Monday, September 30, 2013
The Ghost Blimp of World War II
On August 16, 1942 at 6:03 AM, the US Navy Blimp L-8 lifted off from Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay with its two man crew consisting of Lieutenant Ernest Dewitt Cody and Ensign Charles Adams. It was Adam's first time piloting a blimp, but Cody had experience and had flown the L-8 before in a mission crucial to the success of the Doolittle raid in Japan. The mission Cody and Adams were on August 16 was to look for Japanese submarines.
A little over an hour and a half into the mission at 7:42 AM, Cody radioed to base that they had spotted an oil slick and were going to investigate. That would be the last transmission from the crew.
At 11:15 AM, the L-8 was seen returning from sea by beach goers. Caddies at the Lake Merced Golf and Country Club observed the blimp disappear behind two hills and then rise again after a brief snag on a cliff. It drifted for a while longer after that and eventually crashed in Daly City in a residential area.
William Morris, a volunteer firefighter who lived in the house in front of where the L-8 crashed, was the first person on the scene. He assumed the crew would still be inside the cabin and rushed to help them, but as he approached, he noticed the doors were open and no one was inside. A team of salvagers from the Navy arrived within an hour of the crash and found that two of the three life jackets were missing (which would follow regulations that the crew wear lifejackets), but the parachutes and the life raft were still in place and the radio was still operational. One of the crew member's caps was found on the controls and a locked briefcase with secret codes was found in place. The engines were still switched on, but there was no fuel left to power them. Aside from rips in the dirigible's fabric from tearing across roofs in Daly City, the helium gas valves were still set as they should be and it was determined the dirigible was still airworthy.
The coastline and sea was immediately searched for the crew, but they were never found. They searched the entire ground area that the L-8 had covered and found no trace of the men and determined that they must not have been on board at any point when the blimp traveled over land.
A later investigation determined that two fishing vessels in the area of the observed oil slick witnessed the L-8 descend to about 300 feet and circle the slick and then rise skyward again. The fishing crews didn't witness anything fall or drop from the ship. The L-8's crew were declared missing and pronounced dead a year later. The L-8 was repaired and used as a training vessel after that. Goodyear used the blimp after the war and it was retired in 1982. Goodyear donated the control car the National Museum of Naval History in 2003.
So what happened to the crew? Were they captured by the Japanese? Did they go AWOL? Did UFOS abduct them? Most likely, it's none of those scenarios. Despite the fishing crews seeing nothing fall from the blimp, the most probable scenario is they crew just fell out at some point. The safety bar on the door of the control car was missing, indicating they either opened the door or the door opened accidentally. If so, they must have fallen out of the blimp at some point over the ocean and were just never seen again.
Sources: 1, 2, 3