One of the more interesting examples of a person disappearing while in an aircraft is the case of Andrew Carnegie Whitfield over New York city in April 1938.
Whitfield was the nephew of the famous steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, and had graduated from Princeton University. He was working as a businessman, and had recently married Elizabeth Halsey.
Whitfield was a keen pilot, and had logged over 200 hours of flying in his Taylor Cub monoplane. On the 17th of April, Whitfield departed in his small plane from Roosevelt Field on Long Island. He planned to land at an airfield at Brentwood, approximately 22 miles away. The weather was perfect for flying, and Whitfield’s plane had more than enough fuel for a flight that should have taken approximately fifteen minutes. Whitfield never arrived as scheduled and has never been heard from again. An extensive search for him and his plane produced no evidence as to his whereabouts. There were unconfirmed sightings of Whitfield after his disappearance. The most bizarre was in August 1939, at Council Bluffs, Iowa. Railway police said that an unkempt Whitfield, still wearing his flying suit, was seen in a freight car on the outskirts of town. Whitfield saw the police, grinned and held out a bundle of money, before the train disappeared down the tracks.
After Andrew had disappeared, it was discovered that he checked into a hotel in Garden City on Long Island under the alias Albert C. White on the day he vanished. He paid $4 in advance for the room and never checked out. His personal belongings, including his passport; clothing; cuff links engraved with his initials; two $6000 life insurance policies in his name listing his wife, Elizabeth Halsey Whitfield, as the beneficiary; and several stocks and bonds made out in Andrew’s and Elizabeth’s names; were left behind in the hotel room. Phone records also indicated that he called his home while his family was out looking for him, and a telephone operator says she heard him say over the phone, “Well, I am going to carry out my plan.”
Based on this alleged comment, police and other investigators believed that instead of travelling to Brentwood, Whitfield had turned the Cub over the Atlantic Ocean, and committed suicide by crashing the plane into the water. However, despite an extensive search, no wreckage was ever found. There was also no evidence that at the time of Whitfield’s disappearance that he was having any personal or business problems, which may have lead him to consider taking his own life. Whitfield was planning on moving to Pennsylvania with his new bride later in the year.
I think that based on the evidence found in the hotel room and the comment overhead by the telephone operator, that Whitfield had decided to take his own life. With the amount of fuel that the plane had, I think that Whitfield would have flown west until he was in a mountainous and inaccessible area, and then crashed the plane. There are several examples of planes which disappeared in remote and uninhabited parts of the United States – is Whitfield’s plane one of those?
The source for this blog post was Jay Robert Nash’s book “Among The Missing: An Anecdotal History of Missing Persons from 1800 to the Present”, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, USA, 1978, pp. 333-334.