Horizon (1964) s37e04 Episode Script

Vanished: The Plane That Disappeared

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'The Andes in South America.
'53 years ago, somewhere in these mountains, 'a British passenger plane vanished into thin air.
'And so began one of aviation's most enduring mysteries.
' We heard all sorts of rumours about what could have happened to that plane.
You don't want to grieve for somebody that might not be dead.
'But earlier this year, pieces of the plane mysteriously reappeared 'high on a remote glacier, 'more than half a century after it had disappeared.
'The Argentine army decided to undertake a gruelling expedition 'to one of the highest mountains in the Andes 'to try and find the rest of the plane.
'They hoped to discover enough information 'to help modern science solve the mystery of the plane that vanished.
' We sat round and asked questions for years, basically.
The same questions that there were no answers for.
'On August 2nd 1947, 'a British Lancastrian airliner called Star Dust 'took off on a routine passenger flight across South America.
'The fight was to be anything but routine.
'The scheduled British South American Airways flight 'should have taken under four hours 'to travel from Buenos Aires, in Argentina, 'to the Chilean capital, Santiago, across the Andes mountains.
'At the controls was a highly experienced pilot, 'with a navigator and three other crew members.
'Some of the six passengers on board 'seemed to have stepped straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.
'Among them, a Palestinian businessman 'with a large diamond sewn into the lining of his jacket, 'a German emigre returning to Chile with the ashes of her dead husband, 'and a British King's Messenger, 'apparently carrying vital diplomatic correspondence.
'No-one on board was ever to reach their destination.
'Regular radio messages confirmed the plane was apparently on course.
'For the last 45 minutes, 'Star Dust should've crossed the Andes 'from Mendoza, on the so-called central route, 'close to Aconcagua, the highest mountain in South America, 'before turning south for Santiago.
'In 1947, no plane was better suited 'for the Andes crossing than the Lancastrian.
'Converted from the RAF's legendary Lancaster bomber, 'it could fly as high and as far as any airliner in the world.
'Just before Star Dust was due in Santiago, 'the plane contacted air-traffic control.
'It confirmed it was due to arrive in just four minutes.
' 'Star Dust should now have been 'just a few miles from touchdown in Santiago.
'Then, the plane sent one final, mysterious, Morse code message - 'STENDEC.
'Baffled by the unintelligible word, 'the radio operator in Santiago asked for clarification.
'The same word, STENDEC, was repeated twice more.
'After that, nothing more was heard from the plane.
'It had vanished.
'It was the start of one of the great aviation mysteries.
'When the plane failed to arrive, the search began.
'But there was no sign of the plane around Santiago, 'even though it had apparently been 'close to landing there when it disappeared.
'So the search spread out to cover the Andes mountains.
'Captain Frank Taylor was one of 'British South American's senior pilots at the time.
'He flew out from Britain to join the search.
' We did a search of over nine hours, actually.
And what we did was to go to the central pass and really scan that backwards and forwards at high altitude.
'There were reports of faint radio messages from the missing plane, 'so the search intensified.
'Planes crisscrossed a wider and wider area, 'looking for any signs of wreckage.
' We went north to San Juan and we went south as well, and we really had a very thorough look.
But, erwe found nothing.
'Star Dust didn't seem to have crashed, it had simply disappeared.
'Then the rumours began.
'There were rumours of sabotage.
'The theory was compounded 'when two more planes of the same airline 'disappeared within months of each other.
'There were also rumours about the King's Messenger - 'it was a time of tension between Britain and Argentina - 'which led to speculation that the plane had been blown up 'to stop vital documents reaching Santiago.
'So inexplicable and complete was Star Dust's disappearance, 'that even alien abduction was suggested.
'The plane's final, unexplained message - STENDEC - 'eventually inspired the name of a UFO magazine.
'Hazel North was just a child when her uncle, 'Star Dust's captain, Reginald Cook, disappeared.
' We got together as a family and wondered what had happened, why it was that the plane couldn't be found, why there wasn't any wreckage, and there was no body and I think, when you can see a body, you can come to terms with it, you can begin to grasp the reality of it.
But we could never do that.
We sat round and asked questions for years, basically.
The same questions that there were no answers for.
Obviously, in the Andes, there's snow.
Snow, yes 'Ruth, Stacy and Mary have spent a lifetime 'in the shadow of the Star Dust mystery.
'Their uncle, Peter Young, was one of the missing passengers.
' We didn't know he'd died, cos nobody knew what happened to the plane.
