After 16 months, the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 is finally coming to an end… maybe.
A piece of wreckage was recently found on the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, and according to investigators, the wing component is from a Boeing 777 aircraft. Still, the U.S. and Australia have stopped short of claiming the piece of plane wing is from the missing jet; the wreckage has been sent to France for further tests. While nothing is conclusive, the wing wreckage is the most concrete evidence to be discovered since the Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8, 2014, generating the largest multinational search operation in aviation history.
While the disappearance of Flight MH370 and its 239 passengers remains the biggest unexplained disaster in aviation, disappearances are not uncommon. Records from the Aviation Safety Network claim that more than 100 aircrafts have gone missing since 1948. Here are 10 shocking airplane mysteries that have captured the world’s attention.
10 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571
Dr. Roberto Canessa is one of 16 men who survived when Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 slammed into the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina in 1972. At the time, everyone on board was presumed dead. The search mission was called off after eight days. Stranded in the remote snow-covered mountains for 72 days, with sparse food supplies, Dr. Canessa and the other survivors ate the flesh of their friends to survive.
“It was repugnant,” Canessa told the Sun. “My dignity was on the floor having to grab a piece of my dead friend and eat it in order to survive.”
Roberto Canessa and Nando Parrado trekked for 10 days across the Andes to find help. The disaster inspired the 1993 film Alive.
9 Noorduyn Norseman
Glenn Miller was one of the greatest big band leaders of the swing era. In December 1944, the Noorduyn Norseseman, a single-engine aircraft, left southeast England for Paris carrying the American music legend. The plane vanished in the fog over the English Channel, and Glenn Miller was never seen again.
Official reports claim the Noorduyn Norseman went down because of engine complications or iced-over wings, but there are competing theories as to why the plane disappeared. It's rumored Miller’s aircraft was the victim of friendly fire by English planes dumping bombs over the English Channel after an aborted mission.
8 Air France Flight 447
In 2009, Air France Flight 447 crashed midway through a flight from Sao Paulo to Paris, in a no man’s land called Tasil Point. All 228 passengers and crew were killed. Tasil Point is home to a vast sprawl of underwater mountains. It’s also the point where air traffic controls switch between South America and Africa, making radio frequencies more difficult for pilots to pick up.
It took five days for search teams to discover the wreckage of Flight 447. Investigators claim that a build-up of ice crystals caused the plane to crash; the auto-pilot beamed 24 alerts regarding the plane’s Pitot probes, which had a history of freezing in weather conditions like those encountered at Tasil Point.
7 Flying Tiger Line Flight 739
In 1962, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation charted by the United States Armed Forces vanished over the Pacific Ocean. The plane was carrying 107 passengers, 93 of whom were soldiers. En route to Vietnam from California, the aircraft refueled in Guam before continuing its flight.
The plane never arrived at its destination. After an eight day search, no wreckage was found. However, a Liberian tanker ship’s crew witnessed an “intensely luminous” light in the sky on the night of the flight, which suggests the plane may have exploded in the air. Conspiracy theorists, on the other hand, believe sabotage was involved.
6 EgyptAir Flight 990
“I rely on God.”
Those are the lasts words co-pilot El-Batouty is recorded saying before Flight 990 from New York to Cairo plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. Two hundred and seventeen people died in the crash.
At the time, the U.S. believed that El-Batouty deliberately crashed the plane; a colleague claimed he threatened to crash the jet after being reprimanded by the airline for sexual misconduct, including exposing himself to teenage girls. Egyptian investigators rejected the idea, and the crash of Flight 990 became a metaphor for U.S.-Egyptian mistrust.
5 BSAA Star Dust
In 1947, the BSAA Star Dust disappeared in the Andes during a flight from Buenos Aires to Chile. The plane was piloted be Reginald Cook, a distinguished Air Force pilot. What makes the disappearance of the BSAA Star Dust unusual is the cryptic Morse code message radio officer Dennis Harmer sent before the plane was lost.
Wreckage of the BSAA Star Dust wasn’t discovered until 2000, but the word “STENDEC” led to all sorts of strange and far-flung ideas as to what happened in the mountains. Theories included UFO attacks and sabotage. Speculative theorists floated the idea that STENDEC was an anagram for DESCENT, and that the Star Dust was about to be abducted by a descending alien mother ship.
4 TWA Flight 800
In July 1996, 230 people died when Trans World Airlines Flight 800 exploded and crashed over the shores of Long Island. The Boeing 747, headed to Paris from JFK, was just 12 minutes into its flight. It was a clear summer night on Long Island, and many eyewitnesses saw the plane explode.
During a four year investigation, the FBI interviewed 755 people, and many claim to have seen “flares” or “fireworks” heading towards the plane. America was in a high state of alert when the plane crashed, and officials suspected terrorism was to blame. Moammar Gadhafi and Saddam Hussein were suspects. However, in 1997, the FBI announced that a criminal act didn’t bring down TWA Flight 800. According to the report released in 2000 by the National Transportation Board, the cause of the disaster was a spark in the center fuel tank.
3 Flight 19
On December 5, 1945, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers on a navigation training flight from the Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. Fourteen airmen were lost. No traces of the planes were ever discovered.
While Navy officials couldn’t determine the exact cause of the disappearance of Flight 19, it’s thought that either the flight instructor’s compass malfunctioned, causing the airmen to get lost, or that the torpedo bombers ran into a squall of bad weather. Adding to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, the search and rescue aircraft sent to look for Flight 19, a PBM Mariner with a 13-member crew, also disappeared.
2 Aer Lingus Flight 712
Did a British missile take down Flight 712?
For almost five decades, conspiracy theorists have dissected the mystery of the Aer Lingus flight, which crashed into the Irish Sea from 17,000 ft. in 1968, killing all 61 onboard. Traveling from Cork, Ireland to London’s Heathrow airport on a clear spring day, Flight 712 plunged into the sea near Tuskar Rock. There was no black recorder box on the aircraft, and investigators had no explanation for what caused Flight 712 to crash.
At the time, Britain’s Ministry of Defense tested surface-to-air missiles over the Irish Sea. While aircraft failure was blamed for the crash, one popular theory is that Flight 712 was hit by a rogue missile fired from the Royal Aircraft Establishment’s range at Aberporth in Dyfed.
Amelia Earhart was one of the most celebrated figures of her time - a pioneering aviator, best-selling author, and feminist hero. In 1937, Earhart was intent on one last flight, a zigzag route that circumnavigated the globe and covered more than 30,000 miles.
On July 2, Earhart took off in a twin-engine Electra from the airfield at Lee, Papua New Guinea en route to Howland Island, 2,556 miles away. She vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. What happened on that ill-fated flight depends on which version of the story one accepts.
Earhart researchers include everyone from serious historians to wild-eyed obsessives. The official explanation for Earhart's disappearance is that she was unsure of the location of her destination and ran out of fuel searching for Howland Island, eventually crashing in 18,000-foot-deep waters.
However, there are a host of competing theories. Some say Earhart landed on Mili Atoll and was captured by Japanese forces; some say she crashed on Nikumaroro and died of hunger; others claim she landed on Saipan and was executed as a spy; and a few believe she faked her own death and lived into her late 70s under an assumed identity in New Jersey.