Flight 401 was a doomed commercial aeroplane that crashed in Florida, killing all aboard. The ghosts of the captain and flight engineer of an ill-fated Eastern Airlines Flight 401 L-1011 jumbo jet were reported to visit the crews and passengers of other Eastern L-1011 jets containing parts salvaged from Flight 401’s 1972 wreckage.
Eastern crew members and passengers saw the ghosts and heard them speak on the planes’ public address systems or received verbal messages and warnings from them. Witnesses also experienced abnormally cold sensations and invisible presences. Further strange happenings attributed to the ghosts were one plane’s power suddenly coming on, and a tool inexplicably appearing in a mechanic’s hand when no one was in the immediate area.
Bob Loft was captain, and second officer Dan Repo was flight engineer, when Flight 401 crashed in the Florida Everglades on Friday night, December 19, 1972. They and 100 passengers and crew members lost their lives. Initially, Loft and Repo were among the survivors, but Loft succumbed in the cockpit about an hour after the crash, before rescuers could remove him to a hospital. Repo, critically injured and seemingly angry when pulled from the wreckage, survived about 30 hours before dying.
An investigation concluded that the cause was a combination of equipment failure and pilot error. A printout of the flight recorder indicated that the plane had a problem with either its landing gear or the gear’s warning light as it approached the Miami airport. As the crew became preoccupied with finding the source of the problem, they did not notice that the plane was steadily losing altitude. When they finally realized the extent of their descent, it was too late to correct and the plane crashed.
To save costs, Eastern ordered the plane’s salvageable parts to be incorporated into other Eastern planes. Soon after, reports of the ghosts of Repo, Loft and even some unidentified flight attendants were sighted on various Eastern flights. For the next year or so, they were most often seen on Eastern’s plane number 318, or on other L-1011s that Eastern leased to other airlines, all of which contained many of those salvageable parts.
Substantiation of the sightings was difficult, however. Eyewitness reports made to Eastern’s management were met with skepticism mixed with fear of tarnishing the airline’s reputation and losing business. Management’s suggestions to a few employee witnesses to see the company’s psychiatrist were viewed as precursors to getting fired. Thus, eyewitnesses were reluctant to talk to anyone investigating the hauntings. The story was published in The Ghost of Flight 401 (1976) by John G. Fuller.
Adding to the mystery was the discovery that the log sheets containing the sighting reports, as well as the names of witnesses, were missing from logbooks on those planes where the ghosts had been seen. Normally, a logbook would contain entries for several months. Nevertheless, the eyewitness reports continued and were so widely circulated throughout the aviation community that Eastern finally removed the parts associated with Flight 401.
The reports apparently were numerous because the ghosts allegedly visited different parts of the plane at various times of the day or night, thereby exposing themselves to a wide range of potential witnesses. Moreover, Repo and Loft were often recognized by crew members who had once worked with them.
Repo was seen more often than Loft. Repo visited the galley where flight attendants saw his face reflected in the oven door. These attendants often reported that the galley felt unusually cold and clammy, or that there was a powerful feeling of someone present in the room. During one episode, the ghost of Repo allegedly fixed an oven that had an overloaded circuit. It wasn’t until another engineer came to fix the oven, and told the attendant that he was the only engineer on the plane, that she realized something was strange. She looked up Repo’s picture and identified him as the man who had first appeared and made the repairs.
But Repo’s ghost seemed to be especially concerned about the safety and operation of the plane. When his ghost appeared, it often made suggestions or gave warnings to crew members who only realized he was an apparition after he had vanished. Repo’s ghost was seen in the cockpit, either sitting at the engineer’s instrument panel or with just his face reflected on it. During one visit, a flight engineer was making a preflight inspection when he recognized Repo’s apparition. Before vanishing, Repo told the engineer that he had already made the inspection.
Repo’s ghost once warned a flight engineer that there would be an electrical failure, and a check discovered a faulty circuit. Another time, his ghost warned an attendant about a fire on the plane. On still another occasion, his ghost pointed out a problem area in the plane’s hydraulic system. Repo’s ghost even told a captain that there would be another crash on an L-1011, but that “we will not let it happen.”
On several occasions, Captain Loft’s uniformed ghost was seen sitting in a plane’s first-class section. During one sighting, a flight attendant asked Loft why his name was not on her passenger list. When there was no response, she sought the aid of her supervisor and a flight captain. It was the captain who recognized Loft, whose ghost then immediately disappeared. Loft’s ghost also appeared in Flight 401 171 the crew compartment, and it was suspected of being the voice that spoke over the public address system to warn passengers about seat belts and smoking rules when no one claimed to have made such an announcement.
The alleged hauntings remain a mystery. Eastern Airlines no longer exists.
- Kathryn Walker & Brian Innes, The Mystery of the Ghosts of Flight 401
- Fuller, John G. The Ghost of Flight 401. New York: Berkeley, 1976.
The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007