Here we are approaching O’Hare International Airport, in Chicago, Illinois, which is the busiest airport in the world in terms of the number of takeoffs and landings, and also holds the title of having the most runways of any other international airport. It was here at this bustling hive of activity that one of the worst aviation disasters in history struck on May 25, 1979. It was the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, and O’Hare International Airport was packed with holiday travelers looking forward to the long weekend. This seemingly sunny, pleasant day found 270 passengers and crew aboard an American Airlines McDonnell Douglas DC-10, Flight 191, which was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles International Airport at 3PM. As the plane taxied for takeoff, there was no reason at all to suspect anything could possibly go wrong. The crew was comprised of Captain Walter Lux, a seasoned pilot with 22,000 hours of flight experience, as well as First Officer James Dillard and Flight Engineer Alfred Udovich, both also highly experienced, and additionally, the DC-10 was known as one of the most reliable aircraft in the skies.
Indeed, the plane took off without a hitch, and everything seemed to be completely normal at first. Then, at about 6,000 feet into the takeoff roll, one of the engines completely separated from the aircraft to go careening over the left wing, ripping out a good portion of the hydraulic system in the process. Concerned air traffic controllers radioed to the flight to check on the situation, but they received no response as the flight crew was too busy trying to wrestle control of the struggling plane and keep it in the air. Despite the loss of the engine, the flight continued to rise steadily before sharply banking steadily to the left. Shortly after, the enormous DC-10 fell from the sky from a height of about 300 feet to plow into a nearby field that had once been the site of the old Ravenswood Airport, killing all 258 passengers and 13 crew instantly, as well as two people on the ground at the time. The doomed Flight 191 remains the worst aviation disaster in United States history.
It wasn’t long after the horrifying crash that strange stories began to emerge from the vicinity of the crash site. Motorists on the nearby highway began reporting the presence of bouncing orbs of light and even fleetingly glimpsed figures lurking within the field where the flight had gone down. On several occasions, police actually went in to investigate the reports of the mysterious lights and figures, believing that it was simply trespassers with flashlights looking to see the site or collect macabre souvenirs, yet no matter how fast they responded to these reports whenever they arrived, authorities found the field to be completely abandoned. Reports of strange lights and shadowy figures in the area continue to this day, as well as claims that voices can be heard shouting, moaning, or screaming in the darkness, even when it appears that no one is there. Dogs also allegedly react strongly in the vicinity; snarling, barking, or panicking for no discernible reason.
Even weirder were the claims made at around the time of the crash by those who lived in the trailer park next to the field. Residents claim that within hours of the disastrous crash, there could be heard strange knocking sounds on doors or windows, and when these sounds were investigated it turned out no one was there. This bizarre phenomenon gradually intensified in the following weeks, with reports that doorknobs were being turned or shaken, objects moved, and that there were frequent sounds of disembodied footsteps on porches or stairways. Spookier still were the reports that describe actually coming face to face with ghostly figures who would complain that they had lost their luggage or proclaim that they had a connecting flight to catch before vanishing into thin air. One such sighting was made by a man out walking his dog, who came upon a lone young man wandering around near the crash site. According to the witness, the stranger smelled faintly of gasoline, and seemed to have a thin smoke or steam emanating from him. As odd as this was, the witness nevertheless turned to point out a pay phone, and when he turned back the enigmatic young man was nowhere to be seen, even though it was an open area and he had been turned away for just a second. Sightings of such ghostly strangers have occurred even within O’Hare International Airport itself. It is said that on occasion a young man wearing slightly out of date business clothes can be seen using a payphone near the gate from which Flight 191 departed. When the man finishes his call, he then allegedly takes a few steps and simply vanishes. Over the years there have been many photographs and strange EVP recordings that are claimed to be of the ghosts of Flight 191, and there is even a ghost tour in the area which will take visitors with a macabre curiosity to the crash site.
