There have been many mysterious disappearances throughout history. A lot of the strangest ones have been thoroughly debunked, but many still have a basis in fact. I decided to keep some of the more famous ones off this list (everyone knows the Mary Celeste,) and tried to stick to those that haven’t been probably debunked (sorry WW1 Lost Battalion.) Below are some of my favorite, and creepiest, disappearances.
5. Flight 19
On December 5th, 1945 a flight of US Navy TBM Avenger’s were off the coast of Florida and engaged in a combat training mission. Flight 19 was running a routine training course and was one of several flights performing the course that day. The fighter-bombers took off from the Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale, and were scheduled to head east to the Hen and Chicken shoals where they would engage in gunnery practice, dropping bombs on the shoals. Then they would turn to the North-North-West, and fly over the Bahamas, and then head back home to NAS Fort Lauderdale. The leader of the flight was Lt. Charles Taylor, who was supervising three trainees as they practiced the runs. With over 2,500 hours in the air and training experience, Taylor was chosen to make sure the flight progressed smoothly.
The four Avenger’s took off and completed the bombing portion of the exercise, but after 40 minutes, the next flight to run the course picked up an unknown transmission stating that they were lost. FT-74, the call sign of the instructor leading the second flight, asked who was on the radio. FT-28, Lt. Taylor, responded that they were lost and their compasses were out. FT-74 relayed the flight’s status back to air traffic control, but they were unable to pick up FT-28’s activated IFF transmitter.
The next messages received were from both Taylor and his students, arguing about which way to head. At least one student believed they were east of Florida, Taylor believed they were over the Florida Keys and decided to head north. Their last message was that they were going to head east once more, and that they were running out of fuel and getting ready to ditch.
They were never seen again.
Reconstructions of the event believe that Taylor’s flight was indeed off the eastern coast of Florida, and by flying north and east the flight ended out further in the ocean. That’s not the only reason I included it on this list however.
Shortly after they announced themselves lost, a PBY Catalina, and then two PBM Mariner seaplanes were scrambled to try to find either the flight or the downed fighters. After nightfall, one of the PBM Mariners disappeared from radar contact in roughly the same area where Flight 19 is now thought to have been lost. Witnesses from the SS Gaines Mills spotted an explosion and pool of oil at roughly the same time the PBM disappeared from radar. The location of Flight 19, and the cause of explosion and wreckage from the PBM remain mysteries to this day.
4. The MV Joyita
The MV Joyita had a storied past. Originally used as a luxury lot, it was acquired by the US Navy during World War 2 and used as a patrol boat in Hawaii. In 1955 however, it was back in private hands. Used as a fishing and trading boat under Captain Thomas Miller, she was set to depart for the Tokelau Islands from Samoa on October 2nd. The boat did not leave until October 3rd however, as it was delayed by one engine being damaged.
Setting out with only one operating engine, she began the 270 mile trip with 25 people on board, including a surgeon. The MV Joyita was also rigged to carry food in refrigeration units, and was lined with cork, making the boat virtually unsinkable.
The Joyita was expected to arrive on October 5th. When the boat hadn’t arrived by October 6th, the Royal New Zealand Air Force began a search of the area for the boat. No distress signal was ever received, and the boat was not found.
On November 10th, a merchant ship spotted the Joyita 600 miles off course to the west. It was listing heavily to port, but still afloat. All life rafts and the ship’s dinghy were missing, and the ship’s flying bridge had been smashed. The radio had been tuned to an international distress signal, however a damaged wire limited it’s range to only two miles. The engine room was partially flooded by a leak that could not be stopped by the bilge pumps, however as the boat was lined with cork and part of its cargo were empty 55 gallon drums, the boat stayed afloat.
Captain Miller was an experienced sailor and had spent much time on the Joyita, and would not have abandoned ship knowing that the boat was still floating even if it had taken on water. However, a surgeon’s bag with bloody bandages was found on deck, indicating he may have been wounded and not in the state to make decisions.
