The most extraordinary and credible research into the ghost phenomenon ever documented is the so-called "Ghosts of Flight 401." On December of 1972, an Eastern Airlines Tri-Star jetliner, Flight 401, crashed into a Florida swamp. The pilot, Bob Loft (on the left), and flight engineer Don Repo (on the right), were two of the 101 people who perished in the air crash. Not long after the crash, the ghosts of Loft and Repo were seen on more than twenty occasions by crew members on other Eastern Tri-Stars, especially those planes which had been fitted with parts salvaged from the Flight 401 wreckage. The apparitions of Loft and Repo were invariably described as being extremely lifelike. They were not only reported by people who had known Loft and Repo, but their ghosts were also subsequently identified from photographs by people who had not known Loft and Repo.
The strange tales of the ghostly airmen of Flight of 401 circulated in the airline community. An account of the paranormal happenings even appeared in a 1974 US Flight Safety Foundation's newsletter. John G. Fuller, the best-selling author of The Ghost of Flight 401, carried out an exhaustive investigation into the hauntings with the aid of several cautious airline personnel. A mass of compelling testimony was produced as a result. The website Flight 401 – The Black Box Story provides an account of the crash as told using material from the Black Box. It highlights how poor cockpit resource management caused a tiny light bulb to distract the pilots and bring down a Tristar jetliner.
The cause of the crash was found to be a couple of minor design faults in the controls, and Lockheed rapidly corrected them. However, it was after some of the undamaged parts of the aircraft were subsequently recycled onto other planes that the mysterious incidents began to be reported. Although Eastern Airlines refuses to discuss the matter, researchers have interviewed numerous individuals claiming to have encountered the ill-fated pair on L-1011s. As the reports would have it, Loft and Repo have devoted their after-lives to watching over the passengers and crew of these Lockheed passenger planes.
Many of the testimonies are extremely persuasive. Many come from people in highly responsible positions: pilots, flight officers, even a vice president of Eastern Airlines, who allegedly spoke with a captain he assumed was in charge of the flight, before recognizing him as the late Loft.
Other sightings are convincing because they have multiple witnesses. A flight's captain and two flight attendants claim to have seen and spoken to Loft before take-off and watched him vanish - an experience that left them so shaken they cancelled the flight.
One female passenger made a concerned enquiry to a flight attendant regarding the quiet, unresponsive man in Eastern Airlines uniform sitting in the seat next to her, who subsequently disappeared in full view of both of them and several other passengers, leaving the woman hysterical. When later shown a sheet of photos depicting Eastern flight engineers, she identified Repo as the officer she had seen.
Another incident occurred when one of the L-1011 passenger planes that had been fitted with salvaged parts was due for take-off. The flight engineer was mid-way through carrying out the routine pre-flight inspection when Repo appeared to him and said, "You don't need to worry about the pre-flight, I've already done it."
Repo and Loft are apparently not content merely to be present on these airplanes. Often their style is far more hands on, particularly in Repo's case. Aside from his appearance to a pre-flight engineer who he appeared to have been assisting, there is testimony from a flight attendant who observed a man in a flight engineer's uniform, whom she later recognized as Repo, fixing a galley oven. The insistence of the plane's own flight engineer that he had not fixed the oven, and that there had not been another engineer on board, would seem to lend weight to her claim. Repo was also seen in the compartment below the cockpit by a flight engineer who had accessed it in order to investigate a knocking he heard coming from there.
On another occasion, Faye Merryweather, a flight attendant, saw Repo's face looking out at her from an oven in the galley of Tri-Star 318. Understandably alarmed, she fetched two colleagues, one of whom was the flight engineer who had been a friend of Repo's and recognized him instantly. All three heard Repo warn them to, "Watch out for fire on this airplane." The plane later encountered serious engine trouble and the last leg of its flight was cancelled. It is interesting to note that the galley of Tri-Star 328 had been salvaged from the wreckage of flight 401.
The sightings were all reported to the Flight Safety Foundation (an independent authority) which commented: "The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant. The appearance of the dead flight engineer (Repo) ... was confirmed by the flight engineer." Later, records of the Federal Aviation Agency recorded the fire which broke out on that same aircraft.
One of the vice-presidents of Eastern Airlines boarded a Miami-bound TriStar at JFK airport and spoke to a uniformed captain sitting in First Class. Suddenly, he recognized the captain was Loft, at which point the apparition vanished.
Another incident occurred when Repo appeared to a captain and told him, "There will never be another crash. We will not let it happen."
A female passenger found herself sitting next to an Eastern Airlines flight officer who looked pale and ill, but would not speak; she called a stewardess but before the eyes of several people, the man disappeared. The woman was later shown photographs of Eastern Airlines engineers and she identified the man as Repo.
