Thirty years later another DC-3’s disappearance would give startling corroboration to the theory of total destruction and lightning-like disappearance. In this case, this DC-3 disappeared while on radar. In 1948, NC16002’s search was delayed by some 4 hours, (before the plane was finally declared overdue). Some argue this gave the Gulf Stream enough time to disperse any debris and bodies. However, in the case of N407D in 1978, rescue crews, rushing to the scene faired no better.
The following comes from the National Transportation Safety Board report: Missing aircraft between Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Havana, Cuba, September 21, 1978, Douglas DC-3 N407D.
The purpose of Argosy Airlines Flight 902 had been arranged by the pilot, George Hamilton. He was to fly to Havana on September 21, 1978, to pick up 21 US citrus growers who were there on tour. He obtained special permission since Cuba is restricted territory. Pete Rustinberghe would be the copilot; and the cabin attendants would be Pauline Lowe and Hamilton’s wife, Barbara.
At 11:13 a.m. Hamilton requested clearance; and at 11:24 Flight 902 was cleared to taxi out from Walkers Cay Jet Center runway 9L for takeoff. At precisely 11:29 a.m. they lifted off from Fort Lauderdale. All was observed to be normal.
Shortly afterward, while gazing down on the majestic coastline view below, Pete Rustinberghe called Miami. “This is Pete Rustinberghe of Argosy Flight 902. We’ll be going to Havana, Cuba, and I’d like to get the weather along the route and all the goodies if I could please.”
Miami came back: “OK, first of all no fronts or systems going down. That tropical wave is still south of Haiti, not affecting the ah weather in Cuba at all. International forecast wise: just lower scattered to broken cumulous, patchy scattered to broken middle clouds bases around 8 to 10 thousand with isolated thunderstorm and rain shower activity along that route.”
The weather report being good, Hamilton and Rustinberghe kicked back for a routine flight. Pauline Lowe and Barbara Hamilton did odds and ends in the pantry and talked about Havana (Obviously a guess, but under the circumstances a fairly reliable one).
Departing the Key’s chain of islands, Argosy 902 flew over the deep blue Gulf Stream. Thick clouds billowed here and there, casting their shadows over the busy Gulf Stream traffic below.
Hamilton called Miami: “Miami Center, this is Argosy nine zero two at six thousand feet.” At this point Argosy 902 experienced selective radio communication. In this case, Miami did not respond. Moments later, at 12:25 p.m., Argosy 902 emerged on Havana’s radar scopes, but Havana could not read any of the messages from the flight due to static. As a courtesy, a high altitude plane relayed the messages to Havana. At 12:35 p.m. the messages became loud and clear.
Havana was ready to guide Argosy 902 in. The next sweep of the scope showed the DC-3 902 to the right of its course. Then after only a single sweep of the scope, at 12:43 p.m., Argosy Flight 902 was gone. There was no more green blip on the scope. There was no SOS. There was no ELT signal.
Miami and Havana coordinated an immediate search. USAF and US Coast Guard units raced to the scene, while Cuban air patrol made over-flights within the first hour. By afternoon Coast Guard cutter Steadfast was coordinating the surface effort. The search was expanded to all traffic, plus 4 more cutters, a helicopter and a C-131 with the following cable:
ALL SHIPPING STRAITS OF FLORIDA-NICHOLAS CHANNEL
ARGOSY AIRLINES FLT. 902 (N407D) IS OVERDUE ON A
FLIGHT FROM FORT LAUDERDALE TO HAVANA, CUBA. DESC:
WHITE WITH BLUE TRIM. 4 PERSONS ON BOARD. ALL SHIPS
ARE REQUESTED TO KEEP A SHARP LOOKOUT FOR DEBRIS,
YELLOW LIFE JACKETS. PEOPLE IN THE WATER. SIGNED U.S.
COAST GUARD MIAMI, FL.
The yellow life jackets numbered 32. The seat cushions on 902 were the floatable kind, blue gray in color.
On the 24th of September the search was discontinued with negative results. Nothing, as in the many others losses, was ever located.
Comment on radio and television concerning the incident was lively and up to the minute. At 11:15 p.m. the night of the disappearance, Miami’s UPI got a call from a English speaking man with a Spanish accent. He claimed to represent Hijos De La Estrella Solitaria (Sons of the Solitary Star), a terrorist organization. After finishing the niceties of his introduction, he said: “We claim full responsibility for the explosion of the DC-3 over Cuban waters” then hung up. The prevalence of such a theory at the time reflects the frustration in the press and officialdom in trying to account for Argosy’s total disappearance by any conventional theory. However, knowing the erratic minds that follow such disasters it should not be given much credence. Moreover, no one had ever heard of such a terrorist group. The “claimant” never called again, leaving only lurid speculation in his wake. Had the DC-3 blown up, it should be pointed out, it would have left debris scattered all over. Also, Argosy would not have suddenly lost heading before a surprise explosion.
Touching on this, Conclusion 7 of the report deduced: “Weather data available for the time and place of the aircraft’s last identified radar position revealed that circumnavigation of the weather cells should have presented no problem and probably accounts for the slight deviation of the flight to the right of course.”
As a viable theory, pilot error was reduced to zero when Hamilton’s records were pulled. He had amassed 15,227 total flight hours, 3,000 in DC-3s. Standard conclusions held no speculations. “Aircraft Damage and Injury Index Presumed.” The case was closed.