Halloween Special – The Mysterious Slaughter of a Transport Crew in Mid-Air, 1939

November 1, 2021

This is the terrifying story of what befell the unfortunate crew of a transport aircraft – butchered by some terrible menace as they flew through the skies. The story was written up in the 1988 book World of Mysterious Phenomena and apparently based on some earlier writings.

To impart the true horror, I shall tell the story verbatim:

“Something terrifying happened in the air one day in the late summer of 1939-and to this day the incident is shrouded in secrecy.

“All that is known is that a military transport plane left the Marine naval Air Force Base in San Diego at 3:30 one afternoon. It and its thirteen-man crew were making a routine flight to Honolulu. Three hours later, as the plane was over the Pacific Ocean, a frantic distress signal was sounded. Then the radio signal died.

“A little later the plane limped back to base and made an emergency landing. Ground crew members rushed to the craft and when they boarded, they were horrified to see twelve dead men. The only survivor was the copilot, who, though badly injured, had stayed alive long enough to bring the plane back. A few minutes later he was dead, too.

“All of the bodies had large, gaping wounds. Even weirder, the pilot and copilot had emptied their .45 Colt automatic pistols at something. The empty shells were found lying on the floor of the cockpit. A foul, sulfuric odor pervaded the interior of the craft.

“The exterior of the airplane was badly damaged, looking as though it had been struck by missiles…The incident was successfully hushed up and did not come to light for fifteen years, when investigator Robert Coe Gardner learned of it from someone who was there. The mystery of what the crew encountered in midair that afternoon in 1939 has never been solved.”

Yeah, the only true horror in this story is in the details. In fact, where I’m from, this is what is known as a load of bollocks.

For starters, what transport aircraft was flying with the…what was it…oh yeah, the Marine naval Air Force between San Diego and Honolulu in 1939? If anyone out there knows, please feel free to tell me. Because I don’t think any of the US services had an transport aircraft in service capable of covering that distance with thirteen personnel on board in 1939.

OK, maybe it’s a mistake and the aircraft wasn’t a transport, but a bomber or a patrol aircraft like a Catalina. That may be possible, but it would be a heck of a squeeze and distance to cover even for one of the early B-17s. And as there were only about two dozen of those around at the time, pretty sure it would be difficult to hush up if one of those got attacked by…whatever this is meant to be.

And of course, this thing – or things – tore its way into an aircraft, without actually causing it to crash, killed twelve men and critically injured another, again without causing the aircraft to crash, and took multiple .45 calibre rounds – assembly at close range – and then vanished without a trace.

As a final note on this “mysterious” case, I shall cite something said by every one of my history professors; “Who is imparting the information?”

“Investigator”, and I use that in the loosest of terms, Robert Coe Gardner was something of a figure in the early UFO movement in the 1950s and retained some fame in the field throughout his life. But he was, quite frankly, a bit of a bullshit artist.

“From someone who was there” – well, I’m convinced!

Anyway, I think it safe to say flying beasties are not buzzing around, smashing into aircraft, and killing the combined service staff personnel that apparently fly them. But I do wonder if perhaps a real-life event did inspire this yarn.

On February 2, 1938 two Catalina flying boats of the US Navy were engaged in a tactical night exercise off the coast of California. Unfortunately, tragedy struck and the aircraft collided in the dark. One crashed into the sea with all hands, but the other, piloted by Lt. Carlton Hutchins, managed to stay airborne long enough for three of the crew to parachute to safety.

Hutchins subsequently died in the crash and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for “extraordinary heroism” in staying at the controls to save the lives of his crewmen at the cost of his own.

So why would our fantastical story be linked to this tragedy?

Well, in total the aircraft had an overall crew number of thirteen, though three did survive thanks to the sacrifice of Lt. Hutchins. Plus we have an aircraft critically damaged that is kept flying by a brave pilot.

I’ll admit, the connections between this event and the spook story are tenuous. But it’s far more likely that someone spun a yarn about an actual event they had heard some details of, rather than flying monsters attacking aircraft.

Or maybe I’m just a cynic?

Related Stories:

The Monster of Ickham Pond. When the British Army Were Called in to Deal with a Killer…Fish!

Why NORAD Started Tracking Santa

The Siemens-Schuckert D.IV; Best Fighter of the First World War?

The Siemens-Schuckert D.IV; Best Fighter of the First World War?

When it comes to aircraft of great potential, those of the First World War are often overlooked. And while the dogfights between aircraft like the Sopwith Camel, the Fokker Dr.1 triplane and the SPAD XIII are often the source for historical recollection, this tends to...

The Twin 40mm Mustang; AM106

The Twin 40mm Mustang; AM106

It is well remembered that the legendary P-51 originated out of a…dare I say boast?...made by "Dutch" Kindelberger, President of North American Aviation. Asked by the British if they could build the Curtiss P-40 under licence for the Air Forces of the Commonwealth,...

King of the Rats; The Polikarpov I-185

King of the Rats; The Polikarpov I-185

The Polikarpov I-185 is one of the foremost of the “What-if” aircraft. Fast, agile and heavily armed, the I-185 easily had the potential to be the best fighter in the world when it first flew in early 1941, the ultimate evolution of the Polikarpov fighter line that...

The McDonnell Douglas F-15N Sea Eagle; Tomcat Rival

The McDonnell Douglas F-15N Sea Eagle; Tomcat Rival

The F-15 is a truly great aircraft. Built from the lessons of air combat over Vietnam, the Eagle was built to be the most capable air superiority aircraft possible at the time. The airframe’s sheer versatility has seen it undergoing continuous updating and...

Let’s Settle This. What Was the Fastest Piston Fighter Ever?

Let’s Settle This. What Was the Fastest Piston Fighter Ever?

A little while back, I wrote an article/made a video about the Republic XP-47J and titled it “The Fastest Piston Engine Fighter Ever”. It caused some comment and there were a whole raft of other aircraft suggestions, and I thought it might be worth digging into some...