As the fate of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 continues to confound the world, lost planes of the past come to mind.
Miracle in the Andes
The disappearance of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 on its way to Santiago, Chile in October 1972, about which the 1993 film Alive was made, remains one of Aviation’s most infamous plane crashes. After bad weather forced an overnight stay in Argentina on Thursday, October 12, pilots had the choice to turn back to Uruguay or continue on to Chile, where its charter, Uruguayan rugby team Old Christians Club, had a scheduled match. The pilots decided to continue on, but inclement weather relented and, with 45 souls onboard, the plane crashed in the Andes Mountains on Friday the 13th. As they learned via radio that search efforts were halted, survivors sustained themselves on the bodies of their dead loved ones. If not for the heroic efforts of Fernando Parrado and Roberto Canessa, who literally walked out of the Andes two and a half months after the crash, the 16 remaining survivors would have perished.
Another plane lost in the unforgiving Andes Mountains was the Stardust, a British South American Airways passenger plane, also on its way to Chile. In August 1947, with 11 people aboard, Stardust Captain Reginald Cook sent the still enigmatic Morse code communication, ‘STENDEC.’ The plane disappeared and was lost until 1998 when mountain climbers discovered pieces of Stardust wreckage in the Andes on Mount Tupungato, 50 miles from where it was believed to have crashed.
TWA Midair Explosion
TWA Flight 800 remains one of Aviation’s most debated subjects. On July 17, 1996, shortly after takeoff from JFK Airport, the Boeing 747 exploded in midair. Investigators painstakingly pieced together the puzzle of the wreckage and reported in 1996 the most likely cause of the accident was a short circuit that ultimately caused a fuel tank explosion. Dispute over the explosion’s cause, however, continues to rage, with speculations ranging from outside detonation to the plane having been shot down by a military missile. None of the 230 souls onboard survived what is considered the third worst air disaster in U.S. history.
Amelia Earhart’s Plane
Arguably the most famous aircraft disappearance is that of the Electra, flown in 1937 by Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. While flying over the Pacific Ocean on her attempt to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart radioed in that she could not see her landing strip. Communication was lost and, though numerous reports of the wreckage being found have circulated since, what happened to the Electra and her crew remains a mystery.
Though still a relatively young endeavor, Aviation has made astronomical strides in safety. Unfortunately, due to the nature of air travel, disasters remain the most effective means of learning from mistakes.