Just that the plane had vanished.
And indeed, all these years, nobody's known what happened to the plane.
Grandmother went on believing that he was still alive until she died, which must have been about ten years later.
She always I think there'd been that thing of Shangri-la, and that you could be up in the mountains - Yes.
- .
and never found.
'For more than 50 years, 'the legend of Star Dust's disappearance continued to grow.
' A mystery it remained, in my mind, for the last half a century.
In fact, I think I can safely say that I've given up hope of ever hearing that they'd found the aircraft.
'It looked as if Star Dust had disappeared for ever.
'Then, in January this year, 'a mysterious discovery at last reopened 'the case of the plane that had vanished.
'An old Rolls-Royce engine was found lying on a glacier 'high in the Andes mountains.
'It had appeared out of nowhere, and it belonged to Star Dust.
'Nearby were human remains.
'The sudden reappearance of a piece of Star Dust 'only increased the mystery surrounding the plane.
'The engine had been found on a glacier 'below one of the biggest mountains in the Andes - 'Mount Tupangato.
'It was 50 miles from Santiago, 'where Star Dust had apparently been close to landing 'before it disappeared.
'This whole area had been systematically searched 'when Star Dust disappeared in 1947.
'It had been visited since by mountaineers, who'd found nothing.
'And yet now, Star Dust had suddenly reappeared.
'The discovery led to a storm of publicity.
' GENERAL HUBBUB 'In February, the Argentine army called a press conference.
'They announced they were mounting an expedition into the Andes 'to investigate the mysterious reappearance of the plane.
'A team of air-crash investigators were called in 'to reopen the Star Dust investigation.
'Dr Carlos Bauza is the crash investigator 'chosen to join the army's attempt to reach the wreckage.
TRANSLATION: THEY CHANT IN UNISON 'The army prepared equipment and supplies 'for 100 soldiers to survive for 10 days in the mountains.
'The trucks roll out at dawn.
'Their mission is to search in the mountains 'for any clues that can shed light on what happened to Star Dust - 'why a plane thought lost for ever 'had suddenly reappeared 53 years later.
'They also plan to bring back human remains, 'in the hope they can be identified and returned to their families.
'In the distance, the first glimpse of their destination - 'Mount Tupangato, 50 miles and five days away.
'They're heading towards the heart of the Andes, 'the second-highest range of mountains in the world.
'After a day, they've left the foothills behind.
'The lorries grind up high into the mountains.
'There are no bridges, but they still have to cross several icy rivers.
'They've brought 100 mules 'which will take over from the lorries when the track runs out.
'After two days, the mules take over.
'They're entering a hostile world of rock and ice, 'and the air is getting thinner.
'Eventually, even the mules find the going tough 'and things begin to go wrong.
TRANSLATION: 'After three days, they're now in the shadow of Mount Tupangato.
'Somewhere up there is the missing plane.
'But now the terrain is too rough even for the mules.
'The final march to the glacier will have to be on foot.
'It's the fourth day.
The expedition is now above 13,000ft, 'higher than most mountains in the Alps, 'and approaching the massive Mount Tupangato.
'Below the towering mountain is the Tupangato glacier.
'Its lower section is so completely covered in rock 'from the surrounding mountains that the ice beneath is invisible.
'Somewhere on this rock-strewn glacier 'lies the key to the Star Dust mystery.
'The wreckage site is now only a few hours away, 'but with light fading and snow in the air, 'they set up camp for the night.
'They now have supplies for just 48 hours, 'so in the morning, they'll have less than two days to find the wreckage 'and solve the mystery of what happened to Star Dust.
'Dawn on the fifth day.
It's minus eight degrees.
'They've reached the glacier and the hunt for Star Dust has begun.
'The plan is to comb the entire glacier 'to find as many pieces of Star Dust as possible.
' This is the whole area of the wreckage.
The plane wreckage.
And we're going to put two men to the left two men to the right and one man each five metres here.
And then go inclimbing all the stone, finding the wreckage.
'But first they have to find where the wreckage is, 'and, after two hours walking on the rock-covered glacier, 'they found nothing.
'Then, their luck changes.
' Over there, the first the first wreckage of the plane.
On that white spot over there, with a red rock.
Two fingers to the right.
This is part of the fuselage.
The right thing.
It means Star Dust.
Star Dust.
Star Dust.
The beginning of the word.
'So this IS where Star Dust met its end.
'Now the investigation into the crash can begin.
'The team need to discover why the plane disappeared so many years ago, 'only to suddenly reappear on a glacier, 50 miles off course.
