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40 Years Ago Today... A 40 year-old mystery!

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posted on Dec, 6 2007 @ 05:11 AM
December 6th, 1967, four days before Otis Redding died in another mysterious Great Lakes area plane crash, Lee Norman Sanborn, a 45-year-old professional pilot from Grand Rapids Michigan, began what was to become one of the most bizarre flights in the history of civil aviation in the United States.

The flight was a commercial air taxi flight, a return from Cleveland, Ohio, where Sanborn had dropped off three passengers. Sanborn worked for Northern Air Service Inc. The aircraft was a multi-engine PA-30, registration number N8071Y. Sanborn was an experienced instrument pilot. Within the preceding 90 days he had flown more than 40 hours in actual instrument conditions. He'd flown 4 hours on instruments in the 24 hours preceding this flight.

The curious events surrounding this flight began as N8071Y returned to it's home base, Grand Rapids Michigan. The flight was preparing for an Instrument Landing System approach to runway 26 at the Grand Rapids Airport. This was an approach in which Sanborn was intimately familiar.

From the Lansing Michigan radio fix to the Odessa fix is 18 miles. N8071Y was proceeding West-Northwest along this airway when it was handed off to Grand Rapids Approach Control at 6:02PM. At that time, Sanborn told Grand Rapids Approach that he was estimating that he would cross the outer marker at 6:07PM. Sanborn asked about the weather on the surface. It was drizzling but visibility was almost a mile. Sanborn laughed and asked the weather observers to keep it like that until he got there. He knew he would not have to miss the approach unless it got worse.

The outer marker was on the Instrument landing System course about five miles from the runway threshold. Approach controller Richard Hoppe cleared N8071Y to proceed to the outer marker and begin a holding pattern there at 4000 feet. The 4000 foot altitude assignment would allow a United Airlines Viscount ahead of N8071Y to make its approach by passing underneath N8071Y.

Immediately after reporting level at 4000 feet, Grand Rapids Approach transmitted, "Seven one Yankee, if you can start slowing it up just a little bit now we should be able to work you stright in. The Viscount should be at the marker] very shortly." "Okay, will do." Sanborn replied as he began reducing airspeed in preparation for the approach.

Approach Controller Hoppe asked Sanborn; "Okay, are you are well established on the localizer now?" "That's affirm." Replied Sanborn.

It is difficult to cite examples, but Sanborn's relaxed tone and ability to volunteer unsolicited position reports when he saw that it would expedite other traffic show that he was not only alert, but familiar with the approach and conscious of where the rest of the traffic was. These facts make subsequent events even more unbelievable.

At 6:10PM, Controller Hoppe cleared Sanborn to descend from 4000 feet and begin the approach, but he instructed Sanborn not to cross the outer marker until 6:12PM. It was necessary under the system in effect that aircraft be at least two minutes apart on the approach course. All aircraft were in the clouds and were unable to see one another. Hoppe transmitted a current time check to Sanborn.

Sanborn arrived at the outer marker a few seconds early. it was a common kind of mistake. He may have underestimated the speed he would pick up descending to 2500 feet. To maintain proper separation, the tower controller Kenneth Poirier instructed Sanborn to make a 360 degree turn to the right. This would take two minutes and put N8071Y back on the final approach course at the outer marker. Sanborn was told to report back when he had completed the circle.

Two minutes later at 6:13PM, as expected, Sanborn reported that he had completed the circle and was back at the outer marker and headed inbound towards the runway. Poirier cleared N8071Y to land. The United AIrlines Viscount was just turning off the runway at this point. Sanborn acknowledged his clearance to land.

Since N8071Y Was on his way from the outer marker to the runway, Approach Control cleared another airline flight, Miller 81, a Cessna 402, to make the approach, but told Miller 81 not to pass the outer marker until 6:15PM, to allow a two minute separation between it and N8071Y.

Miller 81 hit the outer marker right on time at 6:15PM and was cleared to land. It takes about two or three minutes to get from the outer marker to the runway threshold, and at 6:15PM, tower controller Poirier was expecting to see N8071Y break out of the clouds. If N8071Y didn't break out then, it would mean that Miller 81 behind him would be getting too close. Poirier transmitted a question to Sanborn. "Seven One Yankee, do you have the approach lights yet?" Sanborn replied with something as curious as it was frightening.

"Negative sir, we're just coming up on the marker now."

Ordinarily this would have meant that N8071Y had reached the outer marker.

No one in the control tower could believe what they had just heard. It had been more then three minutes since Sanborn had reported passing the outer marker inbound. Poirier hoping to eliminate any miscommunication asked N8071Y, "Seven One Yankee, you coming up on the middle marker?"

Sanborn replied, "Negative. On the outer marker."

This was impossible. Where could N8071Y have been for the previous three minutes? Sanborn stated that he was at the outer marker three minutes before. He must have heard the tower clear Miller 81 to land. He must have known that Miller 81 was two minutes behind him. Yet all of a sudden Miller 81 is at least one minute ahead of him and he didn't know about it. N8071Y was till making the 360 degree turn he had already reported completing--a turn he had been instructed to make more than five minutes before.

Incredibly Sanborn was not alarmed. He was only puzzled. "You gave us a 360 back to the marker," he said.

