Those who’ve read my blog for a while know by now I love a good mystery, especially those that aren’t easily explained. I happened upon this story while searching for another Mystery Monday post and found it intriguing.
In 1942, the United States was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. The outcome of the war was still in doubt and the US Navy had reason to fear another attack on the west coast by Japanese forces. They put together a fleet of twelve blimps to patrol the California coastline.
On the morning of August 16, 1942, Flight 101 prepared for takeoff from Treasure Island in San Francisco. The pilots were Lt. Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams. Both were experienced pilots. A third man, aviation machinist Riley Hill was supposed to accompany them.
Prior to departure, Hill was ordered off the blimp. He later stated he believed heavy moisture in the air was weighing the blimp down, making it unsafe for three men to be aboard. He said, “So, I got out, shut the door, and locked it, and they took off.”
The flight plan called for Flight 101 to leave Treasure Island, pass over the Golden Gate Bridge, then travel to the Farallon Islands twenty-five miles off the coast. From there they were to continue north to Point Reyes, then turn south along the coastline.
One and a half hours into the flight, Lt. Cody radioed squadron headquarters. “Position four miles east of the Farallones. Standby.” Four minutes later, he radioed again to report an oil slick on the water.
According to Riley Hill, those were the last words ever received from Flight 101. “When it came time for further explanation, and we didn’t get it, we just assumed, ‘Well, it was negative, and they went on their way.’”
When three hours passed without further word flight commanders became concerned. Repeated attempts to contact the blimp went unanswered. They received a message that a blimp had drifted off course and come ashore south of San Francisco.
A swimmer reported seeing a huge gray mass coming out of the fog off the water. Its wheel dragged along the sand, then hit a sand knoll, and bounced back up. The blimp finally came to rest on a street in the town of Daly City, California.
However, there was no sign of Lt. Cody or Ensign Adams. The door was latched open, a highly unusual position during flight. The safety bar used to block the doorway wasn’t in place, and a microphone hooked to an outside loudspeaker dangled from the gondola. Lt. Cody’s cap was found on the instrument panel, and two of the three life jackets were missing. A locked briefcase containing top secret codes was still in its place.
It was as if the two men opened the door and stepped out into thin air.
Riley Hill stated, “The ignition switch was still on. The radio was still on and working. Nobody had touched my fuel valves, they were set up just the way that I’d left them. We still had another 6 hours of fuel.”
The Navy investigation revealed Flight 101 was seen by several ships and planes between 7 and 11 a.m. Some eyewitnesses said they were close enough to see Cody and Adams in the gondola and everything seemed normal.
Theories emerged almost immediately about what happened to the two men. Some believed that Cody and Adams spotted an enemy submarine. When they descended to investigate, they were taken prisoner. According to another rumor, the pilots were involved in a lover’s triangle with an unknown woman. Supposedly, one murdered the other during the flight, then fled when the blimp crashed.
Naval investigators came up with their own theory. They believed that one of the officers climbed out of the gondola to fix a mechanical problem and encountered trouble. The second pilot came to his aid, and then both men fell overboard. No traces of the men have ever been found and a year later, they were officially declared dead.
The crippled blimp was eventually repaired. After the war, it became one of the Goodyear blimps. Of the millions who saw this airship at sporting events across the country, few were aware it was once the infamous Ghost Blimp.