The Mystery Behind The Star Dust Plane Crash

Aviation has had its fair share of mysteries with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 being the most recent and still unsolved case, according to Forbes. On August 2, 1947, five crew members and six passengers stepped on board an Avro 691 Lancastrian plane (nicknamed Star Dust) bound for Santiago, Chile from Buenos Aires, Argentina. But, the plane never reached its destination. While en route the crew relayed a bizarre and untranslatable message to its correspondents on the ground, just before it disappeared entirely (via Historic Mysteries). 

Later, air traffic controllers resigned to the horror that the craft had likely crashed into a section of the Andes mountains. But, with no wreckage found, this begged a series of other questions: Why was Star Dust descending nearly 50 miles from its destination? What was it that made them go down? And, what was the meaning of their cryptic message that was sent three times prior to losing contact: "STENDEC"? (via PBS).

Theories and conclusions

For a time, experts were confounded by the inexplicable circumstances leading up to the disappearance of Star Dust. The ominous message relayed via morse code was perhaps the most perplexing element, as "STENDEC" translates to nothing at all and has no acronymic meaning — at least not one that air traffic controllers kept on record at the time (via PBS). Some surmised that, because the plane was reportedly at an altitude of 24,000 feet when the message was sent, the crew could have been experiencing mental confusion as a result of hypoxia, as Historic Mysteries notes. This may have caused them to misconstrue what they were trying to relay as "DESCENT," but it was sent three times, so it's hard to assume that it was a mistake. A reasonable assumption put forward is that Captain Reginald Cook lost his bearings due to thick cloud cover and wrongly assumed he had cleared the Andes before making his descent (via Historic Mysteries).

In 2000, hikers traversing the Andes came across the wreckage of a plane that proved to be the long-lost Star Dust. After careful examination of the crash site and the observable evidence, deceased Captain Cook was cleared of all blame. Experts resolved that it was severe weather conditions that took the plane and its 11 unfortunate occupants down (per The Guardian).