Special Sub-Topic: The "Star Dust" Mystery of 1947
|In late July of 1947 the "Star Dust", registration number G-AGWH, started out from London, England on a southwesterly course over the Atlantic Ocean bound for South America. Before reaching its final destination of Santiago, Chile on the western side, it stopped over in another South American capital before beginning the last leg of its journey over the Andes. Which city?|
Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires lies on the east coast of Argentina. The plane left on the morning of August 2, 1947 flying westward, bound for Santiago, Chile. Its westerly route meant flying over the Argentinian city of Mendoza, crossing over the Andean Mountain Range, then turning south into Santiago. It was meant to be just another short, routine flight.
The "Star Dust" never reached home.
|Shortly before the "Star Dust" was to reach Santiago, the radio operator transmitted ahead to report that the plane was close to landing and would be arriving in a "number" of minutes. How many?
Four. The plane had communicated to the Chilean operator that they were due to pass over Santiago in JUST four minutes. In fact, when the aircraft started its descent it had not cleared the Andean Mountains. Severe cloud cover prevented the crew from determining their precise position relative to the mountain range. The end came without warning.
Initial search teams were dispatched to locate the "Star Dust" but without success. Argentina and Chile sent ground troops to scour a vast expanse of terrain while planes conducted aerial searches. No trace of the "Star Dust" was found. The aircraft seemed to have VANISHED WITHOUT A TRACE.
|The disappearance of the "Star Dust" with five crew and six passengers might have gone down in history as just another plane mishap if not for a mysterious "last message", a SINGLE WORD transmitted by the radio operator in Morse code to the Chilean radio operator. What word was sent?|
STENDEC. The last message, sent by radio operator Dennis Harmer at 5.41 pm., was the word "STENDEC". When asked to clarify his message, Harmer transmitted the same word TWICE more. Then the transmissions stopped.
"STENDEC" would later go on to become part of the lore of unexplainable mysteries, like the "Bermuda Triangle" and "Amelia Earhart", albeit not as well known.
|Officially there were six passengers on board the "Star Dust". Technically, there were actually seven. In what way?
A widow was returning with her husband's ashes. German passenger Martha Limpert, aged 67, was returning to her home in Temuco, Chile with her dead husband's ashes. She had been stranded in Germany until the end of World War Two in 1945.
Others on board:
- Reginald Cook (Captain, 29)
- Hilton Cook (First officer, 31)
- Donald Cheklin (Second officer, 27)
- Dennis Harmer (Radio operator, 27)
- Iris Evans (Air hostess, 26)
- Casis Said Atalah (Returning home to family, 47)
- Jack Gooderham (businessman, 42)
- Harald Pagh (businessman, 41)
- Paul Simpson (King's Messenger to the British Embassy in Chile, 43)
- Peter Young (South American agent for "Dunlop Tires", 41)
After the "Star Dust" disappeared into thin air, speculation ran rampant. Theories abounded, from sabotage to UFOs. Paul Simpson was carrying diplomatic papers to the British Embassy in Chile. At the time, relations between England and Argentina were strained. World War Two had just ended. A 1970s Spanish UFO magazine even got into the act by calling itself "Stendek" (note the k).
|The "Star Dust" belonged to a national British airline. It had been purchased and converted into a civilian transport. Which airline owned the Lancastrian?|
B.S.A.A.. The "Star Dust" was part of the fleet of the British South American Airways in 1947. At the time, aircraft did not have sophisticated navigational systems in place. Pilots depended on flight speed, normal wind speeds, and ground references.
The other choices listed are "British Overseas Airways Corp.", "British Air Ferries", and "British Island Airways".
|In 1998, a hiking team found a piece of wreckage of the "Star Dust" at the foot of the Tupungato glacier in the Andes. What part of the plane was found?|
An engine. Travelling through the now-thawed area of the Andes, 80 km. east of Santiago, an Argentinian hiking team found a damaged engine on the exposed mountainside. Markings on it identified the maker as "Rolls-Royce". Also found were pieces of clothing and a mummified hand.
