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
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
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]