Air disasters have been a part of aviation from the very first flight. Despite tremendous advancements made throughout the late 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries in improving aviation safety, tragic air accidents and mysterious aircraft disappearances still occur, albeit significantly less in more recent times.
From Amelia Earhart’s last voyage to the most recent disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, few aviation events captivate and intrigue people like a plane vanishing from the face of the earth with no trace.
About 100 commercial and civilian aircraft have gone missing without a trace since the Wright Brothers first took to the skies. With the aid of satellite technology and improved radar systems, fewer and fewer aircraft disappear every decade.
Of all the aircraft which have disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again, 15 stand out as some of the most bizarre, inexplicable, and deadly to have ever occurred.
Table of Contents
- 15. Pakistan International Airlines Flight 404
- 14. Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501
- 13. Air France Flight 072
- 12. Skyways Avro York
- 11. Atlantic R6D-1
- 10. Garuda Indonesia Flight 542
- 9. Star Tiger – British South American Airways
- 8. Star Ariel – British South American Airways
- 7. Pan Am Flight 7
- 6. Flying Tiger Line Flight 739
- 5. Star Dust – British South American Airways
- 4. Canadian Pacific Flight 3505
- 3. Air France Flight 447
- 2. Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E
- 1. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
15. Pakistan International Airlines Flight 404
On August 25, 1989, shortly after takeoff, Pakistan International Airlines Flight 404 disappeared without a trace, with all 54 passengers on board never seen again.
Flight 404, a Fokker F27 Friendship, was en route to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad from Gilgit, a city in northern Pakistan. Flight 404 is presumed to have crashed somewhere in the Himalayan Mountains, a region that’s as majestic as it is dangerous.
The Pakistani government quickly organized aerial search missions and land search parties comprising military personnel and civilians to scour the region around Nanga Parbat, a 26,000-foot mountain in the Himalayas, but to no avail.
To this day, no trace of Flight 404 has ever been found, and because of the treacherous conditions in the Himalayas, it’s doubtful that Flight 404 or her passengers will ever be found.
14. Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501
Flight 2501 was a daily transcontinental flight between New York and Seattle during the late 1940s operated by the now-defunct Northwest Orient Airlines. A DC-4 carrying 58 people, Flight 2501 was the worst commercial air disaster in United States history when it disappeared on June 23, 1950.
The aircraft was presumed to be roughly 3,500 feet above Lake Michigan and about 18 miles from Benton Harbor when Flight 2501 lost contact with controllers, just after the pilot requested to drop altitude to 2,500 feet.
Flight 2501 was never seen or heard from again, with the most likely explanation being that the DC-4 crashed somewhere in Lake Michigan. Witnesses near the lake reported hearing the aircraft’s engines sputter and seeing a flash of light, and soon a sonar search was organized to find the wreckage of Flight 2501.
Although small fragments of the plane, such as upholstery, body fragments, and tiny pieces of debris were found on the lake’s surface, the main fuselage of the aircraft and most of the passengers were never found.
13. Air France Flight 072
On the afternoon of August 1, 1948, Air France Flight 072 took off from Fort-de-France in Martinique, heading for Port-Etienne in French West Africa, never to be seen or heard from again.
The flight carried 52 people in total across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Lionel de Marnier, a Latécoère 631 flying boat that had its first flight in 1947, less than one year before the disaster.
A US radio station in the Azores picked up a mayday distress signal around midnight, putting the aircraft approximately 1,100 nautical miles off the northern coast of Cape Verde when it was last heard from.
A subsequent joint search and rescue mission was launched by the French, US, and Portuguese governments, which found no trace of the aircraft or her passengers except some floating seats and small debris 1,570 nautical miles east of Puerto Rico.
The disappearance of Flight 072 was the deadliest accident involving a Latécoère 631, which caused the withdrawal of the aircraft from the Air France fleet. The aircraft remains lost at sea to this day, with very little hope of it ever being located soon.
12. Skyways Avro York
The Skyways Avro York was a military trooping flight with 39 people on board, including 6 crew members and 33 military personnel, their families, and children. It disappeared on a flight from London Stansted Airport to Jamaica on February 1, 1953.