The reappearance of the "Star Dust" after 52 years generated excitement and renewed speculation worldwide. An aircraft that disappeared and reappeared in a span of over 50 years seemed like an episode straight out of "The Twilight Zone" tv series. A documentary on the mystery of "Star Dust" was subsequently produced and shown on Public Television.
|In 2000, a military expedition with ten days worth of supplies was sent to retrieve parts of the "Star Dust" and any human remains from the highly inaccessible location. Which country sent the expedition?|
Argentina. Although the first piece of evidence was found in 1998, it was not until 2000 when an official Argentinian military expedition, 100 strong and led by Dr. Carlos Bauza, crash investigator, and Dr. Juan Leiva, glaciologist, was sent to retrieve any remnants of the aircraft and human remains, if any. After abandoning their vehicles after the second day and the mules on the third, the expedition continued on foot across and up the treacherous Tupungato terrain, reaching the target area on the fifth day. They eventually recovered portions of three bodies and about one-tenth of the aircraft, including a fully-inflated tire. They had less than five days to gather evidence.
The expedition determined that most of the initial wreckage was contained in a small area, theorizing that the aircraft flew directly into the upper mountainside instead of crash-landing. The wreckage lay encased in ice and snow for over 50 years, SLOWLY MOVING DOWN the mountainside until a resulting thaw at the lower altitude exposed bits of the plane. Using DNA techniques on the bodies and personal items found at the scene, the expedition was able to confirm the identities of nine of the original eleven people on board the ill-fated flight.
There was no evidence of sabotage.
Authorities are hopeful that subsequent snow movements and thaws on the Tupungato glacier may reveal more human remains and aircraft parts.
|Official reports concluded that the crew of the "Star Dust" was misled into believing that their flight had cleared the Andean Mountains. What was the likely reason the Lancastrian was STILL ABOVE the Andes? |
Jet stream. The Lancastrian was one of a few aircraft capable of attaining cruising heights of over 25,000 feet. In its attempt to fly over the 24,000 ft. high Andes, it likely encountered the lower area of the jet stream moving in the opposite direction that SLOWED THE AIRCRAFT CONSIDERABLY. That, combined with the pilot's inability to see below the severe cloud cover, ultimately doomed the "Star Dust". It now seemed likely that when the Lancastrian started on its descent, it had not yet cleared the Andean Mountain Range.
The jet stream is a narrow, fast-moving air stream that exists at around 30,000 ft. above the surface of the earth. It is a global phenomenon. At the time of the crash, very little was known about it.
|Depressed at the loss of her husband, the wife of one of the crew members of the "Star Dust" committed suicide some time later. Who was the husband of this grief-stricken woman?|
Captain Reginald Cook. The cause of the (later) suicide of Cicely Cook was related to the loss of her husband.*
*As reported in "Wikipedia".
The tragedy claimed yet another victim.
|Many attempts were made to decipher the mysterious "last message" from the radio operator of the "Star Dust". What was the final determination?|
There was no conclusive answer. Despite many hundreds of creative theories put forth by Morse code experts, radio operators, mystery lovers, and even UFO enthusiasts, NO DEFINITIVE ANSWER has yet been forthcoming about the meaning or interpretation of "STENDEC".
Like "rosebud", a final word uttered by a dying Charles Foster Kane from the movie "Citizen Kane", the solution likely will forever be lost in the mists of time.
An excellent documentary on the disappearance of the "Star Dust" was presented on the PBS series "Nova". The one-hour show "Vanished" aired on January 30, 2001 and was narrated by David Ogden Stiers, most famous for playing the part of Major Charles Emerson Winchester on the hit tv series "M.A.S.H.".
For those wishing to read the "Nova" transcript, go to:
This quiz is dedicated to:
- My two children, Rebecca and Benjamin.
- The crew and passengers of the ill-fated "Star Dust".
- The families left behind.
- Cicely Cook.
Thank you for playing my tenth quiz creation.
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