Moment in Oddity - Glass Frog
Some of us may be fearful of frogs. I, for one, have always loved them and have spent a good portion of time outdoors in search of them. I was always especially happy as a child, to find congregations of tadpoles so that I may bring some home to watch their metamorphosis into full sized frogs. Finding frogs in nature however can sometimes prove to be challenging. To this day, my favorite species of frog that I have witnessed in nature has to be the glass frog. These can be especially difficult to see due to their transparent nature. These fantastic, fragile frogs tend to sleep attached to leaves. With their eyes closed they are quite imperceptible, as they camouflage so incredibly well. What is so unique about these translucent amphibians, is their bodies ability to control their red blood cells. While they are sleeping, their blood is sent into their liver, swelling it to twice its size. This renders their bodies, virtually invisible keeping them safe when sleeping. Many creatures have unusual adaptations to ensure their survival, but being able to control the flow of blood certainly is odd.
This Month in History - Miracle on the Hudson
In the month of January, on the 15th, in 2009, Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger III safely lands a commercial airliner on New York City's Hudson River. This was US Airways Flight 1549 and it had just taken off from New York's La Guardia Airport when it hit a flock of geese. Both engines lost power and when Captain Sullenberger told air traffic controllers what had happened, they directed him to land at nearby Teterboro Airport. He replied back that he would be unable to reach any runway and that, as a matter of fact, they were going to be plunging into the Hudson. He then informed the crew and passengers to prepare for impact and maneuvered the Airbus A320 onto the surface of the Hudson as gently as he could. Flight attendants then got passengers in life vests and out onto the wings of the plane as it floated on the surface of the water. Sightseeing boats, ferries and rescue vehicles all converged on the scene and everyone was rescued with no lives lost. This has been dubbed the "Miracle on the Hudson" and Captain Sullenberger went on to receive numerous honors and was invited to President Barack Obama's presidential inauguration.
In December of 1972, the second deadliest single plane crash at that time occurred in Florida. Eastern Airlines Flight 401 had taken off from New York and was heading to Miami. The crew became distracted as the plane neared Miami and the flight went down in the Everglades. Miraculously, not everyone on board was killed. The plane was not a total loss and pieces of it were salvaged and used on other planes. And that is when the legend of Flight 401 began. It seems that a spirit attached itself to those pieces and people started reporting unexplained phenomenon.
Man's desire to fly goes back to the beginning of human history. One of the earlier myths that reveals this desire is the Greek tale recorded by Roman poet Ovid in his work Metamorphoses about Daedalus and Icarus. Daedalus was an inventor and he believed that he could make wings just like those of birds. He used feathers and wax to create the wings. This was not only just to fulfill a desire to fly, but he and his son Icarus were being held captive by King Minos in Crete. The wings would bring escape. So father and son strapped on these wings, but before leaving the ground, Daedalus warned his son that if he got too close to the sun, the wax on the feathers would melt. The men were successful in becoming airborne, but Icarus didn't listen to his father and he flew too close to the sun and his wings fell apart and he fell to his death. This myth reminds us that any of us can fall from the sky and sometimes planes do crash to the ground.
Leonardo DaVinci was making designs of flying apparatus in 1485 and one of these inventive drawings inspired the helicopter. The hot air balloon was created and gave humans the first taste of sustained presence in the sky. That first balloon was created in 1783 by Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier and after a test with animals, they started sending men up. A man named George Cayley designed a glider in 1799 and he spent 50 years making improvements to various gliders. German engineer Otto Lilienthal furthered the testing with gliders, conducting 2500 of his own flights before he died on the final one. In 1891, Samuel P. Langley added a steam-powered engine to a glider. He was awarded $50,000 to build a bigger model called the Aerodrome, but it proved to be too heavy to fly. The first successful airplane was invented by Orville and Wilbur Wright.
They made their first sustained power flight on December 17, 1903, near
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It took the brothers four years to reach
this breakthrough. The brothers continued to work on flying machines and founded their Wright Company in 1909.
French engineering pioneers started developing stick-and-rudder cockpit control systems and one of them, Louis Bleriot, flew a monoplane across the English Channel. This began a period of incredible innovation with a lot of focus on military aviation up until World War I. After the war, European entrepreneurs started looking at turning flying towards passenger travel. Charles Lindbergh made his historic nonstop solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927, proving that transatlantic flight was possible. Each accomplishment in aeronautiocs brought better engine design. The first passenger airline service took off in 1914. And as they say, the rest is history with airline travel now being just a regular routine. Many airlines have come and gone through the years. One of those airlines was Eastern Airlines.
