. . Flight 401 . .
Runway Library

Lights flashing everywhere, just not the ones on your Runway tonight


Being There
from Jim Dunn
Hailing From: Miami Lakes
Where it Happened:
At the Airport
Note: This story has been updated on December 16, 2000 (scroll down to read new additions)

I worked in recurrent training at an office called "Crew Scheduling" for Eastern Airlines. My name is Jim Dunn. In the past I had managed hijacking situations and emergencies which were part of the job. Usually everything happens on the weekends and in the middle of the night when upper management is at home and not answering their phones. It's par for the course.

The night 401 went down I was working late because I had reserved computer time with the main frame in Charlotte, NC. It was the only time I could run this program which ate up a lot of time, etc. Other than that, I would have not been there.

I rode in on the bus with Dee Dee Welch. She was a gate agent whom I helped get a job with Eastern. I used my limited contacts in personnel and got her to first base and she did the rest. She used to work in the liquor store at the terminal. Dee Dee was an attractive girl with jet black hair. Her maiden name was Stratos and she was of Greek dissent. She was divorced from her first husband at the time. We sat together on the bus from the parking lot. She of course asked me why I was working late and I told her. When I got off the bus I said in a normal fashion, "maybe I will see you later." I had no idea at that time I would see her again that evening.

I was working alone in my office on the computer when one of my check pilots came in and related to me that he had seen an explosion out over the everglades near the training airport, which is about 20 miles out Tamiami Trail. He told me that the tower asked him to divert from his touch and go landings which they were doing out there on an Electra L-1888 aircraft. It was a 4 engine propeller plane.

He did a fly over the site and reported that he could not see anything. It was pitch black that night and from the sky the glades appear just black. He had completed the check flight and came in to tell me about what happened out there. He had been listening to the chatter from flight 401 to the Miami Tower for some time. We had been having a problem with the indicator lights on the plane. Lockheed had an engineer on board and he and Don Repo were down in the front wheel well section of the Lockheed L-1011.

I knew when he said he feared it was 401, I knew right away that was exactly the plane it had to be. Dee Dee had called me to check on the status of the aircraft from the gate which she was working. The screen just said "Ask Agent." Well that was up on the screen while they were circling out over the glades checking on the indicator light problem with the front nose gear.

I began to get calls from all over the airport. We had a lot of people who worked for Eastern who were qualified to assist in emergency medical situations. I told everyone who called to assemble in front of Medical on 36st with all the medical stuff they could lay their hands on ASAP and form a convoy to go out to crash site. Eastern Security was in the lead car and in radio contact with me. Once this was in motion I turned my attention to Dee Dee's situation at the gate.

I had called the tower where I knew several people. I was told 401 was missing. I said, "Hello!! They are not missing, they have crashed!"

I asked them what they are doing about the people who were waiting for the plane to arrive. He said that they were working on a team to go down to the end of the finger and break the news to them.

Just then my other line rang. It was Dee Dee. She was all alone down there at the gate. I told her to leave her position now and call me from another phone secure and away from the passengers. She listened to me and did what I asked. I told her what had happened and that the tower was feeding her false information. I told her not to return to her position as it would not be safe. She was to wait for me to come. I was right. Someone had phoned and it was already on the news about the crash of 401. He had put down the pay phone and in a rage of disbelief yelled out, "They have lying to us! The flight has crashed in the everglades!" I had joined up with the hastily assembled crisis team and we were all jogging up on this scene when we heard the distressed man yelling.

Next thing I knew we saw a wide range of emotions. Most sat right where they were and began sobbing. Others were information people who wanted answers and wanted the truth now. There were only about 10 of us and I was not in a uniform. I did not wear one for my job --- which was not with the public.

I took the Microphone and announced what we knew. I lied and said that there early reports that there were survivors. I had no way of knowing that there were at the time. It seem to calm the crowd and they must of thought I was an important person and not a gate agent as I was not dressed like them. I outlined the events of the next few hours. I asked them to follow the agents to the first class lounge. I told them that rescue crews were en route to the scene along with U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters, etc. It was routine for this to happen in a crash.