The aircraft departed for Newfoundland’s Gander Airport after a refueling stop on the Azores shortly before midnight, giving Positional Operational Meteorological Reports of the aircraft’s location at 1-hour intervals.
The last-known location of the aircraft was received at 05:31, placing the aircraft at 46°15’N 46°31’W. The location update was followed by an SOS distress message from the crew, prompting an air and sea search operation led by the United States Coast Guard later that day.
On February 3, the USCGC Campbell found large oil patches 120 miles from the aircraft’s last-known location, the only trace of the Skyways Avro York ever found.
11. Atlantic R6D-1
Atlantic R6D-1 was carrying 9 crew members and 50 passengers, all of whom were personnel of the 307th Bombardment Wing of the US Air Force, on October 10, 1956, from Lakenheath, England, to the Azores.
A Douglas DC-6B, R6D-1 never reached its destination and was last spotted at around 22:10, about 370 miles off the coast of England near Land’s End.
The flight was scheduled to return the Air Force members to the United States after serving their 90 days of temporary duty in the United Kingdom.
The flight’s disappearance launched a 1-day search and rescue effort which only found 4 wheels and a life raft floating on the ocean off the coast of Land’s End with no signs of any passengers or the aircraft’s fuselage.
10. Garuda Indonesia Flight 542
On February 3, 1961, Garuda Indonesia Flight 542 departed from Surabaya-Juanda Airport on its way to the Indonesian city of Balikpapan with 26 people on board, never to be seen or heard from again.
The aircraft took off at 22:35 and stayed on the radar of air controllers at Surabaya-Juanda Airport until it inexplicably disappeared off the radar while the plane was at cruising altitude.
Search and rescue operations were quickly launched by the Indonesian government but found no trace of the aircraft, the people on board, or what happened during the flight.
No distress signals were received from the aircraft, and no exact location was ever established, leaving Flight 542’s final resting place and the cause of the accident a mystery to this day.
The last-known location puts Flight 542 and her 26 passengers somewhere over the Java Sea, an area known for its dangerous waters and strong currents.
9. Star Tiger – British South American Airways
Owned and operated by the now defunct British South American Airways during the mid-20th century, the Star Tiger, an Avro Tudor IV, was flying from Santa Maria in the Azores to Bermuda before disappearing on January 30, 1948.
The flight was carrying 31 people, 25 of whom were passengers, on a transatlantic flight from Lisbon to Bermuda, however, the aircraft never arrived at its destination.
The aircraft set off from its refueling stop at Santa Maria despite strong winds and bad weather, with the pilot deciding not to exceed an elevation of 2,000 feet during the flight to Bermuda.
The disappearance of the Star Tiger near Bermuda led many to believe the rumors of the mysterious Bermuda Triangle, with most attributing the disappearance of the Star Tiger as one of many disappearances linked to the Bermuda Triangle.
8. Star Ariel – British South American Airways
The Star Ariel was another aircraft owned and operated by British South American Airways and, much like her sister plane, the Star Tiger, the Star Ariel was also an Avro Tudor.
The Star Ariel was on her way to Kingston, Jamaica, from Bermuda on January 17, 1949, with a total of 20 people on board when she disappeared without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again.
Much like the tragic disappearance of the Star Tiger, which occurred almost exactly 1 year prior in the same region of the world, the Star Ariel fuelled rumors and conspiracy theories about the infamous Bermuda Triangle, said to be the final resting place of both aircraft.
7. Pan Am Flight 7
Pan Am Flight 7 was a round-the-world flight that departed from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 8, 1957, with 44 people on board the Clipper Romance of the Skies, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.
The aircraft was not presumed missing until 9 hours after its last radio message, by then the plane’s fuel would have run out. The crew aboard Flight 7 never reported any emergencies or distress signals, and the US Coast Guard was dispatched to try to locate the aircraft.
The week-long search effort for Flight 7 became the largest search and rescue operation in the Pacific and resulted in the discovery of 19 victims and parts of the aircraft some 1,000 miles from Honolulu. The main fuselage, along with the cause of the accident, was never discovered.
6. Flying Tiger Line Flight 739
On March 16, 1962, Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 departed from Travis Air Force Base in California en route to Saigon, Vietnam, with 3 Vietnamese nationals, 11 crew members, and 93 US soldiers.
