A very strange aerial phenomenon that has carved out its own niche within the world of the weird is that of phantom planes; ghostly aircraft that are seen and heard but which suddenly vanish without a trace. These are not UFOs in the sense that they are reported as alien ships or something unrecognizable and unexplainable, but rather they are described as clearly being airplanes of human design, often vintage models but not always. I have written extensively on this phenomenon here at Mysterious Universe before, but one subspecies of this phenomenon is that of the phantom plane crash, meaning that it seems that even mysterious ghost planes are not above crashing from time to time.
A phantom plane crash is when a plane is seen, it goes down, the crash is witnessed, heard, sometimes even felt as the ground reverberates with the violent force of impact. Often reports mention raging flames, smoke, or even people parachuting to safety. The smell of smoke, burning oil, fuel, rubber, or all of the above is often detected. However, when the supposed crash site is investigated nothing at all is there. No wreckage, no crash, no mayhem, absolutely nothing. Usually in these cases no plane or person is reported missing in the area, and certainly no distress call or crash, air traffic control will report nothing unusual, yet the witnesses remain adamant that a plane has indeed crashed. So where did the plane go? How could it crash and then just vanish off the face of the earth as if it were never there? This is the weird, spooky world of phantom plane crashes.
A hotbed of such phenomena, the United Kingdom is one of the places that has long been plagued by phantom planes and crashes, with some of the earlier such reports originating all the way back in the 1930s, with a rash of such phenomena during the era. For instance, on June 10, 1931, people in Poole, Dorset were startled by the sound of an airplane that seemed to be coughing, sputtering, and struggling to stay in the air. When they looked up they were surprised to see a distressed two-seater biplane noticeably wobbling in flight before crashing down into the sea. When the harbor master initiated a search there were no signs of any crash found, and no reports of any missing planes at the time turned up.
Odd indeed, but even more bizarre was a report made on September 15, 1932. The crew of the Sussex based ship the St Nicholas Lightship was in the North Sea when they saw something strange indeed. According to the captain of the vessel, a plane had dramatically dropped from the sky, but rather than crash into the water with a sensational splash as expected it instead floated upon the surface with its engines running. As the baffled crew looked on, the aircraft then suddenly allegedly exploded into a ball of flame, which was followed by two bright white lights appearing in the sky above it. The area was immediately searched but no sign of the plane could be found, no floating debris, not even an oil patch, which is strange considering the major explosion they had seen moments before, and once again there were no unaccounted for planes in the area. It is not clear what the white lights that were witnessed could have been. Burning debris? Ghostly phenomena? UFOS? Who knows?
A fairly unusual event happened on October 31, 1935 as well, near the small coastal town of Newcastle, County Down, in Northern Ireland. The first witnesses were a father known as A. Moore and his daughter, who were sitting and relaxing outside at their home at around noon when they spotted a small plane shuddering and sharply dipping as if in trouble before abruptly nose-diving into the sea. The plane was apparently completely, eerily silent the entire time. Authorities were contacted, and boats from the Newcastle coastguard station were scrambled and sent out, who were subsequently joined by two Scottish fishing boats in the area, but they failed to find any debris out in the impending bad weather on the gray, choppy water, even after a thorough search. Other eyewitness reports of the same crash started coming in as well, yielding more details such as that the plane had been trailing plumes of smoke and flames, yet oddly no one at the nearby St John’s Lighthouse or Killough coastguard station had seen or heard anything, despite the fact that the supposedly burning, faltering plane would have passed right by them. Likewise, many residents of the area were questioned by authorities but also reported having not seen or heard anything. A more intensive search was carried out the next day when the weather had cleared up, but again no trace of any such aircraft was found.
The lack of any sound reported would not be particularly strange for a phantom plane, as many of these ghost planes are often reported as being silent. In one account from April of 1995, a man in Derbyshire, a county in the East Midlands of England, by the name of Tony Ingle allegedly witnessed an old, World War II era plane with robust propellers clearly spinning that made not a hint of sound even though it should have been quite loud. Ingle alleged that he watched in bafflement as the weirdly silent plane rapidly descended as if it were on a crash course before disappearing behind a hedge row. When Ingle went to investigate, the horrific crash scene he expected to see and had imagined in his head was replaced by a tranquil field full of totally unperturbed sheep. There was no indication of any plane crash, and indeed the plane was gone altogether, the sky completely clear.