I was glad Dee Dee did not have to face those people alone. I would estimate there were at least 100 people there waiting for someone from flight 401. Not all of them were nice given the misinformation that had been fed for some time now.

I returned to my office to monitor events. I was asked by the FAA to have the complete files on the crew ready for pickup ASAP. I told them that the office was behind on its filing and that it would take some time to prepare the personnel files which were kept in the base chief pilots office. It was true that the filing was six months behind.

I went to the chief pilots office and of course it was locked up tight. I found a ladder and removed a ceiling tile right in front of the door. I then used the door frame to support my weight and removed another on the inside of the door and dropped down and unlocked the door. I replaced the ceiling tiles and returned the ladder. With that over with I locked the door and and began to pull their files. I would remove all of the bad things from the files. Letters about not paying child support --- writing bad checks -- incidents down line at bars, etc. The press would have a field day with this stuff so I eliminated it with a shredder. The FAA would later comment to me that these were the cleanest files they had ever seen. I knew them all so nothing was said further. All the men were good loyal pilots with families.

While working on the files --- the lead car in the convoy I had sent out to the crash site called. He told me that there was a State trooper who was under orders not to let any Eastern Personnel at the crash scene. At this point I already knew their were survivors from the first on scene early response Coast Guards Chopper. It was that chopper pilot who radioed for the big machines to be mobilized. It was the middle of the night and things take a little while to happen. People have to be woke up and told to get their body in gear and get to the airport -- or whatever.

I told him to put the radio so that the trooper could hear. I said, "Listen close, for I will only say this once. My people are the first medical crews on the scene and I'm ordering them to drive by you and push your car off the levy if they have to. You will have to shoot them to stop them. Do you understand!!"

He said, "Yes," and asked me my name. I said, "Jim Dunn." With that the trooper moved his car and our convoy would go on to save countless lives which would have been lost.

It would be talked about for a long time -- what I told the trooper and the convoy to do. The papers would say the Eastern Medical Personnel disregarded the FAA and assisted at the crash scene. The convoy security man asked me later. How did you know he would back down. I told him, "I said to the trooper what he wanted to hear." I knew and he knew it was a stupid order not to let the medical team in. He was off the hook once I forced his hand. He knew he would not shoot anyone that night. Well how did you know I would push his car off the levy? I was just being forceful on the radio with the trooper. Remember, I said what he wanted to hear. You could have said it but you did not. It was your call to call me for direction. In the same manner as the trooper you were looking for someone else to make the call. It's human nature.




I was asked to participate in the investigation because I knew all of the crew members involved and I was there the night of the tragedy.

The scene was somber. Present were check pilots, mechanics, myself and representatives of management. The chief pilot for the Miami base conducted the meeting. In essence we were all given a yellow pad. We would sit and listen to the flight recorder of the voices of the crew as they were managing the inspection of the nose wheel landing gear.

The "Hell Hole," was open and the sound of rushing air was the loudest noise. We had to struggle to hear every word and identify every noise we heard. We played the tape back over and over again. Our objective was to be able to reinact every move the flight deck crew did in order to reconstruct the cause of the accident. It took us about four days to identify every noise we heard.

All our listening boiled down to one click. It would seem I believe Captain Loft got out of his seat to see if he could look down the hell hole and ask them what their status was. I had the distinct feeling that everyone wanted to get in to the act instead of focusing on flying the aircraft while Don Repo and the Lockheed Engineer worked on the problem. The reason the Lockheed Representative was on board is because several crews had experienced a problem with this aircraft regarding an improper signal as to whether (or not) the nose gear was locked down for landing.

The "Hell Hole" is a hatch which is between the Captain and the First Officer just behind the center console. When the hatch is open you have to be careful not to fall in to the hole. The Captain Bob Loft was every bit 6 feet tall or more. When he got out of his seat he had to extend his right foot over the engine throttle levers and then follow over with his left foot. In this process he accidentally touched the controls with his foot and disengaged the auto pilot. It is kind of like speed control on a car. Just a light touch and the cruise control is off. It was that click that we heard but we were not sure if that was the sound.

