Flight Crew of Eastern 401
In part one of this report, I discussed an incident that took place within the months following the crash of flight 401; incidents that earmark the first of many such events that would continue. Apparently, Captain Loft has made his appearance on several other occasions, such as the time he was seen by a Captain and two flight attendants on one flight, and later, reports of a conversation that took place about flight safety and possible problems that would occur on other flights by this same spectre. The caring apparition covered problems that might take place if the crew didn’t follow his advice on such safety issues. After such spectral safety tips, the benevolent spirit once again vanished into thin air, thus raising the hair on the necks of the shocked flight staff who witnessed the events. This incident forced many of the witnesses to cancel their planned flights, and opting a few to resign their positions all together. Without a doubt, the reports of such visions would continue with various Eastern flight personnel and their patrons seemingly on a daily basis.
Although Captain Loft was the first to make visitations on the living, Don Repo made his début on L-1011 flight 318, also making startling revelations from beyond the grave. A lady traveling to Miami thought she was sitting next to an employee with Eastern Airlines. This gentleman, she thought, looked extremely pale and sickly, and asked if he was all right, but this gentleman would just stare ahead, refusing to answer or acknowledge her in any way. So, the lady pushed the call button on the overhead console to ask a stewardess for help, and as soon as she arrived, the stewardess and several other people all watched is amazement as the man completely disappeared right before their eyes.
It’s not too hard to understand why she was soon requesting to find another seat, remaining stunned and relatively quiet for the remainder of her flight. When they landed, the stewardess was understandably curious about what she had seen, yet was pleased that she wasn’t the only one to have experienced the apparition, and felt she had to do some investigating. So, she asked the passenger if she would look at some old photographs while at the airport. The lady agreed and followed the stewardess back to a lounge, where the two of them went through various photograph albums with photos of Eastern Airline employees, both past and present. When they reached the photographs of Eastern Airline’s officers and engineers, the passenger recognized the man in the seat sitting next to her as Second officer Don Repo. Indeed, they both got chills when they read the label glued at the bottom of the photograph, which simply read: In Memorial. Flight #401, Dec., 29th, 1972.
It wasn’t long after this event that others started to see strange images on many other flights with Eastern. On one occasion, on a flight from New York to Mexico City, Mexico, a stewardess was preparing meals in the galley, when suddenly, while bending over to take the dinners out of the oven, she saw a man’s head eerily illuminated inside, with his eyes looking upward directly at the stewardess. Immediately, the startled woman jumped back away from the oven in shock. She later recognized the face as that of the ill-fated Don Repo. While on the same flight, two other stewardesses and an engineer saw the apparition of Don Repo and even heard him warn them to “Watch out for fire on this plane.” Sure enough, during the take-off on another flight, the plane’s engines malfunctioned, shooting out sparks and smoke, forcing the plane to return to the airport. Engineers later surmised that if it went unnoticed, the plane would have certainly crashed.
On one final occasion, in his usual helpful manner, the ghost of Don Repo is said to have given one last statement to the captain of another Tri-Star Jetliner. He simply told the captain that: “There will never be another crash on a Tri-Star…We will not let that happen.” Without a doubt, the best thing the ghost of a dead aviator could ever tell a living aviator. Although these apparitions are believed to be the last events to be reported, many believe these guardian spirits still oversee the safety of others on future flights. There are other witnesses, however, that believe the victims who died on the fateful night are not so pleased in their resting place — The massive, black, alligator infested waters of the everglade swamps.
The Florida Everglades are an ancient and beautiful part of the Sunshine State. The wildlife and the wide-open spaces seem to call out for adventurers and nature lovers everywhere, and this is particularly true for the air boaters that love to spend their weekends racing through the everglades as fast as they can. Some have made a profitable business from air boating and have opened their own guided tour for natives and visitors alike. On these two hour trips the air boat captains will show you all of Florida’s natural wonders, the wrecks of old boats of yesteryear, alligators galore, some the size of small cars and oh yes, the faces of the dead.
It all began around February 1972, while cleanup crews were still searching for human remains, as well as picking up any wreckage of flight 401 that may still have remained. It is said that many of the retrievers would work late at night, with large searchlights shining down on the water, in hopes of quickening their work. From time to time, these investigators would hear what they thought were moans coming from the swampy marsh all around them. It would be hard to believe that anyone could survive after such an amount of time, especially with the alligators, but they looked anyway. Some of the cleanup crew would point their spotlights around the water, hoping to find an explanation for the sounds of whimpering and sobbing, but all they found was the dark, vacant waters of the ancient Everglades. Again, while on a second night of wreckage removal, the sounds of moans were heard from a large glade of grass and weeds growing out of the water. This time however, when one of the crewman guided his small boat over to the area where the sounds were coming from, he found more than he had bargained for, as when he looked into the dark waters, he saw a most horrific sight. He saw what appeared to be the white, bleached face of a man, his blank eye sockets staring up at him with his mouth, slowly opening and closing as if trying to scream. Well, it shouldn’t be surprising when the crewman lunged back into his boat, screaming to the others “I Found Someone! I Found Someone!” Quickly the other men flocked over to the now dazed and confused crewman to see what he had found. When they arrived there was nothing. No survivor…no body…Nothing.