Another rather compelling case from Derbyshire in the 1990s supposedly occurred on March 24, 1997, when police received a deluge of hundreds of calls from people claiming to have seen a massive plane which looked like a World War II era Lancaster bomber flying alarmingly low near the Howden Reservoir, in an area called the Peak District hills, and seemingly about to inevitably crash. It was reported as making an odd “low humming noise,” although not the roar that one would expect from such a large, propellor driven plane. The plane was seen by several witnesses, such as farmers and two game keepers, and on this occasion some of the witnesses are what one might consider pretty reliable, such as a police special constable named Marie-France Tattersfield, who would say of the odd sight:
It was the weirdest thing I have ever seen … it was big and it was well below the legal altitude for night flying. All its windows were lit up which made it look even more odd as no pilot would fly blind at that time of night over these hills.
The mystery plane disappeared from view, and was so incredibly low and on such a seemingly inevitable ground ward trajectory towards the bleak moor below that a crash seemed certain, and the authorities were notified. A full search utilizing tracker dogs, aircraft, and hundreds of personnel and volunteers could not find any sign of a crash and the case remains a mystery. Some wilder theories have cropped up in later years that what was seen was actually a UFO crashing, but everyone who saw it insisted that it was clearly an old, World War II era Lancaster bomber.
Another rather famous phantom plane crash allegedly occurred in the same area that very same year. In 1997, a woman named Doreen Ashall was on a happy day excursion to Derbyshire, along with her husband, her daughter-in-law, and her son-in-law, when they were startled by an enormous, vintage looking plane flying frighteningly low directly towards them, only oddly the plane produced no noise whatsoever. So low was the lumbering giant of a plane and on such an apparent collision course with them that the husband reportedly nearly drove the car off the side of the road in a panic. Ashall would say of the terrifying effect:
It was so vivid. It was just like being on a runway. You were just like planted on a runway and a plane was coming straight for you and you are in the way, that’s what it was like.
The plane apparently went right over them, so close that they instinctively ducked, yet the whole while it was surreally quiet and would then silently disappear from sight. It seemed from its flight trajectory and its extremely low altitude that it was definitely going to crash, so police were contacted. However, authorities would find that not only was there no crash, but that there had been no record of any aircraft being in the vicinity at all.
One of the more recent phantom plane crashed in the U.K. allegedly happened on the evening of October 20, 2011, in the county of Berkshire, which is located in south east England west of London. It was here where a series of strange events would unfold. On this evening at around 8:30 PM, several residents of the area of the quiet suburbs of Reading, Tilehurst, and Calcot were purportedly jarred out of their usual peaceful calm by a deafening roar coming from the skies above, which was reported as sounding almost like an air raid alarm, after which it was noticed that the air stank of oil. Some of the witnesses also claimed to have seen what looked like a passenger plane with a red light on it that was obviously in distress go soaring across the sky, apparently seeming to go down in the vicinity of the nearby Sulham Woods. Almost all of the witnesses remarked on how odd the noise it made had been, stating that it had not been like any aircraft they had ever heard.
Despite the large number of reports that came flooding in of people who had witnessed this, the Civil Aviation Authority had no indication on record of any aircraft having any difficulties in the area or flying as low as what was described. At the time there was much speculation by witnesses that the plane had been possibly an experimental aircraft of some sort, but no one knew for sure. There were also a lot of conspiracy theories that authorities were trying to cover the whole incident up. The case has never been solved.
The United Kingdom is certainly not the only place where such strange reports originate, and the United States has its fair share of reports as well. Accounts of mysterious phantom plane crashes in the United States go back to at least World War II, when the country was embroiled in an epic, bloody conflict the stretched across two oceans. One such report allegedly occurred on April 25, 1942, in Providence, Rhode Island. On this day, police were suddenly deluged with calls from panicked residents claiming that they had seen what looked like a military bomber of some kind spectacularly crash in flames near the town, which had left a column of smoke snaking up into the air, although the exact location of the crash could not be ascertained.
Military officials were notified and an extensive search was immediately launched by concerned authorities, with the news of the supposed crash making headlines that were fueled by an Army spokesperson’s claim that he believed it to be possibly an Army bomber and that there would most likely have been five crew aboard. However, intensive searches using aircraft were unable to find any wreckage or sign of a crash, and additionally it was found that there were no unaccounted for military aircraft in the area at the time. It remained a mystery as to what people had seen go down, and no trace of such a violent crash was ever found.