We sent up a test crew in a L1011 and they did everything the flight crew did including disengaging the auto pilot. We compared the tapes and they matched sound for sound. The plane just slowly circled and lost altitude little by little. No one was watching the instruments. It is pitch black over the everglades and you would not see any lights below you as there is only swamp in the area they were circling.

I personally was on a flight sitting in the jump seat of a L-188 Lockheed Electra on an approach to Raleigh, North Carolina. The visibility with the ground was zero. We were on final approach using instruments. We could not see the runway or the ground.

I was keeping my mouth shut and not saying a word as I watched the altimeter wind down 100 feet at a time as we descended.

I was looking for something out the window and listening to approach control. The Captain said out loud "keep a sharp eye out." I looked over at the first officer and the engineer and they were looking up in to the sky like they were looking for air traffic. I look at the altimeter and it was below 1000 feet and dropping fast.

I said to the Captain, "What are we looking for?"

He was puzzled by my question. He looked over at his crew who was looking everywhere but for the runway.

He said, "Stop looking in the sky for traffic, it's the runway lights we are looking for!"

Just as he said that we dropped out under the clouds at about 500 feet and the runway was dead ahead of us. Thank God for instruments and a Captain that knew what he was doing.

The crew of the L-1011 was one to the first to go through flight training on the aircraft. The plane was still new to everyone. Just like the incident above I am sure Stockstill thought the Captain was watching the instruments and he thought that Stockstill was watching them. All of their attention was focused on the activity taking place down the hatch where Don Repo and the Lockheed Engineer were.

In life we sometimes get a second chance and learn from our mistakes. Here all we could do is find out what happened and make sure it never would happen again. The crew was one of our best and most experienced crews but they made a mistake in trusting the auto pilot to fly the aircraft at such a low altitude.


In the upcoming segment I will tell you about Felix Green. Also about ghost appearing on aircraft. Curious as it may sound most all incidents happened while I was on duty. Strange ! I met with John Fuller on his say 50 foot boat docked at a marina in Sarasota. John had heard about me and found out where I was somehow. I had quit Eastern in about a year after the crash. The crew members were all known to me and I helped coordinate their initial flight trainng on this aircraft.

Got to run now. Scroll down past the "PS" (below) to see my next installment!

-- Jim Dunn

PS - Here is one heckuva coincidence: As you know, Bob Loft was the Captain. I would leave Miami and move to North Carolina a year after the crash. After nearly 8 years away from Miami I would find myself living in Miami Lakes. It was over a year before I found out that my neighbor living in the condo across from me --- was Mrs. Loft. She was a dear and had put her life back together. I moved away without ever telling her of my role in the ghost of flight 401.




Okay, Felix is not in the book, nevertheless he was definitely an Eastern Pilot. He was one of our so-called "bad boys." He was married several times and his ex-wives were always calling the office looking for him. Felix liked a lot of things that were just this side of the wilder side, etc. etc. Anyways, Felix had bright red hair and you always knew he was in a room with his loud voice. We liked Felix. He was "one of the guys." He came in to my office after he was part of a crew that refused to fly on one of the aircrafts where a ghost had been seen.

And now for the good part -- Felix was the one who saw Bob Loft, the captain of the doomed Flight 401 -- and he not only saw him, but he spoke to him in person after Bob had crossed over.

Bob appeared right next to him in a seat in the first class section. Felix told me he appeared in the flesh, in uniform and he was speaking clearly. He told Felix about something that was going to happen to the aircraft they were in and that they should land the plane and get it fixed. Bob then disappeared. Felix was on duty and had not taken a drink, so I knew that what he was telling me was accurate. And so, whatever was wrong with that particular plane on that particular day, it was discovered and needed fixing just like Bob Loft said it would -- and as a result, the crew refused to fly in that aircraft again -- not one more foot!

By this time we had become used to these ghost sightings and we knew that swapping crews did not work because the other crew would tell them why they walked off and once that information had been exchanged, the new crew would refuse also. So we would call in a special crew of mechanics to give the aircraft a complete system check. Next step was to make any repairs needed and then to use check pilots (management) to test fly the plane.

Why did the crew believe Felix?

