The 29th December 1972 on board of a Lockheed Tristar, one of the most modern and technologically advanced aircrafts of its time there were 13 crew members and 163 passengers. The crash occurred as a result of the entire flight crew becoming preoccupied with a burnt-out landing gear indicator light, and failing to notice the autopilot had inadvertently been disconnected. As a result, while the flight crew was distracted with the indicator problem, the aircraft gradually lost altitude and crashed.
The aircraft was mechanically functional, the pilots and their crews technically competent. The systems and procedures in place simply did not catch these fatal mistakes in time. In short, the system failed. In the seventies there were three major accidents caused by human error. The Flight 401 incident along the Tenerife’s one and United Flight 173, triggered the urgent need to improve the system and increase security. CRM started to be fundamental in the crew trainings and NASA took the lead to explore and improve the “human system.”It highlighted how poor cockpit resource management caused a tiny light bulb to distract the pilots and bring down a Tristar jetliner.
The incident would have been remembered as one of the most terrible aviation tragedies of those years but in addition to that, many rumors about something else started to spread among aviation people and crews.
Surviving avionics and galley equipment was salvaged from the crash site and re-used and fitted onto other Tristar’s production line. The Captain Bob Loft and flight engineer Don Repo, were two of the 101 people who perished in the crash. Not long after the crash, the ghosts of Loft and Repo were seen on more than twenty occasions on other Eastern Tri-Stars by crew-members, especially those planes which had been fitted with parts salvaged from the 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.
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.
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 called 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.
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 the man disappeared. The woman was later shown photographs of Eastern Airlines engineers and she identified the man as Repo.
The sightings became more and more frequent and rumors circulated that pilots and crew refused to fly on the Tristar. Many times paranormal investigators were asked to board on the flights but the airline continually refused.
Finally, all the salvaged parts of the 401 flight were removed and the ghosts were never seen again on the suspect jets. There were no other fatal crash onboard the Eastern flights until the closure day of the airline.
It seemed to many that the pilot’s ghosts, maybe because they had a sense of guilt about their errors in the tragedy, tried to protect all the other Tristar’s flights. Believing or not in ghosts this is a story which will for sure remain in aviation history and will be remembered.