Reports of moaning were heard by many of the wreckage crew, and more and more reports of these ghastly faces were being seen in the water, sadly peering out to startled witnesses. To this day, when airboat captains take passengers on night tours to this part of the everglades, you can expect to hear a ghost story or two about the phantom faces beneath the waters and the moans in the night from the crew and passengers of Flight 401. On occasion, these airboat passengers will hear and see these things for themselves, which only adds to the legend of the haunted everglades. When we think of the agony and the pain the crew and passengers of Flight 401 endured; the shear horror of crashing into the black waters, and then to drown or literally be eaten by the alligators in the pitch-blackness of the everglades night, as many did, it’s not too hard to consider that something horrific remains.
Because most of passengers died screaming, or slowly moaning until they could moan no more, and then simply fading away into the black night, the concept of there being a residual-like effect occurring is not too terribly strange. After all, we have history to express countless stories of a similar nature, pointing towards the possibility that there is far more going on, in a paranormal sense, than can be readily explained. Whether or not there restless spirits of the victims haunt the dangerous waters of the Everglades is anyone’s guess. Yet, we do have the testimonies of the wreckage and search crew after such events that seem to point to the otherworldly. So, if you’re planning a trip to the Miami area for a vacation, or if you live nearby, schedule a night tour on one of South Florida’s airboat rides. Ask the captain if he will take you to the spot where the ill-fated Flight 401 crashed, and ask him if he’s ever heard strange things about that place. Don’t be surprised if he turns to you and tells you his own experiences about the haunted swamps and the ghosts of Eastern flight 401.
When we turn on the television and learn of a plane crash and all the lives that were lost in that crash, we just cannot help to feel for the victims. We may wonder why this had to happen, or how it must have felt to die like that. We may not even think twice when boarding an airliner today, or seriously think of just how quickly our lives might end. Captain Loft, his crew, and passengers all thought they would make back to the airport with little problem, transfer to another plane and complete their mission, then go home or to a hotel and get some well-deserved sleep. But, that didn’t happen, as death took them that night. Some were lucky and died in a flash of a moment, while others lingered for days; while others were to become food for swamp life. Some were planning their futures, while others were planning their retirements, but none of them were planning for that night.
The apparitions that have been experienced over the years have played an important part for the living, as only their compassion was seen and heard by the witnesses, albeit, in a frightening manner indeed. And, although Captain Loft and Second Officer Repo have made fewer visits to the passengers and crew of other airliners today, there have been those who have claimed to have witnessed strange things. Sometimes, in the dead of night, the misty form of a man fitting the description of Flight 401’s captain is seen walking down the silent corridors of the Miami International Airport where the old Eastern Airline ticket counters once stood, then fading into what was once the Eastern concourse. Although Eastern Airlines closed its doors several years after the crash of Flight 401, the crew and passengers seem to linger. Whether through the slight moaning in the dark waters of the Florida everglades, and the occasional glimpse of a haunting face peering through the dark waters, or through the kind warnings by a phantom crewmember, the legend of Flight 401 lives on.
DC-9 ValuJet, Flight 592
Incidentally, in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak with a former airline mechanic who worked on many Eastern planes. He told me that even after Eastern folded up, their planes and all the parts were sold off to other airline companies. He told me that he had worked with the old remains of the 401, saying that he never felt easy working with the salvaged remains, as they were associated with so much tragedy. Yet, business was business, and spare parts are spare parts, regardless of his personal feelings. Strangely enough, one of his friends worked with a rescue team on another Everglade’s crash, which took place a few years ago, a plane, which he says, was on a similar flight pattern with similar problems associated with Flight 401. That aircraft was the DC-9 ValuJet, Flight 592 carrying 110 passengers from Miami to Atlanta that plunged into the Everglades shortly after its takeoff one Saturday afternoon in May of 1996. It is believed that flight 592 experienced equipment malfunctions in the cockpit, which started to spew out smoke, problems very much like that of the ill-fated Flight 401. The communications between the tower and the plane were cut short by an eerie thud and then silence, but unlike the 401 crash, flight 592 completely disappeared into the dark, murky waters of the everglade swamps, never to be found. Although these planes and the great loss of life are believed to have been caused by faulty equipment; roughly $12 in light bulbs for Flight 401, and about $25 in replacement circuitry for Flight 592, many feel that these accidents were caused by the Florida Everglades itself. Perhaps these accidents are nothing more than coincidences, or perhaps they were caused by the already enchanted and cursed everglades that many Native Americans believe them to be. Either way, this mystery certainly gives us something to think about the next time we board a plane that will pass over the dark, haunted swamps of the Florida Everglades.
For the crew and passengers who have lost their lives on these and other flights, we truly offer our condolences, and hopes for peace.
Jenkins, Greg. Florida’s Ghostly Legends and Haunted Folklore: South and Central
Florida (2005), Pineapple Press, Inc.
Extreme Videos: Air Crash Investigations (Photo), Retrieved (Sept., 2011)