Have you ever been on board an aircraft alone in the galley in the middle of the night and felt like you’re being watched? Like someone is there with you?
Usually it’s a passenger wanting another drink, something else to eat or doing their yoga stretches while waiting for the toilet.
But sometimes, there is no passenger, no other crew member, nothing but a ghostly chill and a fleeting shadow.
In the 1970’s, tales of such ghostly apparitions flew around the USA and the airline world. Passengers, cabin crew, Pilots, Flight Engineers, even top airline executives, all claimed to have seen ‘something’ while travelling on some Eastern Airlines aircraft.
Eastern Airlines Flight 401
But before we begin this spooky tale, we must first go back to December 29, 1972 on board Eastern Airlines Flight 401 as it descended towards Miami, after its flight from New York, John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK)……
The mood on the four-month old Lockheed L1011 ‘Whisperliner’ (N310EA) was upbeat. 163 Passengers and 13 crew members were looking forward to enjoying New Year in the Florida sunshine.
The ‘Tristar’ as the aircraft was also known, was one of the most modern and technologically advanced of its day and the pride of the airlines fleet.
The flight from JFK had been uneventful. But as the crew prepared for landing, the first in a chain of events occurred that would eventually lead to the loss of 101 lives.
First officer Albert Stockstill was instructed to lower the landing gear. Alarmingly the crew noticed that not all of the wheel indicator lights had turned green. Captain Robert ‘Bob’ Loft believed that it was just a faulty light bulb, so Stockstill began to remove the bulb, while Flight Engineer Donald ‘Don’ Repo went down into the avionics bay, or ‘hell hole’ as it was referred below the flight deck, to visually check if the gear was down.
As the pilots attempted to resolve the issue, they failed to notice that the autopilot had disengaged and they were now slowly descending towards the Florida Everglades.
The Tristar was travelling at 227 miles per hour when it slammed into the alligator infested swamp just outside of Miami.
Many of the passengers were killed instantly and those that did survive faced an agonising wait for rescuers to reach the crash site. First officer Stockstill died upon impact, but both Repo and Loft survived the initial crash. Repo was rushed to hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries. Tragically, rescue was also too slow for Captain Loft, who died at the scene.
The subsequent investigation into the crash sited pilot error as the main cause. The crew failed to monitor the altitude as they tried in vain to deal with the undercarriage problem.
Tragically, it was later revealed that the nose wheel had indeed been locked in place and it was just a faulty bulb.
Although the majority of N310EA was destroyed, certain parts such as the galley were salvageable. Eastern and Lockheed agreed that these parts could be re-used and fitted into other L1011”s on the production line.
One such aircraft was N318EA, and as the weeks and months passed, strange goings on began to occur…..
JFK airport, 1973 and an Eastern Airlines Tristar was boarding for its flight down to Miami. Travelling that morning was one of the airlines Vice Presidents. As a VIP passenger, he was allowed on to the aircraft first and made his way to the first class cabin. As he moved towards his seat, he noticed a company captain in full uniform and went over to have a chat.
During the ensuing conversation, he suddenly realised he was speaking to Bob Loft. The apparition quickly disappeared and the vice president rushed off to find a crew member, terrified that it could be an omen that something would happen to this aircraft.
A search of the plane was carried out before any other passengers boarded but there was no sign of the mystery captain.
A few months later back at JFK, a crew boarding the same aircraft were surprised to see Loft already sat in the flight deck. They apparently chatted to the ghost, not realising who he was, before he vanished right before their eyes. The flight was later cancelled as the crew were too shaken to operate.
On the L1011, flight engineers would usually arrive at the aircraft before the other crew to carry out their pre-flight checks. This particular day, a flight engineer was stunned to see an Eastern Second Officer already sat in his seat. He immediately recognised him as Don Repo and the apparition said to him “You don’t need to worry about the pre-flight, i’ve already done it”, before disappearing.