Eastern Air Lines was one of the "Big Four" domestic airlines that was created in 1930 and ran under Eddie Rickenbacker who had been a World War I flying ace. It specialized in flight from Florida to New York from the 1930s through the 1950s. Eastern was headquartered at Miami International Airport and ran operations until 1991.
A Lockheed L-1011 Tristar had been delivered to Eastern Airlines in August 1972. Eastern called their fleet of L-1011, "Whisperliners" and they were top of the line aircrafts. They were huge, able to hold 400 passengers if configured for maximum occupancy. The planes measured longer than the entire length of the Wright Brothers first flight. An elevator led down to the kitchen and a padded bar was at the back of the plane. The truth was that the L-1011s were plagued with issues and many of them were constantly being moved out of service for maintenance. This particular aircraft had been in use for four months without many problems when it was scheduled to travel from John F. Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York to Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida as Flight 401.
The flight left New York at 9:20pm with 163 passengers and 13 crew members. The crew included 10 female flight attendants, Captain Robert Albin Loft, First Officer Albert John Stockstill and Flight Engineer Donald Louis Repo. The cockpit crew was very experienced and the Captain had logged 29,700 flight hours, 280 in the L-1011. The First Officer had even more flight time in the aircraft. The winter night was chilly, but clear.Engineer Repo had done a pre-flight check and everything seemed to be working properly. The flight would be uneventful and things were still going smoothly as the flight began its decent into Miami. Captain Loft came over the intercom to welcome everyone to Miami and let them know the temperatures were in the seventies even though it was the middle of the night.
One of the passengers on board was Joan Eskow. She and her husband Jerry had been invited to spend New Years on a friends yacht. Jerry's business was in the throes of bankrupcy, so he sent Joan on ahead of him. He convinced her that it would be better for her to fly without him because of something they had discussed in the past. If they both went down in a plane, who would care for their children? There was Gustavo and Xiomara Casado who were flying to Miami to share their new baby girl with family members. There was Jerrold Solomon who was a buyer for Gimbels and on his way to visit his girlfriend and and old college roommate. In first class sat Edward Ulrich and Sandra Burt. Ed had proposed to Sandra on the flight, producing a diamond ring from his pocket and they asked the flight attendants for some champagne to celebrate. Joseph Popson was returning home after attending the Modern Language Association conference in New York. Other passengers included Ethel Jackson who was a sixty-four year old housekeeper and Rose Kashman who was a New Yorker that boarded the plane wearing a mink coat. Marc Leshay was a college student returning to school. Evelyn de Salazaar managed a Manhattan art gallery and she had brought her poodle Tina along with her.
The men inside the cockpit were going through their landing protocol checklist and everything was fine until they got to the landing gear. Engineer Repo looked out his window and informed the pilots that he could not see the nose gear down. The Captain tried again and then pulled up out of his decent to see if they could figure out what was wrong with the landing gear. It was 11:34 p.m. and Loft radioed the control tower telling them, "Well, ah, tower, this is Eastern 401, it looks like we're gonna have to circle; we don't have a light on our nose gear yet."A light in the cockpit would light up when the gear was engaged and it was unlit. The cockpit crew became consumed with trying to figure out if the light was faulty or if the landing gear was broken. Engineer Repo checked the light and could not get it to light up. Repo jiggled the light to see if would come on. Nothing. Captain Loft had gotten directions from the tower to circle away from the city after climbing to 2,000 feet and the plane was now headed towards the Everglades.
Passengers started shifting in their seats and glancing out the windows. They noticed that the plane had turned and was leaving the glow of the city lights. First Officer Stockstill messed with the light and replaced it the wrong way, jamming it in the socket. The Captain told Repo to go down to the forward avionic bay and see if the gear is down. Crews call this area the "Hell Hole." Repo opened the small trap door in the cockpit and climbed down. Meanwhile, Stockstill continued to mess with the jammed light. He had engaged the auto pilot while he did this. The Captain and Stockstill continue to mess with the light and discuss the issue. The altitude warning bell chimed once. The pilots ignored it. Repo comes up out of the bay and says he can't see the landing gear because it is too dark. The Captain flips a switch and tells him to check again. He then returns to helping Stockstill with the indicator light. No one knows for sure, but one of them pushed on a throttle, which disengaged the auto pilot. The plane began a decent so slight, that no one could tell it was happening.
