Watch out for fire on this plane.” The crew sensibly heeded his warning – the plane later encountered serious engine trouble and the last leg of its flight was cancelled.
Despite them being described as ‘pale, quiet and ill-looking’ – and spooking many frightened passengers who watch them disappear – it’s said that Repo and Loft are a force for good, and have dedicated their after-lives to taking care of the passengers and crew on Lockheed planes. One captain was left speechless (and hopefully reassured) after Repo appeared to him and calmly said, “There will never be another crash. We will not let it happen.” What a lovely man.
The considerate husband who wanted one last goodbye
Nobody can be sure which airline this tale originated from (it’s rumoured to be Virgin Atlantic) but the story’s always the same. A flight attendant was on the lower deck, busy preparing beds for her colleagues. She looked up and saw an elderly man sitting on the stairs, and gently asked him what he was doing in a restricted area. “I’m sorry,” the old man said. “I’m travelling with my wife, who’s upstairs. I think she’ll be worried about me. Please can you go up and see her, and tell her I’m OK?”
The flight attendant agreed to see the man’s wife after he told her where she was sitting, and watched the old man walk back upstairs, and into a toilet near the stairwell. Thinking he’d return to his wife after freshening up, the flight attendant went to the seat number the old man had given her and relayed his message to the man’s wife. Both women received a shock; the wife confirmed her husband was on the flight – but he was travelling in a coffin in the hold. She showed the flight attendant a photo of her husband, and the amazed crew member saw it was the same man she’d just been chatting to.
The old man wasn’t seen for the remainder of the flight, and when the flight attendant checked the toilet he had gone in to, there was nobody there.
The haunting at Heathrow
In March 1948, a DC3 Dakota crash landed at Heathrow airport after the pilots lost their bearings in thick fog. Of the 22 people on board, only two survived.
While rescue crews were frantically pulling people out of the wreckage, they were approached by a smartly-dressed man wearing a hat. He wasn’t wearing an emergency services uniform, and several people assumed he was a civilian trying to help. The man calmly asked the bewildered rescue crew if anyone had seen his briefcase. As they stared at him (possibly wondering if he had his priorities right), the man disappeared. It’s reported that his body was discovered later on that day, and several rescue workers confirmed it was the same dapper gentlemen who’d been looking for his missing briefcase.
The man in the hat was seen for several years after the crash, strolling along the runway where he lost his life, but the last time he was seen was in 1970. The radar office spotted an intruder on the runway, and dispatched the airport police to take him or her away. The police were guided to where the mysterious figure was standing, and the radar team waited to hear confirmation that the intruder had been picked up.
The airport police radioed the radar teams to say they couldn’t see anyone; the area around the runway was clear. The radar team were puzzled – they’d seen the police drive right past the figure as they arrived at the scene. Suitably spooked, the police continued to search for the invisible interloper – while the exasperated radar office continually maintained that the figure was still visible on their screens. The police eventually admitted defeat and both parties gave up.
The snappily-dressed businessman hasn’t been seen for several years, but he may well have company. Several passengers have reported seeing a businessman in a grey suit in one of Heathrow’s VIP lounges; often, he’s only visible from the waist down. Maybe he meets his briefcase-seeking friend after hours for a creepy cocktail or two.
The haunted galleys
Author James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant for almost two decades. Writing for Travelers United in 2005, he told the tale of a flight to Europe which took an unexpected turn.
James often flew with his wife, who was also an airline employee, in order to spend as much time with her as possible. As they were being briefed for their flight, they discovered that many people thought this particular aircraft was haunted. Another member of the crew explained that the plane had once been involved in a horrible accident – nine people died when the cargo door became loose mid-flight, and they’d been ‘vacuumed out’ of the plane. Their bodies were never found.
The plane had been completely refurbished and was safe to travel in, but several of the cabin crew refused to board after hearing about the plane’s history, and immediately swapped their shifts.
Not being easily spooked, James and his wife took the flight, and got ready for their shifts in the galley. James had the back lower galley; his wife took the forward one. They normally enjoyed working in solitude and at their own pace, without the hassle of dealing with demanding passengers.
As James waited for the in-flight meals to cook, he noticed that the ovens were turning on and off. The galley alarm bells started to ring, and the overhead lights began to dim. James started to feel nervous, and became even more jumpy when his wife called him and said that her ovens were behaving strangely. He forced himself to hide his fear, and breezily told her it was faulty wiring.
After finishing the call with his wife, James noticed that every time one of the overactive ovens turned off, they made a shrill ‘whooo!’ sound. He told himself it was just the fans, packed up all the cooked meals and sent them upstairs, and turned off the ovens. Two of them refused to stay off, and restarted on their own. Then the lights went out. James finally had enough, and ran upstairs.
When James wrote up the technical issues he’d experienced in the plane’s mechanical log, he saw that the same problems had been reported by several other people. The airline mechanics were unable to fix the problems or even prove the issues existed every time they were tasked with fixing the ‘faulty wiring’. The problems only manifested when the plane was in the air; when mechanics ran ground checks, all of the systems worked perfectly.