[edit on 6/12/2007 by C0bzz]

[edit on 6/12/2007 by C0bzz]

posted on Dec, 6 2007 @ 05:12 AM
he tower couldn't believe it. "Seven One yankee, you said you were at the outer marker correct?" Asked Poirier as he was trying to gather his wits. Sanborn replied, "Negative we are not at the outer marker. You gave us a 360 back to the outer marker." Sanborn didn't understand. He was totally oblivious to everything that had happened within the previous four minutes. As far as he was concerned, he had arrived at the outer marker a few seconds earlier and had been instructed to make a 360 degree turn to the right. Now all of a sudden people in the tower were asking if he could see the approach lights more than five miles away. He hadn't even made it back to the outer marker yet.

Hoppe started to warn Miller 81. "Miller 81, Miller 81, are you on?" He asked. But there was no time to wait for a reply. A collision was imminent. Another plane, North Central flight 346 was now headed down towards N8071Y. Poirier, while trying to remain calm transmitted to N8071Y, "Okay Seven One Yankee climb and maintain 3500 and cancel your approach clearance." He told the aircraft above N8071Y, "North Central 346 climb 4500." Both Sanborn and North Central 346 acknowledged their respective instructions. At 6:18PM N8071Y reported reaching 3500 feet.

At the same time, Miller 81 reported seeing the approach lights, so the approach course was completely clear. The approach controller again cleared N8071Y to make the approach. He told Sanborn to report crossing the outer marker.

Minutes later, North Central 346 which was still holding at 4500 feet, called approach and asked, "it's taking a long time for that approach isn't it?" With that Grand Rapids tower asked "Seven One Yankee, have you reached the marker inbound yet?"

Sanborn didn't answer.

A 12-year-old girl playing in her front yard near Lowell Michigan was the last person to actually see N8071Y. The investigation report states:

At 6:10PM an airplane flew over her house going North to South. The airplane was so low she was frightened and thought it was going to hit her garage. She remembered seeing the red and green navigation lights on it's wingtips. She was so frightened, she took her sister and ran into the house, locked the front door and hid in a bedroom. After she was in the bedroom she heard a crash. When her mother and father arrive home at approximately 6:35PM she informed them of the incident. After some discussion her father called the Kent County Airport. The father stated that he and neighbors started a search of the area.

They found N8071Y. Sanborn was dead. The airplane clock had stopped at 6:10. The girl's recollection of the time of impact, 6:10PM was dismissed, even though she recalled so many other details accurately. At 6:10PM Sanborn was acknowledging his first clearance. But the four controllers who followed the sequence of events surrounding the more than three minute disappearance of N8071Y could not be ignored. Everything they said was still on tape and a transcript of that tape is still held by the National Archives in Washington.

The accident itself produced some startling mysteries. First, all the instruments and radios functioned properly when tested after the crash. The Federal Aviation Administration checked all the radio navigation aids on the ground. All were working normally. Sanborn had passed his six-month check for instrument competency the previous week. The stringent checks are only for commercial pilots flying passengers or cargo for fire through bad weather. Sanborn had proved his ability to cope with the most unusual emergencies.

In the cockpit even more mysteries. Sanborn had the throttles pulled all the way back to idle, he had also selected full flaps and the landing gear down. Everything was set as if he was preparing to flair for landing. Instead he was seven miles from the runway crashing through trees in the middle of a swamp. The cockpit was not set up in preparation for a crash landing, nor was there a distress call. In fact, the auto pilot was flying the airplane.

If Sanborn was low enough to scare the wits out of a 12-year-old girl, if he was clearly visible to her, why didn't he see where he was? Why didn't he realize his problem? Why, if he was experiencing difficulties did he not radio a distress call?

The last question is as puzzling as the missing three minutes, If N8071Y crashed into a swamp at 6:10PM, killing Sanborn, how was he accepting approach clearances eight minutes later?

The Great Lakes region in North America has been the scene to many unexplained crashes and complete disappearances of vessels. According to a book I read on subject, the "Great Lakes Triangle" Has swallowed more ships, aircraft and people than the Bermuda Triangle. One theory is that UFO's use the Agonic Line which runs through the Great Lakes region as a navigation beacon. A startling number of disappearances have come on the heels of reports of strange lights in the skies. Two examples: Northwest 2501 (1950) and the instantaneous destruction of the Edmund Fitzgerald with the subsequent disappearance of all 29 crew members, on the night of one of the largest UFO sightings in Canadian history a mere 100 miles away.

I am now claiming that UFO's or unearthly forces are behind all of the incidents, but there are a great many incidents which remain unsolved, like the one I described above.

Perhaps there is some truth to the UFOs Frozen thought were seeing...? What do you think?

posted on Dec, 6 2007 @ 05:20 AM
First I've heard of this facinating story CO. Great post!

Where did you come across this information? Could you provide a link or two for further reading?



posted on Dec, 6 2007 @ 05:22 AM
Interesting story. Were you there to witness all of this? Unless you were there, I would like to know where you got all your information. Is this speculation on your part? Did you get any of this information from any outside news source?


posted on Dec, 6 2007 @ 05:28 AM
We somehow exceeded our monthly allowance for internet bandwidth in a week.
And I really need to go to bed, I'm exhausted, big day tomorow, flying the Trojan for a check.

I'll reply to all your thoughts and questions when I get back from work tomorow

[edit on 6/12/2007 by C0bzz]

posted on Dec, 6 2007 @ 05:39 AM
yes, please do post some links on this. A very interesting story, and one I would like to read more on.

It's a strange, strange world we live in.

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