During WW2, on August 16, 1942 one of the strangest unexplained mysteries of all time occurred when the two man crew of a US Navy submarine chaser blimp vanished in mid flight.
The US Navy blimp L-8 took was set to take off from Treasure Island, San Francisco Bay early in the morning on a mission to look for Japanese submarines in the Pacific.
On board the blimp a three man crew, Lieutenant Ernest Dewitt Cody, Ensign Charles Ellis Adams and the mechanic assigned to the flight, J Riley Hill, who also prepared the L-8 for it’s flight.
As it was about to take-off, Hill was told that the ship was too heavy and ordered to say behind.
The L-8 finally took off at six a.m, with just two of it’s scheduled three man crew.
The last contact with the blimp came at 7:50 a.m., when it was about five miles east of the Farralone Island. The crew radioed that they were going to investigate an oil slick.
“Standby…” was the last anyone heard of the crew of the L-8…..
The L-8 circled was seen over the spot for about an hour by two nearby ships.
The crew of the fishing boat, the Daisy Grey, and a Liberty ship, the Albert Gallatin. Both crews gave testimony during the inquest that was to follow…
The L-8 dropped one flare and circled over he spot attempting to use the MAD, Magnetic Anomoly Detector, clearly trying to detect if there was a large metal mass under the oil slick.
The L-8 continued to circle the spot, coming down towards the surface, the L-8 continued to circle until just after 9am. At that point, it dropped ballast, and rising, headed back to towards San Francisco instead of continuing to the Farralone Islands, site of a radio listening post, or heading north to Reyes Point.
Having not heard back from the crew of the L8 and unable to make contact, Moffett Field sent aircraft out to search for it, as well as broadcasting that all aircraft in the area should be on the lookout for the L8.
A Pan Am flight heading towards San Francisco spotted the L-8 at 10:20am, heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It was under control…
At about 10:30am witnesses saw the blimp suddenly rise dramaticly at a sharp angle and go very high up into the clouds…
About 10:50am the blimp is sighted along the coast highway. An off duty seaman driving along the highway, heading for a day at the beach, takes a picture of the L-8. The blimp is partially deflated and the seaman can tell the L-8 is behaving strangely. He and his photogragh would end up in the inquest later on.
A little later, two men swimming in the water attempt to control the blimp, grabbing at it’s guide ropes as it floatslow over them. The blimp, too massive and being driven by the wind, rolls along the beach, unstoppable. After making it over the dunes and onto the golf course, still venting drags along the grass. The bomb on the right side of the gondola gets dislodged and drops onto the ground.
At this point, the Navy receives an anonymous call saying that “a blimp has crashed onto the golf course and that they have the recovered the crew.”
As trucks are dispatched from Moffet Field to the golf course for a recovery, a second anonymous call comes in saying that “the airman are not aboard the crashed blimp”
A strong gust of wind suddenly lifts the partially deflated blimp into the air, and sends it on a heading towards Daly City.
The police and fire department, who are now following the blimp, chase it all the way until it finally comes to rest on Belleview Ave in Daly City. The blimp entangled in the power lines running down the street.
Rescuers arrive quickly, and find no sign off the crew, they also discover one of the two doors is latched fully open.
Navy personnel arrive on the scene shortly thereafter and find that the engine switch is on with plenty of gas in the tanks. The secret code books on-board are intact, the parachutes, raft, guns undisturbed, and the radio and Bogen Hailer all function.
Navy trucks arrive with armed sailors and the blimp is trucked off hours later with guards surrounding the blimp.
A Navy Board of Investigation is formed two days later day under Commander Francis Connell.
The board calls witnesses and Navy personal involved in the maintenance of the blimp. The board of inquiry probes for a reasonable explanation, none is available. The engines start and operate normally when tested. The radio is working normally. In was reported that in the case of an emergency, the first thing the crew would do was use the radio.
The Bogen Hailer would allow the pilots to send word to any surface ships should the radio not work. Should the engines stop, free ballooning back to land is an option, dropping weight to adjust height. Should the gas envelope develop a leak, parachutes are provided. A raft is on board should the raft land in water.
None of these options were taken.
Theories of the missing crew
The testimony considers that the crew may have fallen accidentally through the open door. This they reported though is not possible given the locking mechanism on the doors.
The phone calls remain unexplained, and untraced – why would someone claim they have the crew, then shortly after state they crew was missing?
How do two men vanish from a blimp over the ocean?