Unfortunately, further research into the well-witnessed paranormal incidents was severely hampered by the airline company which steadfastly refused to co-operate with the ghost investigators.
Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 left New York’s JFK airport, bound for Miami International Airport, on December 29, 1972. The Lockheed L-1011 carried 163 passengers and 13 crew members. The flight was under the command of Captain Robert Loft, 55, a veteran Eastern Airline plot. His flight crew included First Officer Albert Stockstill, 39 and Second Officer (flight engineer) Donald Repo, 51.
The flight departed at 9:20 pm and crew and passengers enjoyed a routine flight until 11:32 pm. At this time, the flight was near its destination in Florida and the crew began to prepare for landing. First Officer Stockstill noticed that the landing gear indicator did not illuminate. The other crew members assisted Stockstill, but became distracted by it. While the crew was focused on the landing gear indicator, the plane crashed.
Stockstill died on impact as the plane crashed into the swampy Florida Everglades. Captain Robert Loft and Second Officer Donald Repo survived the crash, briefly. Captain Loft died before he could be pulled from the wreckage. Officer Repo died the next day.
Of the 176 people on board, 101 died.
The Ghost of Flight 401
Frank Borman, prior to becoming CEO of Eastern Airlines, arrived at the scene after the crash to assist with rescue efforts.
Over the next several months, the employees of Eastern Airlines began to report sightings of the dead crew members Loft and Repo on board another L-1011. Parts from Flight 401 were reportedly salvaged after the Flight 401 crash investigation and refitted into another L-1011 in service. Ghostly sightings began to be reported by those who knew Loft and Repo. Eastern’s management threatened dismissal to those caught spreading “ghost stories”, it was said.
By this time, the rumors of the haunting had spread far and wide. Television and books told the stories of the ghosts. By this time, Frank Borman was the CEO of Eastern Airlines. Borman called the stories of a haunting “garbage” and considered suing the producers of the 1978 made-for-TV movie The Ghost of Flight 401 for libel.
Despite this, former Eastern Airlines employees still insist to this day that they saw the ghosts of Loft and Repo on board the other L-1011. Parts were said to have been removed from the plane. After the parts removal, there was no further mention of any more appearances by Loft and Repo.
After the 1972 crash, it was discovered that the indicator light that distracted the Flight 401 crew was caused by a burned-out light bulb. The landing gear could have been manually lowered with or without the light. The crash was due to the error of the crew. It is said that this is the reason Loft and Repo haunted Flight 401 – to keep future flights safe from human error.
The Ghosts of Flight 401
Over the following months and years, employees of Eastern Air Lines began reporting sightings of the dead crew members, captain Robert Loft and second officer (flight engineer) Donald Repo, sitting on board other L-1011 (N318EA) flights.
Parts of Flight 401 were salvaged after the crash investigation and refitted into other L-1011s. The reported hauntings were only seen on the planes that used the spare parts. Sightings of the spirits of Don Repo and Bob Loft spread throughout Eastern Air Lines to the point where Eastern's management warned employees that they could face dismissal if caught spreading ghost stories.
While Eastern Airlines publicly denied some of their planes were haunted, they reportedly removed all the salvaged parts from their L-1011 fleet. Over time, the reporting of ghost sightings stopped. An original floor board from Flight 401 remains in the archives at History Miami in South Florida.
The story of the crash and its aftermath was documented first in John G. Fuller's 1976 book The Ghost of Flight 401, and later in Rob and Sarah Elder's 1977 book, Crash.
Two made-for-television movies based on the crash were aired in 1978: Crash of Flight 401, aired in October, was based on the Elders' book, and dramatized the crash, rescue efforts and NTSB investigation; while The Ghost of Flight 401, aired earlier in February, was based on Fuller's book and focuses more on the ghost sightings surrounding the aftermath.
Eastern Air Lines CEO (and former Apollo astronaut) Frank Borman called the ghost stories surrounding the crash "garbage". Eastern considered suing for libel, based on assertions of a cover-up by Eastern executives, but Borman opted not to, feeling a lawsuit would merely provide more publicity for the book. Loft's widow and children did sue Fuller, for infringement of Loft's right of publicity, for invasion of privacy, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress; but the lawsuit was dismissed and the dismissal upheld by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Musician Bob Welch recorded a song on his 1979 album Three Hearts titled "The Ghost of Flight 401".
The crash also appeared in a Season 5 episode of Mayday (also known as Air Crash Investigation). The episode was titled "Who's at the Controls?" (In some countries, the title "Fatal Distraction" was used.)
The flight was also mentioned in Season 1 episode 4 (entitled Phantom Traveler) of the television show Supernatural.