Joining the ranks of decidedly creepy airport ghost haunts is the next leg of our journey into the weird, the similarly expansive Denver International Airport, in Denver, Colorado. There are numerous ghostly tales from Denver International, with one of the most popular being that it was built over a Native American burial ground, which seems to never bode well. It is claimed that when the airport began playing Native American chants on a loop on the pedestrian bridge linking Concourse A and the Jeppesen Terminal building, people began to complain of being pushed by unseen hands, having their luggage knocked over for no reason, and having the overwhelming sense of being watched or followed. It was even claimed that these phenomena would follow passengers after they boarded the plane. Complaints of various poltergeist activity here got so bad that tribal elders actually went in to do a ritual to appease the restless spirits in 1995.
Another persistent tale from Denver International concerns the prominent, 32-foot-tall illuminated sculpture of a cobalt blue, red eyed, raging mustang, which stands on a hill south of the airport along Pena Boulevard and is known by most people by its nickname, “Blucifer.” The garish sculpture was commissioned in 1992 as a public art project, and created by artist Luis Jiménez. From the beginning the project was plagued by setbacks that continually pushed back its deadline, including a deteriorating cornea transplant in the artist’s eye and other delays, which eventually forced the city to threaten a lawsuit in 2003 if the sculpture was not completed in a timely fashion. In 2006, with the project still not finished, tragedy struck when the sculpture fell from its hoist and onto Jiménez, trapping the artist underneath the massive 9,000 pound object and simultaneously cutting open an artery in his leg. Unable to move or get help, Jiménez tragically bled to death right there on his studio floor.
Despite this tragedy, the sculpture was finished by the artists’ family and finally officially unveiled in late 2007. The fierce looking, garish, and rather ugly sculpture, with its sinister glowing eyes and unsettling devilish appearance, was almost immediately met with public outrage, and people slammed its presence to the point that petitions were launched to get the city to remove it. Making matters worse was its reputation not only as an eyesore, but also as a cursed object, with many blaming it for its creator’s death and claiming it had a malevolent will of its own. The city never did remove it, and to this day its frightening façade is the first thing most people see when they come to the airport. It is also still said to be cursed and haunted. The most popular story concerning “Blucifer” is that the dead artist who made it also haunts it, with many sightings made of the ghostly Jiménez over the years. Apparently the dead artist will often show up in photographs of the sculpture, at times even appearing to pose for the photo op. This paranormal activity that seems to gravitate around the sculpture has over the years attracted various paranormal researchers and ghost hunters. Whether this spooky sculpture is actually haunted, cursed, or both, it certainly does strike a rather jarring, imposing figure. Interestingly, Denver International Airport has been ground zero for a plethora of strange conspiracy theories since it first opened. Among the many, many bizarre claims linked to the airport are that secret Nazi or Masonic messages are hidden throughout the premises, that it houses a vast underground warren of tunnels and bunkers for use by the military, a secret society, or the New World Order, and other even more far out theories say the airport is a haven for reptilian humanoids disguised as humans. So ghosts and curses, why not?
The United States certainly does not have the monopoly on haunted airports. As we move inexorably across the pond to England we come to London’s Heathrow Airport, which is the third largest airport in the world in terms of the sheer number of passengers who pass through, with a staggering 73.4 million people coming through these doors in 2014 alone. It is also well steeped in tales of the paranormal. One of the most notorious of the airport’s many purported specters is the ghost of a legendary highwayman by the name of Dick Turnpin, who robbed, murdered, and raped his way to infamy in the 1730s. He was known as an arrogant braggart, and this attitude was not subdued in anyway by his capture and subsequent death sentence. It is said that when Turnpin was brought to the gallows to hang for his crimes, he dramatically bowed to the audience with a wide grin on his face before doing the executioner’s job for them and leaping off the ladder, hanging himself. It was partly this last show of bravado and defiance that turned him from a vicious criminal to a folk hero of sorts, cementing his legend and turning him into a sort of Robin Hood type of lovable scoundrel.
Although the ghost of Dick Turnpin is allegedly seen all over England, he seems to particularly favor Heathrow Airport. Numerous passengers here have reported seeing Turnpin lurking about the premises wearing old fashioned attire, a billowing black overcoat, and a tri-cornered hat, and he seems to be particularly active at night. Airport employees have claimed that Turnpin’s spirit will wander about shouting, screaming, and otherwise making a commotion in the quiet hours in the middle of the night. In some cases he is even said to bark, snarl or howl like an animal. The spirit is also apparently quite fond of breathing down airport employees’ necks as they work. He is claimed to be a rather violent ghost as well, and has been known to punch, scratch, or shove people. In one terrifying account from 2004, an airline employee was allegedly dragged by her hair across the ticket counter by the ghost in full view of several horrified witnesses. It isn’t quite clear why this particular spirit should want to haunt Heathrow Airport, but the stories persist.
