The drone of the DC-3
liner is heard everyday in Florida, the Bahamas and the whole of the Caribbean.
These classic beauties find a happy home in the geography of the
southern Triangle, where many times commuter distances between islands
are short --too short for big jumbo jets, which are also too big for the
small runways. Island hopping is their duty. All over Florida's tarmacs
they can be seen, either awaiting charter tours, in pest control service,
ready for skydiving, or impounded by the sheriffs for drug smuggling.
Convairs, Martin 4-0-4s, DC-4s on up through DC-7s, and perhaps an old
C-97 (the old Boeing 377 Stratocruiser) join their numbers in cargo service.
The Douglas Dakota,
or DC-3, is considered the most reliable aircraft ever built. More than
10,000 were built and hundreds remain in service today. During W.W.II
and Korea, the C-47 (the same as the DC-3) was the main cargo transport
and parachute plane. These same aircraft that dodged ack-ack, flew over
Normandy, or supplied Berlin during the cold-war airlift, now show off
the company logos of dozens of local charter airline companies and cargo
lines. Their numbers are dwindling as smaller jets take over their
Disaster, of course, has struck, with all its ninefold-- dead bodies,
wreckage, floating momentos and schools of sharks swimming about. But
it is not the spectacular wreckage and morbid scenes that attract my attention.
It is the mystery of those that vanish and leave no trace whatsoever.
Three of these airliners are known to have vanished in the Bermuda Triangle.
All of them within 50 miles of the same location, near the Florida Keys.
The first, and most well known, was NC16002 with a full complement of
31 passengers and crew on December 28, 1948 while within 20 minutes
of its destination of Miami Airport. The pilot, Bob Linquist, radioed
he was 50 miles south and just beginning his approach. However, nothing
was ever heard from him again. It was still dark on that early morning.
There was plenty of opportunity for anybody in the Keys to both see or
hear an explosion in the sky--the most logical excuse for sudden destruction.
The shallow waters around the Keys easily aid in identifying an aircraft
silhouette below. But an intensive search did not find a thing.
The following is what is known about the flight before it vanished
on that dark morning, over 50 years ago. It is based on the Civil Aeronautic
Board Report: Airborne Transport, December 28, 1948, Miami, Florida.
NC16002, the registration of this DC-3, landed at San Juan at 7:40
p.m. the night of the 27th en route from Miami. Stewardess Mary
Burkes deplaned the Passengers while copilot, Ernest Hill, went over the
Robert Linquist informed the local repair crew that the landing light
did not come on to indicate the landing gear was locked. The repair crew
discovered the batteries to be low on water and refilled them. However,
they said it would take several hours to recharge the batteries to optimum
level. Linquist didn't want to wait that long, so he said he would recharge
them in flight.
OK now. Linquist declared the plane in good working order at 8:30 p.m.
and filed a Flight Plan. However, more battery trouble ensued. While this
was being checked into Mary Burkes boarded the 28 passengers for the return
trip. Everything else checked out all right, so Linquist taxied to the
end of runway 27. The lack of two way radio contact quickly held him at
the end of the tarmac. There was another annoying wait until the
head of Puerto Rican Transport drove to the plane. Linquist told him they
were receiving properly, but that the transmitter, due to the low batteries,
was not sending. Linquist agreed to stay close to San Juan until the batteries
were recharged and he could make two-way contact.
At 10:03 p.m. NC16002 was finally airborne. After 11 minutes of circling
the city, CAA at San Juan was able to receive a message from Linquist.
He was now departing San Juan for Miami. The airliner broke its circling
pattern and headed out over the ocean. The string of lights of San Juan's
streets, those of the industrial center and those flood lights illuminating
the historic castle of El Morro quickly faded behind them as they droned
out to sea. The weather was perfect, a balmy tropic night.
After this the aircraft passed in and out of what seemed like radio voids.
CAA tried to contact it again, but could not get a response. Only an hour
or so after taekoff, at 11:23 p.m. Overseas Foreign Air Route Traffic
Control Center at Miami heard a routine transmission, in which Linquist
stated they were at 8,300 feet and gave his ETA at 4:03. a.m. His message
placed the flight about 700 miles away from Miami. As with many other
disappearances, this is one example of where a distant point of reception
like, in this case, Miami overheard the messages, but a much closer station
like San Juan could not reach the plane. This cannot be blamed on the
transmitter or batteries. Subsequent transmissions were heard sporadically.
All seemed to be routine.
Linquist next reported himself 50 miles south of Miami. The same
strange radio quirks replayed themselves here. Linquist was not heard
by Miami, but was overheard by New Orleans 600 miles away, who in turn
The weather around Miami was perfect: clear with a slight headwind, a
warm tropic Yule time. There seems no explanation for the disappearance
of this aircraft and all those on board. There was only about 20 minutes
left in the flight. So whatever it was it struck quickly and was completely
In trying to explain the mystery some have opted for the conventional,
blaming Linquist's transmitter problems. They believe he may not have
received the wind direction change that was broadcast from Miami at 12:15
a.m. This change was from the northwest to northeast. Without this
information, Linquist and Hill would have been blown 40 to 50 miles south
of their course over the allotted time. Therefore they could have been
far off course and subsequently got lost, ran out of fuel, and ditched
with nobody surviving. One must remember that Linquist stated he had trouble
transmitting, not receiving. However, since he stated he was 50 miles
south of Miami, he probably had not received the message. Apparently,
he knew where he was since that tallies with the approximate distance
he should have been blown off his course. The weather was perfect; there
was no difficulty in obtaining an astral fix to determine position. Linquist
most probably was where he said he was. The only explanation for the disappearance
was that it was lost extremely quickly from causes unknown, just as we
have seen in so many others.
