With the celebration of Halloween comes the telling of ghost stories. They usually contain bizarre, unexplained and oftentimes unbelievable coincidences that send shivers up one's spine. Mine concern the spooky happenings in the realm of air travel, and while I can't confirm every one of the stories, all are very much alive in the world of flight crews.
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I got the idea for this column while I was working an all-nighter last Halloween. The crew gathered in the back galley and told air travel ghost stories. We dimmed the lights and kept our voices low so the sleeping passengers wouldn't hear us. The following are the top 13 spooky stories. Trick or treat!
1. A 72-year-old flight attendant (yes, she really was 72) always insisted that someday she would die on a layover in Italy. One day she arrived at the terminal to work her usual flight to Rome, but she was sent home because the flight had been canceled. She passed away the very next day. You see, canceled flights can ruin a flight attendant's plans, too.
2. An especially bizarre story involves a young flight attendant whose family persuaded her to retire after the Lockerbie tragedy. It seems her mother had dreamed her daughter would die in an airplane disaster. The young woman became an accountant, and after years of promotions went to work for a firm in New York. Her office was in the World Trade Center, and she perished on 9/11.
3. When a pair of elderly newlyweds went to Europe for their honeymoon, the husband had a heart attack and died. The wife arranged to have his body brought back in a casket to their new home in Florida. She made the connecting flight but the casket did not; in fact, the airline could not locate it for five days. When the casket was finally found, at the deceased's hometown airport, it was ... empty! One way or another, that man got cold feet.
4. A flight to Europe took off with a crew of four pilots and came back with only three. During a break, one of the pilots wandered off and was never heard from again. The authorities took apart the plane but have yet to solve the case. Authorities determined that the pilot had been suffering from depression and was behind on his alimony payments; they surmised he had slipped off the airplane disguised as a passenger in hopes of starting a new life. But there is no record of him going through customs or immigration, and his bags were all still on board.
5. Many tales of 9/11 coincidences seem to be in circulation these days. The one I find a bit uncanny tells of a father who discussed fears of dying with his son the day before his son was scheduled to fly. His son died on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, where, incredibly enough, the father worked (that very side). The father survived. He had taken a rare day off to play golf.
6. Several years ago, a flight crashed shortly after take-off. When authorities recovered the black box, they found that the pilots' last conversation was about the dating habits of the flight attendants working that day. A few years later, two pilots and an off-duty crew member were talking about the details of that tragedy in the cockpit of their own flight just before take-off. They remarked on how hard it must be for families to hear those final words. Shortly after take-off, their own flight crashed, leaving no survivors. The last sentence was, "So we had better make our conversations good for our families." I listened to the black box audio of that flight on the Internet, and am sorry now that I did, as it has haunted me ever since.
7. What about the flight attendant who discovered that her husband, a pilot, was cheating with countless co-workers? The husband mysteriously disappeared, but the investigation was not highly publicized, perhaps because of this unsavory coincidence: The pilot's body was never found, but the flight attendant was famous for bringing homemade sandwiches to work, then generously handing them out to passengers and crew when there was no scheduled meal service. Talk about getting rid of the evidence!
8. I once flew a 767 with an all-male crew of nine flight attendants. Remarkably, all the flight attendants were heterosexual and married. What made this so weird was that both of the male pilots were gay. If you know the airline business, you know that this is truly a one in a million chance.
9. Quite a few years back, before my time, a man shot his gun into the air signaling the end of duck season. The shot pierced a commercial airplane flying overhead, and some pellets hit a passenger in the bottom. The investigation revealed that the victim was, unbelievably, the brother of the man who fired the gun. This story is hard to believe, I grant you.
10. I also remember the story about a superstitious flight attendant who followed strict rules of numerology. She would seldom trade her trips, not wanting to alter fate, and she never went against her readings. So, when offered a trade for one December flight, she declined, even though it would suit her Christmas schedule better. Sadly, that was her last flight: Pan Am Flight 103, which crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland.
11. Two male pilots lost their jobs for flying naked. Apparently, they were playing a joke on one of the flight attendants and it backfired when the wrong crew member entered the cockpit. This may not qualify as the spookiest story, but the mental image is haunting enough.
12. Not telling her husband that she was joining him on his European layover, this pilot's wife took Seat 1A in first class as a romantic surprise. What she didn't know was that sitting next to her in 1B was her husband's mistress. After take-off, he saw them together, and you should have seen his expression. I hear that the wife and the mistress became good friends. I also hear the pilot is paying a lot in alimony.
13. Stopped by the police for speeding on the way to the airport, a woman missed her flight. The airplane crashed and there were no survivors. What makes this story really strange is that the standby passenger who took her place was related to the police officer who gave the woman the ticket. It does have a romantic ending, however, as the police officer and the lucky lady were married two years later. That is one relationship that fate definitely had a hand in. Some luck is just plane spooky.
Now get off the Internet. There are some costume-clad youngsters at your door wanting candy. Happy Halloween!
James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.