Some weeks later another captain was checking the instruments before a flight from Miami to Atlanta. Staring him right in the face, was the unmistakable outline of Repo’s face. The Captain claimed he distinctly heard the words…
“There will never be another crash on an L1011. We will not let it happen.”
During a flight from Atlanta to Miami onboard N318EA, the flight deck crew were enjoying their meal as they cruised at 39,000 feet. Suddenly, there was a loud knocking coming from the ‘hell hole’. By now the ghostly stories had been circulating round the company and the crew were reluctant to look. But the knocking continued and as the flight engineer opened the hatch, he was horrified to see the face of Repo staring back at him. Terrifyingly, this was where the engineer had been when flight 401 had crashed.
And it wasn’t just flight crews who saw the ghostly going apparitions. On one occasion, several caterers loading N318EA for its next flight were seen rushing off the jet and refused to get back on. When asked why, they all stated that they had seen a flight engineer stood in the forward galley before vanishing.
Passengers also reported strange occurences. A woman sat next to an Eastern pilot, who she said ‘looked ill’, called a stewardess only for the pilot to disappear.
Another lady summoned a crew member as she was concerned about the unresponsive pilot sat next to her. The man once again disappeared, leaving the passenger hysterical.
After these incidents both women were shown pictures of the deceased 401 flight crew……both identified Don Repo as the crew member they had seen.
So far the majority of the reports of spooky goings on and ghostly sightings had been swiftly swept under the carpet by Eastern. What airline would want passengers thinking that their aircraft were haunted by dead flight crew who perished on the pride of their fleet? Although the airline had point blankly refused to believe the spooky stories, the sightings were all reported to the independent Flight Safety Foundation, who later commented “The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant”. Eastern went on to warn employees that they could face dismissal if they were caught spreading the ghost stories.
The Final Straw
But then one incident changed everything….
Flight 903 had just taken off from JFK, on route to Mexico City. Stewardess Fay Merryweather was in the galley preparing the meals for the passengers. As she reached for the handle of the oven door, she was horrified to see the face of Don Repo staring back at her.
Not one to panic, she briskly went to get another stewardess and the aircrafts engineer to come and take a look. Sure enough when they returned, Repo’s face still stared out from the oven, although now it looked like he was trying to say something. Suddenly, all three clearly heard the apparition mutter the words…
“Watch out for fire in this plane”.
The flight reached Mexico City safely, but on the return leg problems began with the starboard engine. After an inspection the aircraft was cleared for take off, but as the plane climbed away the engine failed and back fired several times. It was quickly shut down before it caught fire and returned to the airport. Thankfully no one was hurt during the incident, but the crew were understandably very shaken after what they had seen in the oven door.
As the sightings became more and more frequent, rumours circulated that pilots and crew refused to fly on the L1011’s that had parts of the doomed jet fitted. Paranormal investigators requested numerous times to be allowed on board to see if anything could be recorded.
The airline continually refused.
However, all of the salvaged parts from 401 were later removed from the suspect jets.
The ghosts of Bob Loft and Don Repo were never seen again, but their haunting words to protect Eastern’s L1011 fleet came true. In the years after the crash until the airlines closure there were no other fatal crash on the Tristar fleet.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, it is quite nice to think that those dedicated pilots may have kept the rest of the L1011 fleet safe.
N318EA later went on to fly for Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific and Eastern Airlines was consigned to the history books when they ceased operations in 1991.
But the stories of the ghosts of Flight 401 still circulate today.
So next time you’re sat on a plane and you feel a chill; before asking the cabin crew to turn the heating up take a look around, and if you see someone sat in a pilots uniform be sure to take a closer look. It could well be the ghosts of Captain Robert Loft or Second Officer Don Repo, keeping watch and making sure your flight arrives safely.
© confessionsofatrolleydolly.com by Dan Air.