This mysterious event would be followed a few days later by a similar phantom crash in Bellingham, Massachusetts, where a man reported seeing what appeared to be a twin-engine military aircraft flying low enough that its wing had clipped the tops of the trees. Interestingly, the witness claimed that this plane was completely and utterly silent the whole time. According to the man, the plane passed low over the trees and proceeded to apparently crash in the vicinity of nearby Silver Lake. Other witnesses would soon come forward saying that they too had seen a twin-engine Army plane fly low practically over their heads and that the plane seemed remarkably quiet before disappearing from view.
As with less than a week before in Rhode Island, a search was launched which included aircraft, law enforcement personnel, the Army, firefighters, and dozens of volunteers fanning out through the woods near Silver Lake, but nothing was found and the Army would find that again none of its aircraft were missing. Oddly, in November of that very same year there was a strange occurrence in which reports began coming in of mysterious parachutes coming down from the skies over Fall River, Massachusetts, which described one to three parachutes floating down near the reservoir there. An intensive search turned up no signs of the alleged parachutes or parachutists, no trace of any aircraft going down, and both the Army and Navy claimed that they had no unaccounted for planes. Additionally, there were no parachute drops of any kind scheduled at that time in the area. It is unknown what connection these strange, phantom parachutists have to do with the reported mystery plane crashes but it is odd nevertheless.
Such spectral plane crashes continued in later years, and in the 1950s there were several high-profile accounts. On November 18 of 1955, Dark Hollow, Pennsylvania experienced a flap of sightings of a plane that seemed to be flying erratically, as if it was having technical difficulties. Numerous witnesses claimed to have either seen or heard the plane at the time, with civil defense coordinator of Cumberland County, Dale Murphy, stating that there had been 10 such reports successively reported within a short span of time. In several of the reports the plane was seen to careen behind a hill, which was followed by a thunderous, bone jarring boom, like a potent explosion. Strangely, when air-traffic control agencies were notified they replied that there had been no sign of any plane going down or being in any kind of distress in the area at the time.
Nevertheless, several rescue planes were scrambled and dispatched by the Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol, joined by hundreds of police, firemen, volunteers, and civil defense workers who scoured the ground below, but they could find not a single scrap of a crashed plane. At one point during the search it was reported that flares had been sighted arching up from the wilderness, which encouraged everyone involved, but still nothing could be found. Despite this lack of any progress, sightings of yellow flares continued to come in, with flares seen at approximately 1:30 AM, 6 PM, and 9:45, yet extensive searches could not find the source of the flares and it remained a baffling mystery. The search would ultimately be called off on the 22nd, with no sign of the supposedly crashed plane and no idea of who those mysterious flares had come from, and the plane was widely called “The Ghost Plane” by the media. The whole bizarre incident has never been explained or satisfactorily solved.
The following year, in 1956, another strange report came in from three women near Ovando, Montana, who said that they saw a descending plane with thick smoke billowing out behind it, and objects that appeared to be parachutes, as well as a “board-like object” dropping from it. A search by local police turned up nothing, but 2 days later another witness in the same general area came forward to report that he had seen a fiery explosion on a hillside not far from his home, which had spewed red and yellow flames into the air. The time the witness gave for the event he had observed coincided quite well with what the women had seen, and it was feared that a plane had indeed gone down. However, the Air Force and the Civilian Aeronautics Administration insisted that no plane of any kind had crashed or been reported missing. A more thorough search was instituted anyway, but nothing was found to suggest a plane crash and the case remains a mystery.
This phenomenon has continued on into later decades as well, such as the case in Butler County, Ohio on August 13, 1976. On this evening at around 11PM, the strangeness started when an amateur radio operator reported to authorities that he had picked up a distress call from an aircraft apparently on its ways from Oxford to Cincinnati. It could not be ascertained just what airplane the call could have come from, since air-traffic control authorities had received no distress calls and there didn’t seem to be any plane experiencing problems in the area.
It seemed like just a head-scratching anomaly until several hours later, when at 1:45 AM a father named George Mosley, his son, and two other boys were out coon hunting near Reily Township, near Imhoff and Indian Creek Roads, when they got separated. When they again found each other the boys claimed that they had seen “a white flash in the sky at treetop level,” after which they claimed to have heard screaming and then a loud crash. This claim was corroborated by another witness who also reported that she had seen a small plane go done behind a hill at the same time, followed by a thunderous boom. The problem was that despite the distress call and the two separate sighting reports, airports in the area insisted that no plane had gone down, and a search by law enforcement turned up no evidence of any crash.