What could have done this? This is just another example of a plane that,
seemingly, was disintegrated close to land, so that no trace could be
found in the shallow water.
Thirty years later another DC-3's disappearance would give even more startling
corroboration to lightning-like disappearance, this time disappearing
on radar for all the controllers to see. NC16002's search was delayed
by some 4 hours when the plane was finally declared overdue, some argue
giving the Gulf Stream enough time to disperse any debris and bodies.
However, rescue crews, rushing to the scene in the case of N407D, faired
The following comes from Missing aircraft between Fort
Lauderdale, FL, and Havana, Cuba, September 21, 1978, Douglas DC-3 N407D.
The purpose of Argosy Airlines Flight 902 had been
arranged by the pilot George Hamilton. He was to fly to Havana on September
21, 1978, to pick up 21 US citrus growers who were there on tour. He obtained
special permission since Cuba is restricted territory. He would be pilot;
Pete Rustinberghe would be copilot; and the cabin attendants would be
Pauline Lowe and Hamilton's wife, Barbara.
At 11:13 a.m. Hamilton requested clearance; and at
11:24 Flight 902 was cleared to taxi out from Walkers Cay Jet Center runway
9L for takeoff. At precisely 11:29 a.m. they lifted off from Fort Lauderdale.
All was observed to be normal.
Shortly afterward, while gazing down on the majestic
coastline view below, Pete Rustinberghe called Miami. "This is Pete Rustinberghe
of Argosy Flight 902. We'll be going to Havana, Cuba and I'd like to get
the weather along the route and all the goodies if I could please."
Miami came back: "OK, first of all no fronts or systems going
down. That tropical wave is still south of Haiti, not affecting the ah
weather in Cuba at all. International forecast wise: just lower scattered
to broken cumulous, patchy scattered to broken middle clouds bases around
8 to 10 thousand with isolated thunderstorm and rain shower activity along
The weather report being good, Hamilton and Rustinberghe
kicked back for a routine flight. Pauline Lowe and Barbara Hamilton did
odds and ends in the pantry and talked about Havana (Obviously a guess,
but under the circumstances a fairly reliable one).
Departing the Key's chain of islands, Argosy 902 flew
over the deep blue Gulf Stream. Thick clouds billowed here and their,
casting their shadows over the busy Gulf Stream traffic below.
Hamilton called Miami: "Miami Center, this is Argosy nine zero two at
six thousand feet."
At this point Argosy 902 experienced selective radio communication.
Miami did not respond. Moments later, at 12:25 p.m. Argosy 902 emerged
on Havana's radar scopes, but Havana could not read any of the messages
from the flight due to static. As a courtesy, a high altitude plane relayed
the messages to Havana. At 12:35 the messages became loud and clear.
Havana was ready to guide it in. The next sweep of the scope
showed Argosy 902 to the right of its course. Then after only a single
sweep of the scope, at 12:43 p.m., Argosy Flight 902 was gone. There was
no more green blip on the scope. There was no SOS. There was no ELT signal.
Miami and Havana coordinated an immediate search. USAF and
US Coast Guard units raced to the scene, while Cuban air patrol
made over-flights within the first hour. By afternoon Coast Guard cutter
Steadfast was coordinating the surface effort. The search was expanded
to all traffic, plus 4 more cutters, a helicopter and a C-131 with the
ALL SHIPPING STRAITS OF FLORIDA-NICHOLAS CHANNEL
ARGOSY AIRLINES FLT. 902 (N407D) IS OVERDUE
FLIGHT FROM FORT LAUDERDALE TO HAVANA,
WHITE WITH BLUE TRIM. 4 PERSONS ON BOARD.
ARE REQUESTED TO KEEP A SHARP LOOKOUT FOR
YELLOW LIFE JACKETS. PEOPLE IN THE WATER.
COAST GUARD MIAMI, FL.
The yellow life jackets numbered 32. The seat cushions on 902 were the
flotable kind, blue gray in color. On the 24th of September the search
was discontinued with negative results. Nothing, as in the many others
losses, was ever located.
Comment on radio and television concerning the incident
was lively and up to the minute. At 11:15 p.m. the night of the disappearance,
Miami's UPI got a call from a English speaking man with a Spanish accent.
He claimed to represent Hijos De La Estrella Solitaria (Sons of the Solitary
Star), a terrorist organization. After finishing the niceties of his introduction,
he said: "We claim full responsibility for the explosion of the DC-3 over
Cuban waters" then hung up. The prevalence of such a theory
at the time reflects the frustration in trying to account for Argosy's
total disappearance by any conventional theory. However, knowing the erratic
minds that follow such disasters it should not be given much credence.
Moreover, the terrorist group was never even heard of. In any event, he
never called again, leaving only lurid speculation in his wake. Had the
DC-3 blown up, it should be pointed out, it would have left debris scattered
all over. Also, Argosy would not have suddenly lost heading before a surprise
Touching on this, Conclusion 7 of the report deduced:
"Weather data available for the time and place of the aircraft's last
identified radar position revealed that circumnavigation of the weather
cells should have presented no problem and probably accounts for the slight
deviation of the flight to the right of course."
Pilot error was reduced when Hamilton's records were
pulled. He had amassed 15,227 total flight hours, 3,000 in DC-3s. Standard
conclusions held no speculations. The case was closed.