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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

Most weeks I write a column for my paper; occasionally my daughter writes one. Usually they're focused at local issues, but every now and then I come up with one that I think Spearfish Lake Tales readers would find interesting, so I post them on the Spearfish Lake Tales Message Board. Since I've been neglecting "Shorts, Outtakes and Rants" recently, I decided to repost a few of them here, like this one. I hope you enjoy it! -- Wes

STENDEC and Good Night

March 31, 2014

As of this writing on Monday, no real trace of the missing Malaysian 370 Boeing 777 has turned up, despite a huge effort in the Indian Ocean west of Australia. There is intense media coverage, and the disappearance of the airliner is still full of mystery -- and it may well remain that way for some time.

I've been following this story more closely than I do some things in the news, and it particularly ground at me one day last week when some network reporter made the comment that "No airliner has just disappeared like this before."

That was a stupid statement, and it was just plain wrong. It has happened -- just not recently.

One of the more curious of aviation mysteries was the disappearance of three different British South Amerian Airways airlines in the late 1940s.

Perhaps the most famous of the three was the mystery of the Star Dust (all of the planes bore names.) On August 2, 1947, Star Dust vanished during a flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. A comprehensive search of a wide area was fruitless, and the incident was left as a vast mystery.

A secondary mystery in the Star Dust incident was the last word received from the airliner, send in Morse code by its radio operator, a single word, repeated several times: "STENDEC." What did that mean? No one knows, and despite many theories raised over the years, no one still knows for sure; it seems likely that no one will ever know.

But one of the theories that endured for many years was that Star Dust had been taken up by a UFO -- in fact, a UFO magazine many years ago was named STENDEC after the incident. (And yes, true believers have already voiced the theory that UFOs were responsible for Malaysian 370's disappearance.)

On January 30, 1948 another British South American Airways airliner, Star Tiger, disappeared without a trace between the Azores and Bermuda, in what many have now designated "The Bermuda Triangle." Twenty-six airplanes searched for nearly a thousand hours, but no trace of the airplane ever turned up. Among the passengers was Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, a hero of World War II. Coningham's death shared the front page of the Jnuary 31 edition of the New York Times along with the news of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the death of Orville Wright.

Then, on January 17, 1949, a third British South Amerian Airways airliner, similar to the other two, Star Ariel, disappeared between Bermuda and Jamaica. In spite of an extensive search, no signs of wreckage, debris, or oil slicks was ever found.

British South American Airways didn't have a lot of luck with their planes -- there were four other fatal crashes in the five years of their existence.

The disappearance of Star Tiger, Star Ariel, and especially Star Dust were one of aviation's enduring mysteries for more than half a century, and as noted above, UFOs were but one theory.

At least we now know what happened to Star Dust. In the last 1990s a pair of Argentine mountain climbers discovered wreckage from the plane in a glacier on Mount Tupungato in the Argentine Andes. Apparently when the plane hit the mountain, it set off an avalanche that buried the wreckage immediately; it stayed buried until the glacier started spitting out the wreckage many years later. The fate of Star Tiger and Star Ariel remains a mystery.

This is not the 1940s; radar and satellites keep much better track of airliners than they used to, so the disappearance of Malaysian 370 is a huge mystery. But the last words from the plane, "All right. Good night." leave open as many questions as "STENDEC."

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