'To learn more, Carlos needs to get an impression 'of the pattern of the wreckage over the whole glacier.
SPEAKS IN SPANISH 'Analysing the wreckage distribution is crucial, 'because different types of crash 'leave very different signatures on the ground.
'For example, a bomb would spread the wreckage over a huge area 'as the plane broke up in mid-air 'and the wind carried debris over many square miles.
'But if the plane had lost control and dived straight into the glacier, 'then the wreckage would be concentrated in a very small area.
'Carlos uses GPS - the Global Positioning System - 'to log the position of each piece of debris as it's found 'so that the spread of the wreckage can be accurately reconstructed.
'The first pieces of wreckage have been found 'on one side of the rock-covered section of the Tupangato glacier.
'The patrol fans out, searching for more.
'Five hours later, and scattered across the glacier, 'they've found several more shattered pieces of wreckage.
'But so far, they've found surprisingly little 'of the huge plane.
'Then, a dramatic new discovery.
'The Lancastrian's two massive main wheels 'are lying on the glacier just a few metres apart.
'After more than 50 years, one is still fully inflated.
' Themain wheels are in this normal position.
The pilot don't put in the landing position, the wheels.
'If the pilot was preparing for a crash landing, 'for example, because of engine failure, 'he might have lowered the wheels into the landing position.
'But these wheels are intact.
'It means they were retracted in their normal flying position 'at the time of the crash.
'If they had been lowered for a crash landing, 'they would have been damaged in the impact.
'Carlos sets off to try and find more clues.
'He wants to find the engine 'whose discovery earlier in the year triggered the expedition.
I will take pictures.
'The Lancastrian's Rolls-Royce engine 'has clearly been battered by the crash impact, 'but Carlos needs to find out if engine failure caused the crash.
'The key to finding this out is to find the engine's propeller.
'The propeller can give vital clues about the performance of the engine 'at the time of the crash.
'If Star Dust's engines were working normally when it crashed, 'the propellers would have been turning at the moment of impact 'and would show a particular type of damage.
'This modern propeller shows the kind of damage that occurs 'if an engine crashes when it's working normally.
'If the propellers are rotating at high speed when they hit the ground, 'the tips will be scarred and bent back.
'Carlos finds the propeller nearby and it only takes him a moment 'to recognise the significance of the damage it shows.
' You see the point of the propeller - this one and this one - the propeller was in movement when the plane crashed.
'The propeller shows that this engine 'was working normally before the crash.
'Star Dust had four engines 'and, mysteriously, there's still no sign of the other three.
'But nothing discovered so far 'suggests that engine failure caused the crash.
'More and more fragmented pieces of wreckage 'are found across the glacier.
'The GPS logging is revealing a crash site concentrated in an area 'of about one square mile on the lower section of the glacier.
'Despite searching well outside this area, 'there's no sign of any more debris.
'This crash site is too small for a bomb.
'But one thing is becoming obvious.
'Every piece of wreckage is crushed and crumpled - 'the signs of a massive high-speed impact.
This pattern of wreckage is exactly what would be expected 'if the plane flew straight into the glacier.
'But there appears to be no reason for the plane to have crashed.
'The picture so far is of a plane apparently flying normally 'right up to the final moment.
'No explosion and no engine failure.
'The discoveries so far have only deepened the mystery 'of what happened to Star Dust.
'Then the team find the first evidence of the people 'who lost their lives in Star Dust.
' It's a woman's shoe.
'The soldiers gathered the scattered remains of several bodies.
'None are recognisable.
'It seems clear that the people on board Star Dust 'died at the same instant the plane crashed.
' I suppose, by the .
the speed that the aeroplane crashes here, nobody suffer any pain.
'Carlos and the army team have now thoroughly searched the glacier.
'They've mapped all the wreckage there is, 'but the mystery continues to deepen.
'90% of the plane is still missing.
'There's still no evidence to explain why Star Dust crashed '50 miles from the airport it was supposedly only minutes away from.
'Nor are there any clues as to why the plane disappeared, 'only to reappear on the glacier 53 years later.
'Carlos will need help if he is to unravel the mystery any further.
'With the work on the glacier finished, 'there's an impromptu service to remember the dead.
'They've found the remains 'of what they believe to be four of the 11 people on board.
'No-one knows which of the 11 they've found.
' THEY PRAY 'Ahead lies the difficult task of identifying the human remains 'and reuniting them with the families who have waited so long.