Similarly to the catastrophic Flight 191 crash at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Heathrow is also the site of a tragic air disaster which has spawned some spooky stories of its own. On March 2, 1948, a DC3 Dakota from Belgian Airlines flying from Brussels to London was approaching Heathrow when it hit terrible fog on its approach. The plane crashed, killing the three crew members and 17 of the 22 passengers on board. Allegedly, as people on the ground searched the body strewn wreck and fog cloaked tarmac for survivors, a dazed looking lone man wearing a dress suit and hat materialized out of the surrounding mist and politely asked if anyone had seen his briefcase before wandering back off into the night. It was later learned that the man they had seen was among the dead found at the site.
This would not be the last time this mysterious spectral gentleman would be seen. The man began to be regularly sighted wandering around the runway or through the terminal, perhaps still looking for his briefcase, and came to be known simply as “The Man with a Briefcase.” This ghostly man is sometimes even seen sitting in the lounge as if he is waiting for a flight, but will vanish instantly if approached. One particularly startling incident involving the Man with a Briefcase occurred in 1970, when air traffic control called authorities in after noticing a man in a suit and hat aimlessly walking around out on the runway. When police and the airport fire department arrived, air traffic control said they were approaching the man, who was showing up on radar, yet the men on the ground could see nothing. They searched all over and could find no trace of anyone being there, despite the insistence from air traffic control that the intruder was indeed still out there wandering around and that the authorities were supposedly right on top of him. The search was finally called off, but it is unclear what had caused air traffic control staff to be so adamant that a man was out on the runway despite the authorities finding no sign of him. Perhaps it was the mysterious ghost still looking around for his missing briefcase. Lost luggage can be such a drag. Other ghosts have been seen around Heathrow Airport as well, including one which seems to appear only from the waist down.
Taking off once again, we continue our trip over the vast ocean to Australia, which too has its own haunted airport. Archerfield Airport lies 12 km (7.5 mi) to the south of Brisbane, Queensland, and was once the main airport servicing Brisbane. During World War II, Archerfield was used extensively as a military airfield for the Royal Australian Air Force, United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), Royal Netherlands Air Force and Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm, and it housed RAAF Station Archerfield from 1939 to 1956. It was during these years as an important military airbase that an incident would occur here that would launch the airport’s reputation as a haunted place. On 26 March 1943, a C-47 Douglas Dakota landed here for refueling and maintenance on its way to Sydney carrying a cargo of important radio equipment and components. The following morning at 5AM, the plane was taken out of its hangar and taxied out for takeoff, but unfortunately a thick fog bank had descended which was bad enough that another flight actually cancelled its scheduled run. Nevertheless, the crew of the C-47 was eager to get on their way to Sydney, as their cargo was of the utmost importance and they were on a strict deadline. Ignoring the dangers of the prevailing conditions, the plane took off into the fog anyway, but moments later veered off course and banked hard to careen into a stand of trees, explode into a ball of fire, and plow through thick brush to end up in swampland, killing all 23 people aboard.
Since this tragic crash, the spectral figure of a man dressed in World War II flight gear has been persistently seen all around the airport, especially in the vicinity of the crash site. The ghost is said to be so lifelike that on several occasions it has been mistaken for an aviation buff dressed up in costume, with the only clue of ghostly activity being when the figure suddenly vanishes into thin air. It seems to be a fairly friendly spirit, and one of its favorite things to do is reported to be smiling and waving at people who pass by, only to blink out of existence right before their eyes. Others have described seeing whole groups of servicemen dressed up in World War II garb wandering around the runway or hangars. Another ghost that allegedly haunts the vicinity can be found at a small nearby cemetery called “God’s Acre,” which was a private cemetery for use by the original owners of the land that Archerfield Airport is built on, the Grenier family. Here at the cemetery, the phantom visage of a boy on a horse can sometimes be seen, and is believed to be the ghost of one of the Greniers, who was killed in a horseback riding incident in 1859. Joining the ranks of paranormal inhabitants here, phantom World War II planes are also said to patrol the skies of the area, in particular a ghostly aircraft that witnesses swear is a C-47 Douglas Dakota. The plane is reported as being completely silent, with an unsettling habit of suddenly vanishing midflight.