This is still an interesting story after all these years. I just read that Frank Boorman (sic) thought this story was “bullshit,” but how can you deny the consistency of the reported sightings, and why would staff make any of this up? Eastern Airlines should have taken this a little more seriously and used the incidents as an opportunity to learn so much more about our parallel universe.
My trainer who was an ex cabin crew from BA told us about this story!
I am fascinated by this story. very interesting story, one to read on a stormy night in bed
wow, I was always off and on about believing in ghosts, but I took it a bit more seriously now, and it reminds me of when I went to the museum with my friend, there were sheets hanging and we said “what if their spirits are living there?” then we felt cold and felt like something was squeezing us, nothing was there, and we could here something weird, and it suddenly stopped…
but I strongly believe there has to be something living somewhere other than earth, who knows, in other galaxies, or maybe in the unexplored planets in our universe, or anywhere, and how do you explain the story of when a pilot saw a UFO, when he went up there above the clouds, and he never returned…
its very good and sad
Does it make sense that a flight from Atlanta to Miami would cruise at 39,000 ft? I suspect it’s too short a hop to reach that height. So if one story has an obvious error??!
No it may not be an error, as a lightly loaded (25%) 777F would use 39000ft or even 41000ft for a sector of that length, no reason to believe a similarly lightly loaded tristar would be much different
I was an EAL Flight Attendant from 1968 to 1991 when it went under. I preferred the 1011 and always flew the Senior position. The stories are true…
Did you ever have an encounter?
Did u ever have an encounter yourself? Or ever know someone personally who did?
this story is true. Im sitting on my room now and im scared and afraid. creepy, i will cry.
It did not fly from ATlanta. The flight originated at JFK (New York), so yes, 39,000 feet would be right.
Wow! What a fascinating story! Really wish the airline allowed paranormal investigators to investigate on-board N318EA!
I have heard rumors circulating around Virgin Atlantic claiming the lower deck of one of their Airbus A340-600 was possessed by a benevolent spirit!
There was only ever 1 a340-600 where crew would often feel there ankles being grabbed very quickly in the crew rest area then, let go, but that aircraft is no longer with us.
Believe in only what is true! There are no ghosts.
We were on a layover in Barbados when the crash occurred. My Colleague woke up screaming and in an agitated state. I ran to her room while she ranted and called out evacuation drills and kept screaming about alligators. When she finally calmed down and fell asleep I turned on CNN and learned about Flight 401. It seemed my friend had just experienced it as it happened. Several years later she was to work in the galley on the Lockheed 1011, came to me terrified that she could not work below as she had done all month, something was really bothering her and she was crying. I took her place. Arriving back at base the mechanic, her dad, came on board and after hearing her story told us that our airline had purchased some of the salvageable parts from Eastern and that there was a chance they were on this plane. I never believed in this sort of thing but she was proof to me that there is somethings beyond our comprehension.
must of had meant to say CBS OR NBC
IN 1972 CABLE DID NOT EXIST…SO I KNOW YOU’RE A LIAR!
Totaly agree, i flew some years with Air Atlanta Tristars ( former Easter and Twa) and many ocasions we experimentes something similar.
I was supposed to be on that plane when I was 12 but my mother decided for us to stay one more day in NY.
Absolutely how not to investigate extraordinary claim!
“JFK airport, 1973 and an Eastern Airlines Tristar was boarding for its flight down to Miami. Travelling that morning was one of the airlines Vice Presidents.”
So, the VP’s name is a secret, as is the date of the flight and any corroborating witness’ statement(s), but just the same I’ve got to switch my brain firmly into the ‘off’ position and grant that this isn’t a made-up farrago of lies?
“A few months later back at JFK, a crew boarding the same aircraft were surprised to see Captain Loft already onboard [sic]. They apparently chatted to the ghost, not realising who he was, before he vanished right before their eyes. The flight was later cancelled as the crew were too shook up to operate.”