Such reports continued all the way up in the 1990s. Another rather widely covered account allegedly occurred on November 29, 1996, when a resident of Miami Township, Ohio, claimed that he had been unloading groceries from his car at his home sometime between 7:30 and 8 PM, when he heard a booming sound like “two concrete slabs crashing together.” The sound was literally earthshaking, as the witness claimed that it had had such potent force that it had vibrated the windows of his house and caused the ground to tremble for a full 30 seconds. Not long after that, he said that police from the Franklin Police Department had arrived in the area looking for what they suspected was a possible plane crash. This search apparently rapidly grew until it involved several police agencies from the Warren and Montgomery County areas coordinating their efforts. It would later be found that a second area resident had also heard a loud boom like an explosion out near State Route 741, and yet another had claimed to have seen the actual downed plane, which reportedly had one red light.
According to authorities, they had been contacted shortly before 9PM by the FAA Flight Service Station located at the Dayton International Airport, which said that they had received an Emergency Locator Transmission (ELT) originating approximately 15 miles to the northwest of the Wright-Brothers Airport. However, this beacon was unusual in that it had not been detected by local personnel, but rather by a satellite. Oddly, as the search continued this ELT signal seemed to move and change locations, until it ended up 2 miles west of Dayton General Airport. It was all highly unusual, and no one could explain why this should be. At 9:17 PM, searchers picked up the unmistakable odor of burning rubber, yet despite this no wreckage or any scrap of debris whatsoever of a crashed plane was ever found. Just what the independent eyewitnesses from separate locations saw, as well as the strange roving ELT signal and the origin of the smell of hot, burning rubber, all remain complete mysteries.
The following year, on January 15, 1997, at around 7:30 AM, a number of residents of Westbrook, Connecticut claimed they sighted a single-engine plane plummeting towards the waters of Long Island Sound. Strangely, one of the witnesses, a Daniel Bowes, said that the plane appeared to be in a nose dive towards the water, yet he didn’t see the inevitable splash that it should have caused. No airport in the area reported any unaccounted for planes, yet a rather large search was enacted involving the Coast Guard, the State Department of Environmental Protection, and firefighters and volunteers, who used helicopters and boats to meticulously comb an area of 100 square miles around the estimated crash site, yet there was absolutely no wreckage or the tell-tale sign of gasoline or oil in the water. No trace of a crashed plane in the area was ever found.
How can this be, that so many people can see these planes crash, yet no trace of such a disaster, no sign of a missing plane, nor even any hint of a plane in the area at all ever turns up? Attempts to explain this phenomenon run the full spectrum from the mundane to the truly bizarre. One idea is that it is all just a hoax, that people are out their simply yanking everyone’s chain. Yet how does this explain the cases when separate witnesses in disparate locations report seeing the same thing? Are they all in on it and if so, how? Indeed, why would anyone want to perpetrate such an elaborate hoax? It could also be hallucinations or optical illusions, but does this really sync with what these people are experiencing or seeing, or explain multiple simultaneous sightings by others? There is also the idea that these were experimental planes and their crashes covered up, but witnesses typically clearly describe seeing just a mundane normal aircraft, if not an old fashioned vintage model, certainly no space-age, snazzy new type of futuristic super plane.
Then there are the more far-out and, shall we say, less conventional explanations. One idea is that these are exactly what they seem to be, ghost planes crashing for whatever reasons and then vanishing into the ether. This could also be due to some long ago incident with a downed plane, which has for whatever reason etched itself onto the fabric of reality, time and space to play out again and again like a video on a loop. Burrowing even further out into the odd is the notion that these were not planes at all, but rather UFOs plummeting into the earth, and that the efforts to cover it all up are the reason why there was no evidence reported left behind, because it was all removed by the government. This does not really explain why the planes in question should look like, well, planes, to everyone who sees them, or why the wreckage would be gone so quickly, but it certainly shows the bizarre lengths some are willing to go to try to make sense of this all.
The phenomenon of phantom planes doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and as long as they are seen soaring through the air it looks as if on occasion they are going to be witnessed plummeting from the sky as well. What are they? Are they ghosts, leftover impressions on reality from another time, maybe even another place, UFOs, government experiments, hoaxes, lies, hallucinations, what? Whatever they are, they continue to be sighting, these planes crashing down to earth or sea evaporate into thin air. Whatever they are, they pose a unique aerial mystery and an addition to the phantom plane phenomenon that we may not ever fully understand.