' I feel we owe him to do everything we can to make sure there's a proper burial and a proper memorial and everything.
THEY CONTINUE TO PRAY I think it would be wonderful if Reginald was identified.
We all want him home.
He's been away for 53 years.
Andwe want this tragedy over.
'Reuniting the remains found on Tupangato 'with their surviving relatives will not be easy.
'In Buenos Aires, 'the forensic service begins work on the human remains.
'They start to unravel the remains and identify what they can.
'Two female hip bones, clearly from different women, are identified.
'There were only two women on Star Dust - 'a BSAA stewardess, Iris Evans, 'and the German emigre Marta Limpert.
'But that's as far as the forensic examination can go.
'With no facial features or even dental records, 'the only chance to investigate the rest of the remains 'is through DNA profiling.
'Relatives of all those who were lost in the crash 'have been asked to give blood so that DNA profiles can be created.
'The aim is to try and match these 'to DNA profiles from the Star Dust remains.
' If you'd like to press firmly on that for me.
Thank you.
'The problem is that the remains from Star Dust 'have been deteriorating for 53 years 'and the DNA has become seriously degraded.
'Because only tiny fragments of DNA remain, 'the DNA strands will have to be amplified many millions of times 'to produce a profile.
'Through this method, seven more profiles are identified 'in addition to the two women on board.
'But tests to link these profiles to the surviving relatives 'are still ongoing.
It is uncertain who, if any, 'of those on board Star Dust will be identified.
'The crash investigators now face the task of making sense 'of what had so far proved a completely baffling investigation.
'Several mysteries remained.
'No-one knew why Star Dust, apparently flying normally, 'flew straight into a glacier 50 miles off course.
'And, just as strange, why it disappeared 'only to suddenly reappear 53 years later.
'Carlos wonders whether the glacier itself 'could hold the key to the Star Dust mystery.
'He has met up with his colleague, 'air crash investigator Carlos Sorini, in Mendoza City.
'They've arranged to meet an expert on glaciers, Dr Juan Carlos Leiva.
' 'After reviewing the information and the role of the Tupangato glacier, 'Dr Leiva confronts them with a startling conclusion.
'He tells them the wreckage isn't at the actual crash site at all.
'There's a crucial fact to consider '.
glaciers move.
'Glaciers are enormous rivers of ice, 'moving slowly downhill under the influence of gravity.
'There's a crucial implication.
'It means that, 53 years ago, 'Star Dust crashed not where the wreckage is lying today, 'but higher up the glacier.
'It could well have crashed right underneath 'the sheer, snow-covered east face of Mount Tupangato.
'This reassessment of where Star Dust crashed 'might hold the key to explaining one of the great mysteries - 'why the plane wasn't found despite the massive search in 1947.
' 'If Carlos is right, then within seconds, 'the avalanche would have buried Star Dust.
'But that was just the first stage in Star Dust's long disappearance.
'After the avalanche, 'the glacier itself would have swallowed the plane.
' TRANSLATION: 'Year by year, layers of snowfall 'would have buried the wreckage deeper and deeper.
'Gradually, Star Dust would have become part of the glacier itself, 'travelling slowly downhill, 'not on the surface of the ice, but deep inside it.
'It lay hidden inside the glacier for another 53 years.
'It's not the first time a plane has been swallowed by a glacier.
'In Greenland, this Second World War fighter was recently discovered '250 feet under an ice sheet.
'It had been abandoned, with five other planes, 'on the surface of the ice in 1942.
'Over the years, they were buried in snow.
'The snow hardened into ice.
'Planes and glacier became one.
'But there's one crucial difference - 'the Greenland planes were still buried deep inside the ice 'when they were found.
'Star Dust had reappeared on the surface of the Tupangato glacier.
' THEY SPEAK IN SPANISH 'Dr Leiva believes he can explain Star Dust's sudden reappearance, 'the final link in the mystery of Star Dust's disappearance.
'The crucial clue comes from the lower, rock-covered section 'of the Tupangato glacier.
'Star Dust crashed in the upper area, 'where the plane was buried and became part of the glacier.
'Over the years, the wreckage travelled downhill inside the glacier 'until it reached the lower, rock-covered section.
'Here, at the lower altitude, it's warmer 'and the glacier starts to melt.
'Anything inside the glacier - rocks or wreckage - 'will gradually melt out onto the surface.
'90% of the wreckage is still entombed in the ice.
'But if the theory is right, 'it, too, will reappear on the surface of the Tupangato glacier 'over the next few years.