Let us ignore for a moment the matter of number of the crew (‘a crew…’ – indicating one crew member, then in the next sentence, ‘They apparently…’, then two sentences later, ‘the crew were…’ indicating more than one). More importantly this a ‘few months later’, even though we know not the date of the first supposed incident. A few months later doesn’t help with checkable dates. If the flight was cancelled, what reason was given? If we had a date, we could figure out the flight number of the cancelled flight and begin corroboration exercises therefrom. This way, we’ve got nothing to rely on but the supposed honour of the narrator. And based on what we’ve read thus far, that’d be like putting all our eggs in one basket on the back of a suicide bomber caught in the crosshairs of a trigger-happy US Apache helicopter pilot. I’d rather not, in other words.
“Onboard [sic] the L1011, flight engineers would usually board the aircraft before the rest of the crew to carry out the pre-flight checks. This particular day, the flight engineer…” What particular date? Is it a secret? ‘The flight engineer’ – name?
“Some weeks later another captain was checking the instruments before a flight from Miami to Atlanta. Staring him right in the face, was the unmistakable outline of Repo’s face. The Captain claimed…”
Again, date? Captain’s name?
“During a flight from Atlanta to Miami onboard [sic] N318EA, the flight deck crew were enjoying their meal as they cruised at 39,000 feet. Suddenly, there was a loud knocking coming from the ‘hell hole’.”
Thanks for giving us the aircraft’s height. Shame to be less forthcoming about the date of the flight, not to mention the names of one or more of the crew might have been mighty helpful.
“And it wasn’t just flight crews who saw the ghostly going ons [sic]. On one occasion, several caterers loading N318EA for its next flight were seen rushing off the jet and refused to get back on. When asked why, they all said that they had seen a flight engineer stood in the forward galley and that he had just vanished. Passengers also reported seeing strange things. A woman sat next to an Eastern pilot who she said ‘looked ill’ called a stewardess, only for the pilot to disappear right before them.”
Problems: ‘on one occasion’. When? ‘several caterers’. Who? Names? Date? ‘When asked why’. Who asked why? Names? ‘A woman sat’. Name? Flight date? ‘called a stewardess’? Name of the stewardess? Etc.
‘…the sightings were all reported to the independent the sightings were all reported to the independent Flight Safety Foundation, who later commented “The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant”.”.’
There is a Flight Safety Foundation web site. Go there. Type ‘“Flight 401” ghost’ into the search box with or without the quotation marks. No hits. Even more illuminating, type this into Google, (or Bing, or whatever): “Flight Safety Foundation” “The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant”. The quotation marks are important in this case, because we are looking for exact matches. When I ran the query, I got back 981 results – all that I saw belonged to websites which had an a priori in ghosts. What I did not see, was the original quotation from Flight Safety Foundation. In other words, what we have here is a self-perpetuating invention. (By the way, one site claims that the original comments appeared in a 1974 US Flight Safety Foundation’s newsletter”. Hm. However, Flight Safety Foundation’s web site (http://flightsafety.org/aerosafety-world-magazine/past-issues) clearly states: “The magazine was originally named Aviation Safety World when it was launched in July 2006 and renamed AeroSafety World in January 2007.” The kicker here being, of course, “launched in July 2006”. In other words, there wasn’t a newsletter in 1974!
“Flight 903 had just taken off from JFK, on route to Mexico City. Stewardess Fay Merryweather was in the aft galley preparing the meals for the passengers. As she reached for the handle of the oven door, she was horrified to see…”
I can’t find a record of an Eastern Airlines Flight 903. There is (was) a TWA Flight 903, but not an Eastern Airlines one. The stewardess, Fay (or Faye) Merryweather is the first firm lead we’ve got. Unfortunately, I can’t find her except on blogs about the paranormal. I did find one Faye Merryweather, born in 1919, so she would have been 55 years old in 1974 at the time of the supposed sighting, and kind of long in the tooth for a stewardess, I would have thought.