The last words spoken in the cockpit was this exchange:
"We did something to the altitude," Stockstill said.
Stockstill: "We're still at two thousand, right?"
Loft: "Hey, what's happening here?"
The tower tried to radio the plane with no success. A few moments later,another plane informed the tower that they had witnessed an explosion near the ground. The plane initially slid across the sawgrass of the marsh of the Everglades for over a third of a mile. It broke up as it went ending up in five large parts and lots of pieces. Death and survival came randomly for passengers and crew. One hundred three people died while seventy-five survived. It's horrible to think that two burned out indicator lights led to Flight 401 crashing. The landing gear was locked down just as it needed to be for landing. When the investigation into the crash was finished, it was ruled the pilot error led to the tragedy. Two of those who lost their lives in the crash were Flight Engineer Repo and Captain Loft.
Nonstructural parts of Flight 401 were still usable and Eastern Airlines made the decision to salvage the parts and use them on other L-1011. The galley ovens were a couple of those items. And that is when the stories began that perhaps the spirits of the engineer and the captain had not moved on into the afterlife. One of the first tales came from an Eastern Airlines vice president who was taking a flight in 1973 to Miami. As a VIP, he was allowed to board the plane early and he did so alone. He noticed a man in full captain dress was seated in the plane, so he walked over to him for a visit. As the two men talked, the executive realized he was talking to Captain Loft. At that moment, the captain disappeared. The executive ran off the plane in terror and insisted that the plane be checked for any issues as he thought the ghost represented a bad omen.
On another flight, a crew boarded the plane before the passengers and were surprised to see another captain on the plane. They chatted with him for a minute and then he disappeared before their very eyes. The flight was immediately cancelled as the crew was stricken with terror. A flight engineer boarded a L-1011 to do his pre-flight check and found Engineer Repo sitting in his seat. The apparition informed him that he had already done the pre-flight check before disappearing. Repo was seen again by a captain as he was checking his flight instrument panel. The outline of Repo's face appeared before him and he heard a voice tell him that they would never let anything happen to another L-1011 again, specifically using the pronoun "we" meaning that Repo and Loft must be in contact with each other in the afterlife.
One flight attendant recounts her experience with one of the dead crew of Flight 401, "It was in late February 1973, about two months after the crash. I was in the lower galley. I felt this presence there. It was eerie. I know it sounds ridiculous, and its really impossible to describe. There was definitely a presence there, even though I didn't see any one - as some of my friends did later. The temperature of the whole galley literally became freezing. I'll never forget it." A crew was eating their meal in the cockpit as they cruised at 39,000 feet when they heard a knocking on the hell hole door. They ignored it, not wanting to see what was on the other side. They had heard the haunting stories. They final gave in as the knocking became incessant. Sure enough, the ghost of Repo was on the other side.
It wasn't just the crews who saw the two ghost. Catering company employees and passengers also had scary interactions. One catering crew came screaming off a plane claiming that Repo was in the forward galley and that he had disappeared. A passenger noticed that a man dressed in a flight suit was sitting across the aisle from her and that he looked very ill. She called a flight attendant over and just as the attendant was about to ask him if he was okay, he disappeared. The women identified the man as Engineer Repo. The reports by so many trustworthy people caused the Flight Safety Foundation to issue the following statement, "The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant."
Flight 903 was heading from New York City to Mexico City. Fay Merryweather was in the galley preparing meals for passengers. She was getting ready to use the oven when she saw Repo's face staring back at her. She wanted to scream, but she held her composure and went to get two other members of the crew. They all returned to the galley and Repo's face was still staring out from the oven. They heard him say, "Watch out for fire in this plane." The plane landed in Mexico City safely, but on its return flight home an engine started having problems. The pilots turned it off before a fire could start and returned to the airport without incident. The crew was very shaken because the warning from Repo had been true.
Eastern Airlines tried to stifle the stories and called then rumors. They told employees to stop talking about sightings. But it would seem that the executives were true believers because they eventually ordered that any parts from Flight 401 be removed from any planes in which they were installed. The sightings of the captain and engineer stopped after that. Despite that, no other crash ever occurred with an Eastern Airlines L-1011. So was it Captain Loft and Engineer Repo keeping the planes safe? Was this their penance for their actions causing the crash of Flight 401? Did these ghosts have an attachment to Flight 401 parts? Did the ghosts of these two men haunt aircrafts in the 1970s? That is for you to decide!