It was August of 1942, and tensions were high as the world remained at war. Particularly along America’s West Coast, fears about an attack remained ever-present, and following a Japanese submarine assault on an oil refinery earlier that year, U.S. officials knew that America’s Pacific coast remained a preeminent target in the eyes of our enemies.
In an effort to protect against possible future attacks by Japanese submarine vessels, twelve blimps were commissioned from the Goodyear company for purposes of constant surveillance along the California coast. These were dubbed Mission Airship Squadron 32, which produced routine surveys of the California coastline on a daily basis. Here, during the Squadron’s time in service, what is perhaps one of the strangest wartime incidents to ever occur stateside would result in two men who vanished, and if not into thin air, then certainly while airborne, at the very least.
Flight 101 took off from Treasure Island (the actual name of the location of the launch site) on the morning of Sunday, August 16. It was foggy that day, and with the moisture that collects on the exterior of such craft under these weather conditions, the normal crew of three was reduced to two men, Lieutenant Ernest DeWitt Cody, its pilot, and Ensign Charles E. Adams, who flew together with no engineer on board.
Their routine submarine watch patrol began as most any other day, and heading out over the San Francisco bay, their normal orders were to maintain radio communication with Treasure Island, and noting anything unusual before returning to Moffatt Field later that afternoon. On this particular day, despite the fog, something odd was indeed observed by the two-man crew; during what would be their last communication with Moffatt Field, the men stated that they had observed a possible oil slick on the surface of the ocean. Almost immediately after this cryptic message, all radio communication from Flight 101 ceased.
Soon afterward, the mystery deepened as Flight 101 was spotted flying eight miles south of its intended course, though reports after the incident claimed that numerous fishermen and others along the coast had noticed the low-flying blimp, and could even see the two men on board through the windows of the gondola. Shortly after 11 AM local time, Flight 101 struck a bluff near Ocean Beach, and subsequently lost one of the depth charges it carried as it passed over the golf course at the nearby Olympic Club. By now, the blimp appeared to be sagging in the middle, and it seemed obvious that the craft had been damaged, and the pilots were unable to safely control the vessel as it struggled to remain airborne. Within minutes, the airship crash-landed on a city street in Daly City, much to the surprise of area residents.
As officials arrived at the scene, it was found that the machine gun was still operative, as were the radio on board, ruling out technical problems for their radio silence. Enough fuel for six hours of flight was also present on board; however, the safety bar at the entrance to the gondola was unhinged, and upon entry, it was found that both Lieutenant Cody and Ensign Adams were missing from the craft, which was later repaired and recommissioned for flight.
The whereabouts of the pilots remained in question for some time, as official investigations hoped to determine the cause of their disappearance; theories ranged from a homicide, to a freak accident that was perhaps weather related, which could have thrust the men out of the craft as it passed over the ocean. After one year with no significant leads as to their whereabouts, the two men, still missing, were presumed dead.
What happened to the crew aboard Flight 101 that morning, and how could they have vanished from an airborne vessel, seemingly never to be found again?