If indeed there was a Fay or Faye Merryweather (by no means certain) I think we’ve found the probable original source of all the stories. After all, an urban legend has to start somewhere…
Jeez you have far too much time on your hands.
I agree with you, way to much time, sad really.
Great post, AND just what I was looking for…thanks
Mate, you seem to have dissected this nicely – And to have done this for free! I do agree though – Something this significant necessitates precise details. For me, the reason behind this story seems to be a senior executive anticipating the winding up of the Airline and trying to expedite his redunducy payout. Several crew members were on the same wave length. And the media did the rest! It did work to a certain extent because the business came to a holt in 1994.
I’m not even sure if I should believe in ghosts but I am both amazed and satisfied with how these 2 pilots were ensuring that a second crash on a L1011 would not happen again. It’s a milestone of aviation that Eastern Airlines did not consider.
My cousin’s girlfriend flew for Eastern in the 70s. She swore the stories were true and that she knew flight attendants who had seen the ghosts. The log book entries about these incidents were supposedly removed by Eastern and not seen again. I flew for a different airline on international routes in the mid 70s and many crew members were talking about the ghosts of flight 401 back then. Urban legends, folklore, or something otherworldly actually perceived by a select few? Who cares? The stories are fascinating.
This particular plane was leased to TWA for a short period of a few months. The ghost sightings continued and were witnessed by many TWA crew members.
I’m the son of a former TWA pilot who flew the leased EA Tristar from JFK to SJU. The stories are true. Dad often talked about the firings.
I’m not sure what to believe on this. The posts from people who write that they have known people who believe these stories to be true seem valid. The writer who wrote the critique was very persuasive, and I thank him for his diligent post, as I am actually here trying to gather info as to whether the ghosts of flight 401 were real or not.
This is by far the most persuasive ghost story I have ever heard, and it makes no sense that employees of Estern Airlines would be making up stories about a crash that killed over 100 people.
I will have to get the book on this to see if the witnesses were named in the book. If not, I am suspect of the stories,
The bigger implications go all the way back to Jesus and the foundation of Christianity. If these pilots did appear as if they were real, we have another instance of a return to life similar to the stories of Jesus.
It is hard to believe that this story is totally fabricated. It has the ring of truth, but I want to see if there is further verification than just the many people posting, seemingly truthfully from the sound of their posts, that the story is true.
I saw a lady in my ho e in 1972. I was so shaken I wouldn’t go back home. She vanished right in front of me. I am kind of afraid to tell anyone because they will think I am crazy. I don’t know who this lady was but she seemed so lifelike it scared me. She had a long black dress on and her dark brown hair was tied back in a bun. She looked a lot like my grandmothers photo who died in 1937. Since I wasn’t even born until 195p0, I wouldn’t recognize her. I did see her but she did not say anything, she just vanished.
Some of the Eastern Airlines flight attendants were reading the book when they came through Toronto Airport between 1976 and 1980. I worked in Terminal One where Eastern was based and lot of their crew members had the book wrapped in brown paper because their brass frowned on them reading the book. Seemed like a lot of trouble to go through if it was truly a “b.s. story”. Interest was very high at the time among Eastern employees.
I think its a great true story, lovely to think they came back to protect people
There’s a big fly in the ointment of this story. They don’t “salvage” parts from crashed aircraft. For one, they don’t need to. It’s not like there’s a depression on, and they’re that hard up for money! They have warehouses full of available parts. Why in the world would they need to salvage them from a crashed plane? Secondly, airline executives might be stoic, but they’re also a superstitious lot. Salvaging parts from crashed aircraft, would practically be like robbing a corpse. Silly or not, the thought that nothing good could come from it, would be the prevailing thought.
I don’t know if airline personnel were really seeing something or not. On one hand they have no reason to lie… probably. On the other hand, they’re only human, and creepy tales often spread like wildfire. That doesn’t make them true.
