On Dec. 29, 1972, Eastern Air Lines flight 401 went down in the Florida swamps, killing 101 of the 176 people on board. The crash itself was indistinguishable from similar tragedies, but the legend that grew from it was most unusual.
Lore holds that plane parts from the ill-fated craft were installed in other airliners, which were seen carrying apparitions of the deceased pilots and passengers. Most often it was the ghosts of pilot Bob Loft, copilot Bert Stockstill, and flight engineer Don Repo who were said to be observed on these ghostly rides. The airline parts were seen as akin to organ donations, still living on as part of another.
While most ghost stories have various incarnations and a murky genesis, this one is known to have stemmed exclusively John Fuller’s book The Ghost of Flight 401. At the time of publication, this work claimed there had been sightings of these apparitions for four years, starting when an Eastern Air Lines 1011 – the type of plane that crashed in the Everglades – made its way to Mexico City.
Three flight personnel onboard saw the face of Repo, who warned the trio about a fire that would break out on the flight. A post-landing inspection indeed revealed that a fire had damaged an engine, and the next time the aircraft went airborne, another engine fire necessitated an emergency landing.
Fuller claimed that Repo’s voice talked the crew through all this. The cockpit voice recorder, however was nowhere to be found, which would seem to put a hole in this extraordinary claim. But according to Fuller, this is instead evidence that it was whisked away by the airline to cover up the story. In usual conspiracy theory think, the lack of evidence was not seen as lack of evidence but as evidence of a hush up.
In the years that followed, pilots and flight attendants made frequent sightings of Repo and Loft, with the pair offering pointers on how to maintain the craft. According to the legend, the ghosts always appeared on aircraft that contained equipment salvaged from Flight 401.
Fuller claimed Eastern tried to repress any evidence of spirit encounters, going so far as to destroy any plane logbooks that made reference to them. He also wrote of an unnamed mechanic who discovered workable plane parts that had been removed from planes once it was learned they had been on the flight that crashed.
Assigning no name to what would be a key witness matches Fuller’s modus operandi. He litters the book with anonymous sources and claims that cannot be examined. An Eastern representative told author Robert Serling, “We spent weeks trying to locate anyone who claimed to have seen a ghost and couldn’t find one person.” Serling also learned that not one part was salvaged from the wreckage to be used on another airplane, irrespective of whether the craft was carrying animated deceased spirits.
Unlike Fuller, Serling wrote an entirely credible book about Eastern Air Lines history and in so doing, tacked down the crew from the fabled Mexico City emergency landing, and found no corroboration of a Casper appearing to warn and guide them. Serling learned that the entire story stemmed from a comment the pilot on this flight made when asked how he managed the landing with just one engine. He joked that Repo’s ghost may have been of assistance. Fuller ran with that one line and rather than turning it into a halfway decent movie, penned a collection of libelous tripe.