Eastern Air Lines Flight 401... which was a Lockheed L-1011-1 Tristar jet piloted by pilot Bob Loft, a with over 30 years of flight experience, accompanied by First Officer Albert John Stockstill, flight engineer Donald Louis ‘Don’ Repo, and 10 flight attendants. On December 29, 1972, Flight 401 was flying to Miami International Airport with 163 passengers on what was a seemingly problem free and routine flight, when the nightmare began just as the plane approached its final destination.
The plane approached Miami & the crew prepared for landing. First Officer Stockstill noticed that the landing gear indicator light, had not illuminated. The crew decided to cycle the landing gear several times, yet the green indicator light still failed to turn on. Having been unable to get the desired confirmation light for the landing gear, Loft abandoned his approach and radioed in to the flight tower to explain the situation, after which the plane was put into a holding pattern over the nearby Everglades until the problem could be resolved. As the plane cruised in its holding pattern at an altitude of 2,000 feet, the autopilot was engaged and the crew dismantled the light trying to discern the cause.
Meanwhile, flight engineer Repo investigated the landing gear visually through a porthole to see that it was indeed down despite the lack of blinking indicator light. While all of this was going on, no one noticed that the plane had been gradually losing altitude due to the fact that someone had disconnected the autopilot by leaning into the yoke that toggled it on and off. The distraction, plus the fact that there were no lights or visual frames of reference within the darkened wilderness below, prevented anyone from noticing just how dangerously low the plane had descended.
By the time the low altitude was noticed by the crew, it was too late. Flight 401 plowed into the swampland below at a speed of 227 miles per hour, and the fuselage disintegrated as it crashed, spewing fiery burning jet fuel as it went. First Officer Stockstill was killed, pilot Robert Loft and flight engineer Donald Repo survived the crash, but Loft died while being pulled from the wreckage and Repo succumbed to his injuries later at a hospital. In total, the flight crew and 97 of the 163 passengers were killed in the horrific crash, as well as 2 of the 10 flight attendants.
After the accident, stories began to circulate amongst the airline community of encounters with the dead crew of Flight 401. Both the flight crews and passengers on other flights aboard various Eastern L-1011 Tristar jets began to report sightings of the deceased pilot Robert Loft and flight engineer Donald Repo. Both of the dead men were often seen by flight crew and passengers standing in the aisles, sitting in passenger seats, in lavatories, and even in the galley or cockpit.
One account happened when a female passenger noticed a pale looking, seemingly dazed and unresponsive man in one of the seats and became worried about his health. She called over a flight attendant to voice her concerns about the unwell passenger when suddenly the mysterious man disappeared in full view of the attendant and several other passengers, leading the original witness to panic so badly that she had to be restrained and calmed down by other attendants.
Later, when the woman had recovered from her hysterics and was shown pictures of the airline’s various flight staff, she immediately recognized Repo as the man she had seen. On another occasion, the pilot and two flight attendants on another flight saw Loft wandering around the plane before take-off and even speaking to people before vanishing into thin air, leaving the surprised crew so badly shaken that the flight was cancelled.
Repo was active and bold in his ghostly activities. One report describes how a flight attendant saw a flight engineer fixing the oven in the galley, however, later the flight engineer of the flight insisted that he had not fixed the oven, nor ordered it to be fixed, and that he was the only engineer on board. The attendant later would recognize from photos that the man she had seen had been Repo. On another occasion, a pilot of another flight heard a strange knocking sound coming from a compartment below the cockpit. Thinking it might be indicative of some mechanical trouble, he opened the compartment only to be startled by Repo hunkered down below, peering up at him from the darkness. When the ghostly flight engineer disappeared and the compartment was investigated, it became evident that there was indeed a malfunction that could have potentially led to disastrous flight complications.
On numerous occasions, the ghosts of Loft and Repo were reported as speaking directly to flight crew, flight attendants, and passengers. One incident occurred when an L-1011 flight engineer was going through pre-flight checks before take-off and Repo appeared beside the startled man. The ghost of Repo said to him “You don’t have to worry about the pre-flight, I’ve already done it,” before vanishing right before his eyes.
Another case occurred aboard the flight of Tri-Star 318, when a flight attendant saw Repo’s face staring out at her from the galley oven!
The terrified attendant alerted other crew members, two of which came running to see the apparition for themselves. The flight engineer aboard the flight had known Repo in life and recognized him right away. Repo then allegedly spoke to them, saying “Watch out for fire on this airplane.” The plane would later be beset by serious engine problems that were indeed caused by a fire and which were severe enough to cancel the last leg of the flight.
In yet another incident, the vice-president of Eastern Airlines had an encounter when he started a conversation with a uniformed man sitting next to him in First Class, assuming that he was the captain of the flight. To the executive’s horror, it slowly dawned on him that the man he was speaking to was none other than the late Robert Loft, after which the dead pilot promptly faded into thin air.
On another occasion, Repo reportedly materialized next to an astonished pilot and declared “There will never be another crash. We will not let it happen,” before blinking out of existence.
All the sightings of the ghosts of Loft and Repo share some interesting characteristics. For one, the apparitions were always described as being life-like and realistic, looking like actual flesh and blood people rather than wraithlike, spectral entities. It was not until the ghosts had disappeared or the witness had recognized who they were, that people even realized they were seeing or talking to a ghost. The vast majority of sightings were made by multiple witnesses, often experienced flight crew, who all gave similar details in their reports. Another interesting point is that the ghosts of Loft and Repo were never seen on the same flights.
The spookiest similarity weaving through the reports is the presence of salvaged parts from the doomed Flight 401. Eastern Airlines had allegedly salvaged some of the undamaged parts from the crashed plane and had recycled them into other Eastern L-1011 Tristar jets. It appears that perhaps the ghosts of Flight 401 went with them, as it was later pointed out that these planes with the cannibalized parts in particular seemed to produce the largest concentrations of hauntings and sightings of the dead crewmen.
The ghost sightings aboard L-1011 flights were reported to the US Flight Safety Foundation, which logged so many of the reports that it mentioned them in a newsletter, stating “The reports were given by experienced and trustworthy pilots and crew. We consider them significant. The appearance of the dead flight engineer (Repo) … was confirmed by the flight engineer.”
Eastern Airlines apparently went about quietly removing all of the parts that had come from Flight 401. As soon as the parts were gone, so were the ghosts, and there have been no such further sightings since.