Moving across the ocean again, we end up in Asia, which is home to numerous allegedly haunted airports. Perhaps the most intensely haunted of these is Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is one of the two international airports that serve Bangkok, Thailand. Suvarnabhumi Airport already has sort of an eerie history, as it was built over a cemetery and what used to be known as Nong Nguhao, or “Cobra Swamp,” but it is its ghosts and purported curse which truly make it a spooky place. The airport was considered to be cursed and haunted before it was even finished, with superstitious construction workers complaining that building over an old cemetery had angered the restless spirits, which could be seen lingering around the site and heard chanting, whispering, or shouting. These ghosts were also believed to be causing numerous freak accidents, including several that were fatal. The dark rumors about the airport grew so persistent that Thai officials even brought in 99 Buddhist monks to perform chanting, rituals, and rites in order to appease the spirits and exorcise them from the area.
It soon became apparent that these efforts didn’t work, and after the airport opened in 2005, there were several deadly traffic accidents on the premises involving airport workers, which of course many attributed to the vengeful spirits. In addition, over the years Suvarnabhumi Airport has been claimed to be absolutely crawling with ghosts. One of the most notorious spirits said to prowl the airport is an elderly man called Poo Ming, who walks around with a stick and is usually described as having a blue face and an aura emanating from his head. The frail old man is said to startle people by suddenly appearing before them, and is known to introduce himself in a faint, wavering voice. Another ghost said to wander about here is that of a woman holding an infant. This spirit is said to be quite dangerous, as she often appears in front of speeding cars only to vanish before impact, causing the vehicles to swerve or crash. This ghost has also been often blamed for causing a Thai Airways airplane to skid off the runway in 2006. The airport is also home to a good amount of poltergeist activity, and the sounds of disembodied footsteps, voices, and traditional Thai music with no apparent source are common.
The hauntings have become so widely known in Thailand that Suvarnabhumi Airport has no less than 8 shrines on it premises, which were erected in order to protect the area and ward off the spirits. One of these shrines was built when a security expert searching for explosives allegedly went into a trance and claimed to be possessed by a spirit which commanded that the shrine be built. Several of the airlines that use the airport, including Thai Airways, have also held frequent rituals in an effort to drive away malicious ghosts. Additionally, even the Airports Authority of Thailand is known to organize rites or prayer sessions in an effort to keep the evil spirits at bay. Is it working? Well, that depends on who you ask.
Also in Asia is the haunted Sasa Airport of Davao City, Philippines, which was the scene of a deadly bombing in March 2003 which left 21 people dead. The airport produces many reports of ghostly screams of anguish, moaning, and whispering, and sightings of phantom apparitions are a regular occurrence. There are also numerous airfields in Okinawa, Japan, which are allegedly home to a wide variety of ghosts ranging from G.I.s and women in kimonos, to spectral samurai on horseback. One notorious such spirit is that of a phantom American G.I. in full combat gear, which is said to approach people to ask for a light before vanishing. I suppose smoking is a hard habit to break, even in death.
Prepare for landing, for our journey is through. Please make sure you have not left any valuables behind. So, what is it about these places we have travelled far and wide to see? Can we chalk this all up to superstitious lore, or is there something else at work here? No matter what one may think of the purported ghostly activity associated with these haunted locales, it certainly gives a spin on the feeling of being somehow stuck in limbo when frequenting an airport. In our case, we simply wait it out and move on to our next destination. For those allegedly bound to these locations in apparently never-ending anguish, it is not so simple. Are they really doomed to wait out their days until the end of time stuck in these airports? Or is there some other explanation? Perhaps we will never know, but it is interesting to think about the next time you are in an airport waiting around for a late flight, or have that creeping feeling in the back of your mind that something is not quite right.