The desolate, unforgiving corners of our world have always seemed to be, in a sense, hungry. Many of the more mysterious vanishings on record have played out upon such backdrops, with the rugged remoteness of it all only further serving to propel such cases into the annals of great disappearances. Some of these can serve to be truly anomalous, and there have been some cases of pilots who have flown out towards the desert wastelands and vanished only to leave their aircraft behind in some rather weird circumstances. One such case comes to us from the unforgiving badlands of Iraq, and it remains one of the weirder accounts of a mysterious disappearance there is.
One curious case of a strange aviation desert disappearance can be found tucked away within the pages of Charles Fort’s classic book Wild Talents, and supposedly took place in 1924. At the time, two Royal Air Force airmen, Flight-Lieutenant William Conway Day and Pilot Officer Douglas Ramsay Stewart, were allegedly stationed at an air base in Iraq, and on July 24 of that year they went off on a routine reconnaissance flight. At the time the weather conditions were perfect, their plane was in fine working order, and both men were seasoned professionals, with years of experience. Because of this, their estimated three-hour mission was expected to go smoothly, and as they took off there would have been no reason at all to suspect that anything should go wrong. However, they were about to become the center of a puzzling vanishing.
The men did not return on schedule, and when the day wore on with no sight of them and no communications, a search party was launched of the surrounding desert. After several hours of searching, the party was surprised to see the missing plane sitting out in the middle of the desert wasteland off of their planned course. It soon became clear that it had not crashed, but rather had landed normally, yet there was no sign of the two airmen anywhere. It was at first assumed that they had perhaps run out of fuel or had been attacked and been forced to land out there, but the tank was found to be full of gas and there was no damage to the plane. The only explanation was that they had intentionally set the aircraft down there in the middle of nowhere, but why? No one had a clue.
Things got stranger when it was found that all of the men’s belongings had been left behind, as well as their water supplies, which was puzzling because there was no rational reason for why they would have wanted to venture out into the scorched forbidding moonscape of parched earth around them without those supplies. There was also a bit of blood in the cockpit, although no one could figure out what had caused it. Making it even weirder still was that the missing men’s footprints were allegedly found on the desert floor around the plane, and a pair of tracks that supposedly went about 40 yards into the desert before suddenly stopping, as it they had just vanished into thin air or been plucked up by something from above. What happened here? Were they kidnapped by Bedouins, were they the targets of foul play, or abducted by aliens? Why were there no footprints or vehicle tracks leading away and why had they landed there in the first place? It is unknown, and no one has the answers to any of these questions.
Since this is pretty much where Fort leaves it, there are no real answers, and indeed I long suspected that it was perhaps an embellished or even made up story, as are common to appear in some books on the paranormal, but other researchers have managed to dig up more information. It turns out that this rather strange incident really happened, although there are more details that help to shed more light on it all. It turns out that the men were eventually found, although not alive, with their desiccated bones found the following year in the desert and identified through dental records. After digging up various news clippings from the day, the site Strange Company was able to put together a new theory of the events, saying:
It was suggested that the men had been forced to land their plane because of a sudden sandstorm. Contrary to the earlier reports about the disappearances, it was now said that when their plane had been discovered, it was "slightly damaged" and repairs had to be made on it before it could be flown back to where their squadron was stationed. It was theorized that Day had been slightly injured in the landing, (traces of blood were found on the plane,) and that when the two men set out to hike to safety, he collapsed and died. Then possibly Stewart pushed on in the hope that he might find help for his injured comrade, only himself to be overcome by the heat...The failure earlier to discover the remains was probably due to the ever shifting sands, swept in storms across the desert. There was an official military inquiry into the deaths, which evidently came to this same conclusion.
It cannot be said for sure whether this is the totally correct explanation, but it sure is intriguing. What are we to make of this case? Charles Fort was certainly known to sometimes be rather light on sources or corroboration for his tales, and here we have one that seems to have actually happened but whose details seem to be murky. We are left to wonder what really went on out there in that desert and how much of it is truly as mysterious as Fort says and how much was embellished. Whatever happened to that plane and those men, it certainly remains an intriguing and lesser known case of a rather odd sequence of events that will probably forever remain beyond a complete explanation.