As the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continues to grip the world's imagination, there have been several other flights throughout aviation history that never made it to their destinations. Since no wreckage or bodies have ever been recovered in these instances, the mystery surrounding them continues.
1The mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 continues as no sign of the plane carrying 239 people has been found
Pilot suicide. Mechanical failure. Hijacking. Theories continue to multiply daily regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014.
What we know so far: the Boeing 777 – carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members – disappeared from radar approximately an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. The plane, heading for Beijing, China, was declared lost by the Malaysian government five hours after take off. It was last detected at a normal cruising altitude of 35,000 feet about 140 miles southwest of Vietnam's southernmost province.
Four days after the flight disappeared, Malaysian officials revealed evidence that the plane had turned toward the Malacca Strait, which put it on the opposite side of the Malay Peninsula, away from its scheduled route.
Combined with the knowledge that that the 777 changed altitude – first reaching 45,000 feet and then dropping to about 23,000 feet – and may have flown for as many as six hours after the last official message received, investigators believe that catastrophic failure is a highly unlikely scenario and the change in direction was, in fact, intentional.
As of this writing, several countries have joined in the search – now spanning many oceans and continents – for the missing jet, but there is still no trace of the aircraft or any concrete explanation to the cause of its disappearance.
Correction: It has been confirmed that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, west of Perth, Australia. Some debris has been spotted in the area, but has yet to be identified as being from Flight 370.
2A Boeing 727 is stolen from an airport in Luanda, Angola
On May 25, 2003, a Boeing 727-223 aircraft was stolen from the Quatro de Fevereiro Airport in Luanda, Angola.
The former American Airlines jet was owned by the Miami-based company Aerospace Sales & Leasing, and being leased to TAAG Angola Airlines at the time of its disappearance. Ben Charles Padilla – a certified flight engineer, aircraft mechanic, and private pilot – and helper John Mikel Mutantu were working with Angolan mechanics to return the 727 to flight-ready status after a business deal gone bad. Neither man could fly it – Mutantu was not a pilot and Padilla had only a private pilot's license. A 727 requires a three person trained crew.
After Padilla and Mutantu boarded the plane, the aircraft began taxiing and maneuvering erratically with no communication between the crew and the control tower. The 727 took off with its transponder and lights off. The jet and the two men have not been seen since.
While it's believed that Padilla was at the controls, some members of his family claim he was hired to repossess the jet after Air Angola failed to make payments, while others fear he was being held against his will.
3A jet transporting military personnel vanishes over the Pacific Ocean in the early days of the Vietnam War
On March 16, 1962, Flight 739 was charted by the U.S. military to transport Army personnel and South Vietnamese from Travis Airforce Base in California to South Vietnam. The Super Constellation propeller jet had 96 passengers and a crew of 11.
After refueling in Guam, the plane headed for the Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, but never made it. It went down somewhere in the Western Pacific. No wreckage or bodies were ever recovered. An hour after Flight 739's last radio communication, a Standard Oil tanker reported an explosion in the sky.
Was it a sabotage? A missile? Engine problems? No one knows, but the Civil Aeronautics Board concluded in its accident report “It can be reasonably assumed” that whatever befell Flight 739, “happened suddenly and without warning."
4Popular big band leader disappears on a flight over the English Channel
On December 15, 1944, big band leader Glenn Miller was scheduled to fly from an RAF base in England to Paris to play a show. His plane, a Norseman C-64 aircraft, never arrived.
Miller joined the war effort in 1942, at the peak of his popularity as a musician. At 38, he was already too old to be drafted, but wrote the Army in hopes of leading its band. The Army accepted him, and he was promoted to Major in 1944.
The official word on Miller's disappearance was that his plane had hit bad weather over the English Channel, but rumors ran rampant. Some believed the aircraft was shot down by a German assassination squad, while others believed he made it to Paris, but was killed by a Parisian MP. The craziest theory, however, came from a German journalist in the 90s, who claimed Miller died of a heart attack in the arms of a French prostitute and the American military covered up the episode.