Once you find one flaw in a story, other flaws quickly add up. If no parts were being salvaged, as they most certainly weren’t, the reason the “ghosts” were supposedly appearing, falls apart.
These stories are spooky, but hardly provable. No doubt most of them are exaggerated tales of actual events or, more likely, flat out legends from within the airline industry, told and retold by personnel with over active imaginations!
The mention of the early encounter between Loft and the VP and his subsequent terror is interesting. Also the passenger that became hysterical with fear, and the warning about fire on a plane, help explain why the airline so vehemently denied the hauntings. Media reports could also have scared away ticket sales. In 1989 one of the rescuers at the Tristar crash was flying on an A-300 and it seems he too encountered the lost Captain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdBAFYSsd1Q
This has always be an intriguing story. Love it.
The consistency in the sightings may stem from people adding to the story over time. I’ve read much about the encounters but they all seem to be regurgitated from a common source rather than verified. Also, some of the flight crew may have had an inexplicable experience that later morphed into a ghost sighting after many iterations. I want to hear the stories from the mouths of the eyewitnesses (it did not happen before the dawn of video so something that spectacular should have been documented somewhere). I do believe in the paranormal but I am highly skeptical of third-party retellings of such tales. Give me more, back up your claims with actual evidence.
The FACT that all the parts reused from the wrecked ship 310 were eventually removed from the aircraft ( mainly 318) they were fitted to I think is quite telling, hard as these stories are to believe, it would have involved considerable cost to do this.
That comes to show not only homes no cars even people you may say but anything could could be haunted . My cousin was a stewardess on flight 401 n the photos of the crew n plane before taking off was taken with her camera that was found by the rescuers, she took the camera for she wanted pictures of everyone cause the crew was being spilt up going to other planes , that’s where the photos came from . I once did ask her if she ever seen anything like a spirit of someone she told me no never , but did have a friend that did see the ghost of the captain on that plain by the kitchen era , weird stuff out there just cause you don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there .
For those who think salvaged parts are not used on other aircraft? Guess what? They are. Infact, more often than people think. I have worked in the airline industry for over 20 years and have personally seen salvaged parts being used. People need to remember that pretty much almost every Airline DO NOT own the aircrafts in their fleet, very few do. And the cost is unbelievable on even the smallest parts for aircraft that big. This is why most Airlines go bankrupt and we have all seen this. As an example, Ive seen employees accidentally open cabin doors at rear of aircraft to allow for commissary truck to approach so they can exchange old flights food and beverage carts for new fresh ones for the outgoing flight, as they opened the door they forgot to make sure the inflatable emergency escape slide rods were disengaged from the floor mounts which caused the escape slides to deploy. For us to re install that cost $200,000 each time it happened and that was back in 1999. Ovens alone cost a fortune and no one ever had many of those in stock even back in 1999 so imagine back in 1978, no way. So yes, many parts are salvaged and im speaking from experience.
Very interesting story. I found this site as I am currently watching the National Geographic program about flight 401 and decided to research it. I had heard this story before but this page is he best at describing the events on other flights. Thanks for the great work on it.
I have never experienced anything paranormal myself but have spoken to too many people whose opinions I respect to discount “happenings”.
My dear cousin was a stewardess on flight 401 , I’m so happy she made it out alive she said when the plane kept going around that it never took so long plus she was wondering why they were going back , at the time everyone was strapped in their chairs . When the plane was down she was still strapped to her chair upside down when she was awaken the plane was in pieces water and fire n the smell of gas what scared her was the alligators and poisoned snakes around . Must have been a scary thing to wake up to , she flew a few more years after the crash that takes guts . Glade my favorite cousin is still around thanks Marcie I love you always have .
I am a survivor of fly 401With my husband Gustavo Casado and our daughter Chistina Casado 2 months old.
Very interesting, unnerving. Were they over the famed Bermuda Triangle?