On December 29, 1972, a four-month-old Eastern Airlines Lockheed L-1011 operating flight 401 from New York to Miami began its descent into its destination. At 11:32 pm, the First Officer of the flight, Albert Stockstill, lowered the landing gear. However, he and his fellow pilots, Captain Bob Loft, and Second Officer Donald Repo, soon noticed that the light indicating that the nose gear had locked in place. The crew disagreed as to whether or not the light was broken or the landing gear hadn’t locked in place. Loft radioed the control tower and asked that Flight 401 be put in a holding pattern until they resolved the problem. The aircraft stopped its descent, climbed out, and entered a holding pattern at 2,000 feet above the Everglades, the autopilot engaged. Meanwhile, the crew removed the light they thought was faulty and sent Flight Engineer Repo down to the “hell hole” (the avionics bay) to check if the gear had gone down. While he was gone, the autopilot disengaged and the aircraft began a gradual descent, so gradual that the crew did not notice it. However, when Stockstill began another turn to keep in the holding pattern, the first officer noticed that something was wrong. He told Loft about it, but, ten seconds later, the aircraft crashed into the Everglades. Since the aircraft was turning when it hit the ground, the left wing impacted the wing first. The main fuselage hit the ground and broke apart.
75 people survived the crash, while 101 people died. Stockstill was killed on impact, while Loft was found alive in the wreckage of the flight deck but died there before he was taken to the hospital. Repo was still alive when rescuers found him in the electronics bay and he was taken to the hospital, where he died the next day. The cause was found to be that one of the crew had accidentally disengaged the autopilot, putting the plane into a slow descent that the pilots didn’t notice until it was too late. Though most of Flight 401 was destroyed, some pieces were still salvaged and used as parts in other Eastern Airlines L-1011’s.
So began the legend of the ghosts of Flight 401. The year after the crash, an Eastern Airlines executive boarded and L-1011 operated by the airline. He was the first onboard, but, according to his account, he saw a man in a Eastern Airlines pilot’s uniform sitting in first class. He said that, after a brief conversation, the strange man disappeared. He identified the man he saw as Bob Loft, captain of Eastern 401.
Then, a few months later, a maintenance crew saw a man in an Eastern uniform on the plane. They had a brief conversation with the man who they all swore was Bob Loft, before he disappeared. Later, an Eastern flight engineer arrived on the L-1011 he was piloting and saw a man in an Eastern uniform sitting in his seat. Don Repo said, “Don’t worry about the pre-flight, I’ve already done it.” before disappearing. Weeks later, a pilot was checking his instruments when he claimed he saw the outline of Repo’s face in the glass. “There will never be another crash on an L-1011,” he claims to have heard, “we will not let it happen.”
On another Eastern L-1011 flight, operated by N138EA, a plane which had supposedly had parts salvaged from Eastern 401 in it, the crew heard a strange knocking coming from the avionics bay. By now, everyone knew the stories about Repo and Loft appearing on Eastern L-1011’s. However, just to be sure, they checked down below in the bay to see what the source of the noise was. The crew member who opened the bay hatch claims that he saw Donald Repo starring back up at him. Repo was in the avionics bay when Flight 401 crashed.
By now, Eastern executives had become aware of the stories. The tried to keep the stories quiet, but employees still claimed that they saw the crew of Flight 401 on Eastern L-1011’s. One incident in particular had a great affect on the company’s policies in relation to the EA401 apparitions. Flight attendant Faye Maywhether was preparing food in the aircraft’s oven when she claimed she saw Don Repo’s face in the oven. Repo allegedly told Maywhether to “watch out for fire on this plane.” On the return leg of the flight, the plane had engine problems, though the faulty engine was shut down before it caught fire. The plane returned to Mexico City.
The CEO of Eastern Airlines, Frank Borman, former Apollo 8 astronaut, ordered that all parts that had been salvaged from Eastern 401 be removed and destroyed. No further stories were reported after the EA401 parts were removed.
Some people have said that the ghosts of Loft and Repo may have been trying to prevent other Eastern L-1011 crashes because of the guilt they felt over their error which lead to the crash of Flight 401. However, I think we can all agree that these stories are just stories. Of course, Loft and Repo didn’t actually haunt Eastern L-1011’s, but I do find it interesting to see how these stories spread so quickly and how there are so many of them. People exaggerate, lie, and, and I certainly believe this is true, allow their minds to play tricks on them (i.e., that microwave came from Eastern 401… hey, look– it’s Don Repo!) I do not believe in ghosts, let alone ghosts on airplanes, but I do find it interesting that nobody has ever claimed to have seen First Officer Stockstill, he being the only member of the flight crew who was killed on impact. For years afterward, it was very clear that the echoes of Eastern 401 were still being felt.