Still another explanation – and perhaps the most likely – came from RAF navigator Fred Shaw who claimed to have seen Miller's plane hit in a "friendly fire" accident while bombs were being jettisoned after an aborted raid on Germany.
5Amelia Earhart vanishes over the Pacific while attempting to circumnavigate the globe
Aviation pioneer and author Amelia Earhart's disappearance is perhaps the most enduring and well known in aviation history.
Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. On June 2, 1937, her Lockheed Electra disappeared during a failed attempt to circle the globe. She and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared near Howland Island in the mid-Pacific.
The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard launched an extensive search, as did Earhart's husband George Putnam, but no trace of her or her aircraft were ever found. The U.S. government officially concluded that Earhart and Noonan were unable to locate Howland Island and simply ran out of gas, but as with Malaysia Flight 370, theories still persist. Some believe she was a secret agent who had crash landed on a Japanese occupied island and was taken prisoner. Others believe she made it back to the States, changed her name and lived a quiet life.
However, there's compelling evidence that Earhart and Noonan crash landed on an uninhabited island called Nikumaroro and became castaways. A group called the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been investigating the island since 1989 and has gathered artifacts consistent with Earhart and her plane, including human bones, a woman's makeup compact, pieces of shoes, and a jar that once contained freckle cream. The investigation continues.
6A squadron of five planes disappears over the Bermuda Triangle
Artist's depiction of the five TBM Avengers that disappeared.
On December 5, 1945, five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers – Flight 19 – took of from Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station on an over water navigation training flight. All five planes and the 14 men on them disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle.
Two hours into the flight, Flight 19's squadron leader reported his compasses had failed and his position was unknown. The other planes also reported similar malfunctions. Two more hours of confused messages occurred, with the last one being from the squadron leader calling for his men to ditch their aircraft because they were running out of fuel.
An hour later, a Mariner aircraft took off on a search and rescue mission for Flight 19 with a 13 man crew. It too disappeared. A tanker cruising off the coast of Florida reported seeing an explosion 20 minutes after the Mariner took off.
Hundreds of ships and aircraft combed thousands of square miles of the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and even remote parts of Florida, but no trace of Flight 19 or the Mariner were ever found.
7A Brazilian cargo plane carrying $1 million in art disappears
A Varig Boeing 707-379C similar to the one involved in the accident.
In 1979, a Varig Brazilian Airlines cargo jet vanished a half an hour after takeoff from Narita International Airport in Tokyo.
The Rio-bound 707 was carrying 153 paintings by artist Manubu Mabe, valued $1.2 million. The plane, the paintings and six crew members all remain missing. A mid-air heist or simple engine failure? No one knows for sure.
8A DC-4 carrying members of the U.S. military vanishes near Anchorage
A DC-4 Canadian Pacific Air Lines jet vanished en route from Vancouver to Tokyo on July 21, 1951.
When the plane was 90-minutes out from its stopover in Anchorage, Alaska, it was on schedule, but it soon hit bad weather. There was heavy rain, icing conditions and visibility was only 500 feet. That report was the last anyone heard from the aircraft and though an extensive search was carried out, nothing was ever found.
The flight consisted of 6 Canadian crew members and 31 passengers – some were serving and civilian members of the U.S. armed forces.
9A plane traveling from the mid-Pacific to Los Angeles disappears after claiming engine problems
In 1964, a DC-4 transport plane carrying 9 passengers disappeared on its way to Los Angeles from Wake Island in the mid-Pacific.
The plane's last radio transmission came from 500 miles southwest of Los Angeles, with the pilot claiming engine problems.
Navy searchers found an oil slick and some claimed to see a plane's tail sinking into the ocean, but no trace of the DC-4 or its passengers were ever found.
1058 people aboard a DC-4 aircraft are lost in the waters of Lake Michigan
In June 1950, 58 people lost their lives when Northwest Airlines Flight 2501 disappeared over the waters of Lake Michigan, en route from New York to Minnesota.
Boats and planes scoured the lake for a week after the disaster, but with the exception of a small amount of debris and human remains floating on the waters of Lake Michigan, no wreckage has ever been found and no explanation ever given as to the cause of the crash.