Two reasons --- the stewardesses also saw Bob Loft talking to Felix --- but the real reason was Felix's hair had turned snow white.

Felix told me that he never believed that there was a life after this one. He said his wild way of living was based on the fact that he would not have to answer for the wrongs he had done. Now here is Bob Loft sitting next to him and Bob is dead. It totally blew Felix's mind and he changed his life forever.

Now, I believed him also. I had been hearing these stories first hand as the events were unfolding. I had replaced enough crews in the course of a year to know that these sightings were for real.

=`=={((@ In this next segment I will talk about the very first incident in Mexico City. @))}==`=


Ghosts: Seeing is Believing!
(This story also appears on Ghostories.com)

Seeing a ghost is not like in the movies. The ghost I saw was in flesh was just like the ghosts the various crew members and passengers had seen and described to me while they were traveling on the assorted aircraft they appeared on.

I was a real estate salesman in North Carolina after I left Eastern Airlines. I was listing and old black american church for sale. The property was of the only value. The old church was still standing. You could see through the sides of the building and all the glass in the windows was broken out. White tattered curtains hung over the windows and were blowing in the summer breeze.

I was waiting for the person who represented the property to show up. I was 30 minutes early. I was out in the middle of no-whereville. The church still had pews intact and in good condition if you consider that they had been open to the elements for several years since the congregation dissolved. I was sitting in one of the pews when all of a sudden there was a hello. I turned and saw this old black man dressed in overalls. He was a rather large fellow -- I would say about 250 lbs. and 6 feet tall. His voice was friendly and calming. He knew I was there about the church.

He introduced himself as Alex Hamilton and told me he was the caretaker of the church and the old cemetery. He told me about the families who built the church and how they have all died and the children had moved away. He was quite sad as he talked about the children who were baptized and the weddings and funerals which took place at the church. While he was talking I was looking outside to see if he drove up in a car or truck --- as I would have heard it coming from a mile off. There was none.

Next thing I did hear and see a car off in the distance. I turned back to tell Alex that the owner was on his way but he was gone. Soon in the door came the property manager for the church. He was a descendant of one of the families who help build the church. I mentioned meeting the caretaker Alex and he, being a black american, --- went pale. I noticed his change in demeanor and he told me that Alex had been dead for about ten years and the man I was talking to was his ghost.

I was taken back but he walked me out to the cemetery and showed me his headstone. It read "Alex Hamilton, A Friend to us All."

Indeed he was still there watching over all of them. I never sold the property as the Sharron-Harris Nuclear Power Plant changed its mind and went to cooling towers. The early plan would have made the church property -- lakefront property if they had ever made the large lake they needed.

The power plant under construction would lose its financing and not be built for another 10 years. I'm sure the church still stands as this place would need 100 years for development to ever reach it. Alex probably still walks the property and greets anyone who happens by the church. He was a friend to everyone.



Rushing to Stay Alive
by Arthur Shelmandine
Hailing From: New York City
Where it Happened:
To the Airport

I was in New York visiting my girlfriend. My Dad was a Eastern Airlines employee and I had a C-4 Pass. Flight 401 was to have been my first L-1011 flight and was looking forward to service in first class.

Anyone will tell you I always cut it close on appointments, usually on the late rather than early side.

I flew down the Hutchinson River Parkway in my girlfriends car to make the flight. I ran through the old EAL Terminal at JFK and checked to see what gate 401 was departing from, and I ran down the concourse only to see it push back from the gate.

Since then I've flown quite a bit, 8-10 times a year, and Flight 401 is the only one I ever missed in the almost 30 years since it happened.


Wow, Arthur, that must be a very strange feeling to think back on that day, and all that you would have missed had you not been here! (Well, think if you had made it onto that flight!)

I really appreciate you sending in your first hand account make it one of the first additions to our new Flight 401 Libraries.

Take care and stay well -- and, for once I'll tell someone, be late! It's ok, be late more often! Be late a lot!


. . . Keno


Want to send in your own true account to our first Flight 401 Library?

It's easy, just send E-mail

But be sure to tell me where you "hail from" and your age, thanks.


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