Other theories of the time blame Japanese fishermen, or Japanese Imperial Navy hold-outs from World War 2 attacking the ship.
No remains of the passengers or the life rafts have ever been found.
3. The Lost Legion
The Lost Legion is the popular name for Legio IX Hispana, or the 9th Legion. The 9th served around the world, from Africa to England, but it’s their participation in the invasion of England and Scotland where their mysterious disappearance comes in. The 9th was used to put down rebellions and to invade modern-day Scotland, from 43 AD to at least 108 AD.
Their last proof of existence comes from markings at a fortress in York from 108 AD. By the time a list of legions was compiled in 165 AD, they were simply missing from the list.
No definitive history remains of the 9th Legion, and no documents have been found indicating it had been disbanded or wiped out. Current theories hold that it was wiped out during a rebellion in Britain. However, no further records or stamped tiles indicating places the Legion had been were ever found. Some historians attribute the disappearance of the Legion to a relocation back to mainland Europe, however no tiles have been found there either indicating the 9th inhabited the area.
The 9th Legion simply disappeared from history.
Copyright Marc Calhoun
2. The Flannan Island Lighthouse Keepers
The Flannan Isles are seven small islands off the coast of Scotland. They have been sporadically inhabited throughout history, however in 1900 they were known for the Flannan Island Lighthouse. The waters around the island are dangerous and choppy, so the lighthouse was built to advance warning to approaching ships. By 1971 the lighthouse was automated, and no one has resided on the island.
In the year 1900 however, the lighthouse had to be manned by lighthouse keepers. The Flannan Island Lighthouse had a crew of four lighthouse keepers. Three would work in the lighthouse at a time, and a fourth would rotate out to the mainland.
On December 15th 1900, The Archtor, a steamer passing the islands noticed that the light was not burning. They reported the seemingly broken light, but the authorities did not send anyone to check since the fourth lighthouse keeper was set to return in 5 days with supplies. Unfortunately, although due on the 20th the lighthouse keeper did not arrive until the 26th of December.
When the ship arrived, the light was still dark, the flagpole was missing its flag, and no boxes were on the dock ready to be restocked with new provisions. Even creepier, there was no sign of the lighthouse keepers.
The relief keeper made his way to the lighthouse and found the whole building left as though the men had just been there. The clocks were stopped at a time from the week before, and 2 sets of rain gear were missing. The logbook mentions severe weather in its last entry, and indeed the west side of the island was heavily damaged by a storm. Damage reached more than 200 feet up the cliff face, iron safety railings were bent and torn out of concrete, and a boulder weighing at least a ton had been moved.
The damage was recorded in the log however, indicating that the keepers disappeared after the initial wave.
No bodies were ever found, nor conclusive evidence as to what happened. Theories include rogue waves (which deserve their own terrifying article), or one of the keepers running out to warn the other two about more waves and all the of them being swept into the sea.
1. Frederick Valentich
This one is the most interesting to me. Frederick Valentich, a 20-year-old private pilot, disappeared on October 21st, 1978. He was trying to make a training flight in a Cessna 182L over the Bass Strait off the coast of southern Australia. At 7:06 PM, Valentich radioed Air Traffic Control that a large aircraft was pursuing his. ATC confirmed that no other flights were in the area, and Valentich replied that the craft had sped past him and then was hovering above his airplane. At this point he stated that he was having engine problems, and could see the lights from the craft. His last words before all contact was lost was “It isn’t an aircraft” and then the sounds of metal on metal.
Valentich was known to be a poor pilot, and an avid UFO enthusiast, so the main theory is that he was confused by his lights and reflection over the ocean, and became disoriented and inverted trying to get away, crashing into the sea. However, UFO researchers point out that the description Valentich of the lights matched a green light supposedly emerging from the ocean in the same area around the same time.
Valentich has been pronounced presumed dead, and only part of what may have been his engine cowl was found, washed up on a beach nearby.