'The glacier explains why Star Dust had disappeared for so long 'and then suddenly reappeared.
'But that left the last puzzle still unsolved.
'There was no explanation for why Star Dust had crashed 'when there was apparently nothing wrong with the plane.
'The investigators knew from the wreckage 'that the crash was a high-energy impact.
'The plane was apparently flying normally.
' SPEAKS IN SPANISH 'And they had one other clue.
'The plane had crashed 50 miles away from Santiago, 'even though the crew thought they were close to landing.
'So they focused on one key factor that could have caused the crash - 'navigation error.
'Today, sophisticated navigation systems mean it's almost impossible 'for an airline crew not to know where they are 'every second they are in the air.
'But 53 years ago, it was a different story.
' You've got to realise that in those days, things were pretty primitive in certain parts of the world.
We didn't have radio navigational aids which would tell us precisely where we were.
'But even allowing for the lack of modern navigation aids, 'Star Dust's highly experienced crew 'should not have been 50 miles off course.
'There had to be a reason for such a massive navigation error.
'The investigators knew, from weather reports at the time of the crash, 'that conditions were bad over the mountains.
'And Star Dust's crew had also known about the bad weather.
'So, to avoid the bad weather, 'they had radioed their intention to climb to 24,000 feet - 'above the cloudand the mountains.
'On its own, bad weather didn't explain the crash 'because the Lancastrian's ability to fly high 'should have guaranteed safety.
'The investigators believe that once Star Dust was 'above the clouds and the mountains, at 24,000ft, 'the crew decided to fly in a straight line to Santiago.
'Although they didn't know it, 'by trying to fly over the tops of the mountains, 'they were sealing their fate.
'They were about to encounter an invisible meteorological phenomenon 'which they knew nothing about.
'The jet stream.
'This powerful, high-altitude wind 'only develops above the normal weather systems.
'It blows at speeds well over 100mph.
'But in 1947, very few planes ever flew high enough 'to encounter the jet stream, 'so the phenomenon itself was still largely unknown.
'Star Dust was an exception.
'It could fly this high.
'The investigators realised 'that a head-on encounter with the invisible jet stream 'would have dramatically slowed Star Dust down 'without the crew knowing it.
'This could be the key to their huge navigation error.
TRANSLATION: 'Analysis of the old weather charts show that, on the day of the crash, 'Star Dust was flying straight into the jet stream, 'which was blowing at around 100mph.
'But crucially, the clouds meant that the crew was unable 'to see the ground, which would tell them where they were.
'So they had no way of knowing that the jet stream was slowing them down, 'destroying all their navigational calculations.
'Using their modern-day knowledge of the jet stream, 'the investigating team have now reconstructed the last 45 minutes 'of Star Dust's doomed flight.
'At 5pm on August 2nd 1947, 'Star Dust radioed its position near to Mendoza.
'The crew could still see the ground, 'but, ahead, the mountains were covered in cloud.
'Star Dust told air traffic control 'that it intended to climb to 24,000ft, avoiding the bad weather.
'From now onwards, the ground would be invisible beneath the clouds.
'As Star Dust climbed, it began to enter the jet stream 'and slow down dramatically.
'But the crew had no knowledge of this.
'They believed that they were making much faster progress.
'At 24,000ft, Star Dust was flying almost directly into the jet stream, 'which was blowing at around 100mph.
'The jet stream's effect was devastating.
'At 5.
33, the crew was convinced 'they were crossing the mountains into Chile.
But they weren't.
'They radioed their time of arrival as 5.
'In fact, the plane was still on the wrong side of the mountains.
'Confident the Andes were well behind them, 'Reginald Cook began the descent, 'sure that when Star Dust emerged from the clouds, 'it would be above Santiago airport.
'In fact, they were descending straight towards Mount Tupangato, 'which was still invisible in the clouds ahead.
'Disaster was seconds away.
' 'Hopelessly off course because of the jet stream, 'Star Dust flew straight into the cloud-covered glacier.
'After the devastating crash, 'Star Dust was buried within seconds.
'It vanished from sight.
'Over time, the wreckage was swallowed by the glacier.
'For the next 53 years, 'it travelled down towards the glacier's zone of melting.
'Now, finally, it is beginning to melt out onto the surface.
'The mystery of what happened to Star Dust is almost over.
'But one small part of the legend still remains, 'a final riddle which science has been unable to solve.
'STENDEC, Star Dust's last, 'apparently unintelligible radio message, 'sent just before the crash.
'It's a mystery that Sorini can shed no further light on.