The first, and most famous, was NC16002. This was an airliner for Airborne Transport of Miami. With a full compliment of passengers, and crew (31 persons aboard) it was only 20 minutes from its destination of Miami. It was a crisp, clear winter tropic night on December 28, 1948. The pilot, Bob Linquist, radioed he was 50 miles south and just beginning his approach. However, nothing was ever heard from him again. It was still dark on that early morning. There was plenty of opportunity for anybody in the Keys to both see or hear an explosion in the sky— the most logical excuse for sudden destruction. The shallow waters around the Keys easily aid in identifying an aircraft silhouette below. But an intensive search did not find a thing.
The following is what is known about the flight before it vanished. It is based on the Civil Aeronautic Board Report: Airborne Transport, December 28, 1948, Miami, Florida.
NC16002 (the registration of this DC-3) landed at San Juan International Airport, Puerto, Rico, at 7:40 p.m. the night of the 27th en route from Miami. Stewardess Mary Burkes deplaned the passengers while copilot, Ernest Hill, went over the routine checks.
Robert Linquist informed the local repair crew that the landing light did not come on to indicate the landing gear was locked. The repair crew discovered the batteries to be low on water and refilled them. However, they said it would take several hours to recharge the batteries to optimum level. Linquist didn’t want to wait that long, so he said he would recharge them in flight.
Everything seemed OK now. Linquist declared the plane in good working order at 8:30 p.m. and filed a Flight Plan back to Miami. However, more battery trouble ensued. While this was being checked into, Mary Burkes boarded the 28 passengers for the return trip. Everything else checked out all right, so Linquist taxied to the end of runway 27. The lack of two way radio contact quickly held him at the end of the tarmac. There was another annoying wait until the head of Puerto Rican Transport drove to the plane. Linquist told him they were receiving properly, but that the transmitter, due to the low batteries, was not sending. Linquist agreed to stay close to San Juan until the batteries were recharged and he could make two-way contact.
At 10:03 p.m. NC16002 was finally airborne. After 11 minutes of circling the city, CAA at San Juan was able to receive a message from Linquist. He was now departing San Juan for Miami. The airliner broke its circling pattern and headed out over the ocean. As they droned out to sea, the string of lights of San Juan’s streets, those of the industrial center and those floodlights illuminating the historic castle of El Morro, quickly faded behind them.
The weather was perfect, a balmy tropic night.
After this the aircraft passed in and out of what seemed like radio voids. CAA tried to contact Linquist again, but could not get a response. Only an hour or so after takeoff, at 11:23 p.m., Overseas Foreign Air Route Traffic Control Center at Miami heard a routine transmission, in which Linquist stated they were at 8,300 feet and gave his ETA at 4:03. a.m. His message placed the flight about 700 miles away from Miami.
As with many other disappearances in the Triangle, this is one example of where a distant point of reception— in this case, Miami— overheard the messages, but a much closer station like San Juan could not reach the plane. This cannot be blamed on the transmitter or batteries.
Subsequent transmissions were heard sporadically. All seemed to be routine. Linquist next reported himself 50 miles south of Miami. The same strange radio quirks replayed themselves here. Linquist was not heard by Miami, but was overheard by New Orleans 600 miles away, who in turn informed Miami.
The weather around Miami was perfect: clear with a slight headwind, a warm tropic Yule time. There seems no explanation for the disappearance of this aircraft and all those on board. There was only about 20 minutes left in the flight. So whatever it was it struck quickly and was completely destructive.
In trying to explain the mystery some have opted for the conventional, blaming Linquist’s transmitter problems. They believe he may not have received the wind direction change that was broadcast from Miami at 12:15 a.m. This change was from the northwest to northeast. Without this information, over the allotted time of their flight, Linquist and Hill would have been blown 40 to 50 miles south of their course. Therefore they could have been far off course and subsequently got lost, ran out of fuel, and ditched with nobody surviving.
This is an easy theory. However, one must remember that Linquist stated he had trouble transmitting, not receiving. Nevertheless, since he stated he was 50 miles south of Miami, he probably had not received the weather update. Yet, apparently, he knew where he was since the location he broadcast tallies with the approximate distance he should have been blown off his course. This can be explained by an astral fix. The weather was perfect; there was no difficulty in Linquist obtaining an astral fix on his own to determine position. Linquist most probably was where he said he was.
Then there is the fuel factor. He really must have been running short of fuel by this time. There wasn’t much time or space in which he could get lost. The only explanation for the disappearance was that NC16002 vanished extremely quickly from causes unknown, just as we have seen in so many others.
What could have done this? This is just another example of a plane that, seemingly, was disintegrated close to land. No trace could be found in the shallow water. No wreckage, bodies. No mayday was picked up by anybody. No crash was seen in the Everglades, and to this day 65 years later no trace has ever come of an unknown DC-3 in the Glades, around the Ten Thousand Islands, or in the Bahamas (and I personally have enough local contacts who are aware of what one looks like).