Flight 739, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation, never reached its destination and was last spotted heading to Clark Air Base in the Philippines after departing Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base for a refueling stop.
Flight 739’s disappearance prompted one of the largest search and rescue operations ever performed in the Pacific Ocean. No wreckage or signs of survivors were ever discovered.
Over 144,000 square miles were scoured by the US government in search of Flight 739, finding only eyewitness reports from an oil tanker in the region of a mid-flight explosion aboard the aircraft.
5. Star Dust – British South American Airways
The Star Dust was a British South American Airways aircraft that disappeared after departure on August 2, 1947.
The aircraft was heading to Santiago, Chile, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the plane went missing over the Argentine Andes near Mount Tupungato.
An extensive search operation found no trace of the aircraft despite covering the exact area where the plane crashed.
More than 50 years later, the first pieces of the aircraft were discovered after a piece of glacial ice melted.
It is believed that the pilots of the Star Dust must have lost track of where they were when they flew over the tall Andes Mountains at low altitude in preparation to land.
4. Canadian Pacific Flight 3505
On the evening of July 21, 1951, Canadian Pacific Flight 3505 departed from Vancouver International Airport on its way to Anchorage en route to Tokyo, Japan, to aid in the UN’s airlift aid during the Korean War.
The flight was aboard a Douglas DC-4 with 6 crew members and 31 passengers on board, 28 of which were members of the Canadian and US militaries, the rest being civilians.
The flight was scheduled to arrive in Anchorage at 00:00, however, a search effort was launched at 00:44 when it was clear the aircraft was missing. Icy conditions and low visibility were to blame for the flight’s disappearance, however neither the plane nor its passengers were ever found.
3. Air France Flight 447
Air France Flight 447 caused one of the biggest mysteries in aviation when the flight disappeared on June 1, 2009, whilst headed from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to Paris, France.
Flight 447, an Airbus A330 with 228 passengers and crew aboard, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean somewhere off the Brazilian coast at 02:14.
Although the Brazilian authorities recovered some of the bodies and large fragments of the aircraft within a few days after the crash, the main fuselage and black boxes of Flight 447 remained missing for almost 2 years.
The tragic event claimed the lives of all 228 people on board and became the largest disaster in Air France’s history. The accident was ultimately blamed on bad weather and human error by the pilots.
While most of the aircraft and her victims were found, 74 passengers remain missing, including several key fragments of the aircraft’s fuselage.
2. Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E
Amelia Earhart became one of the most influential and inspirational figures in aviation when she became the first female pilot to fly over the Atlantic Ocean on a solo flight, however on July 2, 1937, Earhart disappeared without a trace during her attempt to fly around the world.
She took off with co-pilot Fred Noonan from Miami aboard a Lockheed Electra 10E to begin their journey in June of 1937, and the pair made it all the way to New Guinea, 21 days after their departure from Miami.
What happened next remains one of the biggest mysteries in the world of aviation as Earhart and Noonan departed for Howland Island, a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with the pair last making contact with a US Coast Guard vessel on July 2, 1937.
No trace of Earhart, her co-pilot, or their Lockheed Electra 10E was ever found, leading to much speculation and conspiracy theories about what fate Amelia Earhart met on her last ever voyage.
1. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 departed from Kuala Lumpur International Airport en route to the Beijing Capital International Airport in China with 239 passengers and crew members on board, never to be seen again.
The disappearance of the Boeing 777-200ER on Flight MH370 sparked a search and rescue effort that would become the most expensive of its kind in aviation history, mapping over 46,000 square miles of open ocean where the aircraft was presumed to have crashed.
The aircraft lost communication with ATC 38 minutes after takeoff but stayed on the military’s radar for another hour, where Flight MH370 could be seen veering west off its planned flight path.
Although the aircraft was presumed to have crashed somewhere in the South China Sea or the Andaman Sea, pieces of the plane were found drifting in the South Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from the aircraft’s flight path.
Flight MH370 remains the biggest aviation mystery of all time, with many people questioning how a modern aircraft with highly trained and capable crew members could simply vanish without any trace in the 21st century.