Marc Hoover: The ghosts of flight 401 still haunt

Marc Hoover

According to statistics from the National Safety Council, you have a 1 in 114 chance of meeting your maker in a car crash and a 1 in 9,821 chance of dying in a plane crash. This makes senses since most of us drive in a car daily and may only fly a few times a year if at all.

As a society, we barely blink when someone dies in a car accident. But when a plane crashes or disappears, we want details.

Many of us have flown on airplanes for either pleasure or business. I have been on many flights without experiencing anything other than turbulence. Others have not been so fortunate. What would you do if you were sitting on a flight and a pilot in full airline gear appeared in the empty seat next to you?

You do not understand how he got there since he wasn’t there when you boarded and the seat has been empty since takeoff. After you realize you aren’t dreaming, you ask the gentleman if he’s a pilot. He doesn’t answer and just stares into the distance without even acknowledging your existence.

Moments later a stewardess walks by and makes eye contact with you. Now both of you are wondering who this man is. Before the stewardess can speak a word, the pilot disappears into thin air like a ghost. You then ask the stewardess if you are insane. She reassures you that if you are insane, so is she.

During the early 1970s, this happened at least 20 times on board different passenger flights. Passengers, stewardesses and an airline vice president all claim to have seen one of two different pilots disappear into thin air. Even today, no one can explain the presence of these long dead pilots.

Who were they?

On December 29, 1972 pilot Robert “Bob” Loft and flight engineer Don Repo were piloting Eastern Airlines Flight 401 from JFK Airport (NY) to Miami, Florida.

The flight had 163 passengers and 13 crew members. The mood was festive as people were leaving the coldness of New York to bring in 1973 on the beaches of Florida. Instead of landing in Miami, the plane crashed into the alligator infested swampy Florida Everglades at 227 miles per hour.

Many of the occupants died on impact, but some survived. The death toll was 101. Pilots Repo and Loft didn’t survive. Repo died at the hospital while Loft died in the crash. A thorough investigation concluded that small design issues led to the crash. Lockheed corrected the problem afterward.

Flight 401 was recovered from the swamp and scrapped. But instead of disposing of the plane in its entirety, an effort was made by Eastern Airlines to salvage any usable parts from the flight and use them on other planes.

And this is where the story becomes interesting. Passenger flights that had received recycled parts experienced strange visits from ghosts later identified as Bob Loft and Don Repo.

On one flight a captain and stewardesses saw and spoke to Loft who then vanished. The crew became so upset the flight was cancelled. On another flight, a woman became hysterical when she sat next to Repo and witnessed him vanish. She identified Repo from a photograph.

Furthermore, another plane had a damaged galley oven. A stewardess said she saw Repo work on the oven and repair it. No one on the plane had admitted to fixing the oven so how did it get repaired? Could Repo have completed this task?

Another documented incident occurred on Flight 903, which was flying from JFK to Mexico City. A stewardess named Fay Merryweather saw a face staring at her from the galley oven. It was Don Repo. She gathered a fellow stewardess and the plane’s engineer to look at the oven. All three saw Repo’s face. He warned the trio about a fire on the airplane. The plane landed safely in Mexico City, but, on the second leg of the trip, the plane’s engine malfunctioned and returned safely back to the airport. Had it continued its journey, it would have caught on fire as Repo had warned.

Loft and Repo were both known for being caring and compassionate pilots who always cared for their crews and passengers. It’s believed they had returned to continue doing so from the afterlife. The airline ceased operations in 1991. Does love transcend death? No one can explain why Loft and Repo continued to return to prevent the same tragedies that had claimed their lives.

Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page at He also wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on