Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Everyone loves a good mystery

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Even off-the-wall alt-rock singer Courtney Love got into the act.

We're referring to the massive search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people, including two Canadians, on board.

Even as the search zeroed in on two large floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean at week's end, the case was already one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries in modern history, sparking a flood of conspiracy theories from amateur sleuths trying to crack the case.

Love chimed in early in the week, posting a screen grab from the satellite-imaging site with crudely-drawn red arrows pointing to areas she believed showed an oil slick and an aircraft. U.S. Earth imagery firm DigitalGlobe had placed high-resolution satellite images on the crowdsourcing site and invited the public to scour them for evidence of the missing jetliner.

"I'm no expert but up close this does look like a plane and an oil slick," Love wrote on her Facebook page, even though the image had already been identified as a boat.

As wacky as her efforts seemed at the time, you could forgive Love for wanting to lend a helping hand in a mystery that left the relatives of those on Flight 370 in a cruel limbo, torn between the need to grieve and the powerful desire to cling to hope.

It's considered the longest period of time a plane has gone missing in modern aviation history, but there are many examples of missing planes and people capturing the public's imagination, including these famous five:

5) Northwest Orient Airlines Flight 2501 -- At the time, it was considered the deadliest commercial airline accident in American history, even though wreckage of the plane was never found and the cause of the crash never revealed. It began on the night of June 23, 1950, as Flight 2501, a DC-4 propliner, was flying over Lake Michigan en route from New York to Seattle with 55 passengers and three crew members on board. According to a New York Times report at the time, the plane's 35-year-old captain, Robert Lind, requested permission to descend from 3,500 feet to 2,500 because a severe electrical storm was lashing the area with powerful winds. The request was denied because there was too much traffic at the lower altitude. Moments later, the plane and all aboard vanished from radar screens. Although light debris and human body fragments were found floating on the lake, a massive search that combed the lake's bottom failed to locate any wreckage. Reports say the missing aircraft is the subject of an annual search by the non-profit group Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates.

4) Flying Tiger Line Flight 739 -- On March 16, 1962, a Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation propliner chartered by the U.S. military disappeared over the western Pacific Ocean. The 93 U.S. soldiers (reportedly trained jungle troops), three South Vietnamese troops and 11 civilian crew members were never seen or heard from again. The plane had just taken off after refuelling at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam and was en route to Clark Air Base in the Philippines when it disappeared, prompting one of the largest air and sea searches in the history of the Pacific. The 107 people on board were declared dead less than two months later. According to the website of Stars and Stripes, a Liberian-flagged supertanker reported seeing a midair explosion in the area where Flight 739 should have been. The Civil Aeronautics Board decided the plane suffered an inflight explosion, the cause of which remains a mystery. Despite scouring 75,000 square miles of ocean, not a single piece of the aircraft or any bodies were ever found. Conspiracy theories swirled, suggesting sabotage or hijacking could have been to blame. Stars and Stripes says families of the victims are angry the soldiers' names have never been included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. A petition has been launched to achieve that goal.

3) The White Bird -- On May 8, 1927, French ace pilot Charles Eugene Jules Marie Nungesser and his wartime comrade Francois Coli climbed into their plane, L'oseau Blanc (The White Bird), and took off on a journey into history. Considered a rival of Charles Lindbergh, the flamboyant Nungesser -- famed for loving danger and beautiful women -- had racked up France's third-highest number of combat victories during the First World War and later moved to the U.S. to fly airplanes in movies such as Dawn Patrol. His buddy Coli had made a name for himself making historic flights over the Mediterranean. When they took off from Paris in May 1927, the pair had their sights set on the first non-stop transatlantic flight to New York. According to online reports, their plane was spotted once over Ireland, then was never seen again. "The modern speculation is that the aircraft was either lost over the Atlantic or crashed in Newfoundland or Maine," state articles on and Wikipedia. Just weeks after the pair vanished, Lindbergh completed the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in his plane, Spirit of St. Louis.

2) The Bermuda Triangle and Fight 19 -- Most everyone has heard of the so-called Bermuda (or Devil's) Triangle, an area between Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico famed as a graveyard where many ships and planes have vanished into thin air. The region's fame springs largely from Dec. 5, 1945, when Flight 19, five Avenger torpedo bombers, took off from Fort Lauderdale on a routine training mission and never returned. Their disappearance launched one of the largest air and sea searches in history and remains one of the world's great aviation mysteries. After completing the navigation exercise and mock bombing run, the bombers, carrying 14 crew members, were heading home when squadron commander Lt. Charles Taylor reported he was lost. Ground-based flight instructor Robert Cox picked up a strange message from one of the pilots: "I don't know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn." Most believe that Taylor, on his maiden flight from Fort Lauderdale, led Flight 19 out to sea, where the planes ran out of fuel and crashed. A flying boat sent to search for the flight also reportedly crashed and vanished.

1) Amelia Earhart -- There's little doubt history's most famous unsolved aircraft mystery revolves around the disappearance of groundbreaking aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Already the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, the aviation pioneer, along with navigator Fred Noonan, vanished over the Pacific on July 2, 1937 while on a quest to circumnavigate the globe along the equator. With about 7,000 miles to go in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra, she was scheduled to refuel at Howland Island, but radioed that she was low on fuel and could not see the landing strip. According to her biography, the last thing she reported on her radio was this: "We are running north and south." What happened next? No one knows. A rescue and recovery mission ended after the U.S. government spent roughly $4 million to search 250,000 square miles of ocean. It would be hard to count the wild theories spawned by the disappearance. While more reasonable minds suspect she simply ran out of fuel and ditched in the ocean, crazier theories suggest she was spying on the Japanese, or completed the flight, moved to New Jersey and changed her name to avoid all the fame. One expedition currently hopes to prove she crashed on tiny, uninhabited Nikumaroro Island.

If history teaches us anything, it's that the families of the passengers and crew of Flight 370 deserve answers -- even if they end up coming from Courtney Love.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 D2

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