A very distinguished passenger, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, either dozed or talked in undertones with other passengers en route to Kingston, Jamaica. Radio operator Robert “Tucky” Tuck continued to keep the key depressed so Bermuda could get a fix on their position. He was highly experienced in astral navigation, but this close to Bermuda a radio bearing would be sufficient to guide them in. Capt. B.W. McMillan, a highly qualified pilot, was waiting for Tuck’s reply, as was Capt. David Colby, the third pilot in case relief was needed. Co-pilot and 1st officer C. Ellison rounded out the crew.
The reply from the tower was a first class bearing of 72 degrees. Tuck dutifully relayed it to McMillan who acknowledged in his very identifiable New Zealand accent and agreed with Tuck that the ETA at Bermuda would be 5 a.m., less than 2 hours away. Tuck duly told Bermuda.
The 4-engine airliner was on course. Following this bearing would lead her to Bermuda without question. The long 2,067 mile flight from Santa Maria Island in the Azores, which had began almost 12 hours earlier, was almost over. About an hour and a half and the 25 passengers could view the brilliant marine lights of Bermuda, great beacons visible at least 30 miles out to sea to guide planes and alert ships to this little oasis in the middle of the Atlantic.
But 5 a.m. came and went. What happened? There was never a word from Star Tiger again. An intensive search found no trace, even though it was known where the aircraft last was. What indeed had happened?
This disappearance was so upsetting that a comprehensive investigation was conducted under the authority of Lord MacMillan and his MacMillan Committee of the Civil Air Ministry. The official recital was impressive of what could not have happened to her: “There would accordingly appear be no grounds for supposing that Star Tiger fell into the sea in consequence of having been deprived of her radio, having failed to find her destination, and having exhausted her fuel.” Whatever occurred, it was concluded that it did so extremely rapidly: “There is good reason to suppose that no distress message was transmitted from the aircraft, for there were many radio receiving stations listening on the aircraft’s frequencies, and none reported such a message.” Weather information proved “ . . .the weather was stable, there were no atmospheric disturbances of a serious kind which might cause structural damage to the aircraft, and there were no electrical storms.” The aircraft could not have been off course. Following the broadcast bearing from Bermuda, with the winds prevailing, would have brought Star Tiger within 30 miles of Bermuda, “ . . .the aircraft could hardly have failed to find the island in a short time, in the conditions of visibility which prevailed.” Engine trouble as a cause was ruled out since at this late stage in her flight, without the added weight of her fuel, she could have flown safely on 3, even 2 engines instead of the 4 she had. The possibility she could lose 3 engines was absurd.
A pondersome cache of evidence.
Reflecting this evidence, the Committee soberly rendered its conclusion, in some of the most eloquent language ever entered into any accident report:
“In closing this report it may truly be said that no more baffling problem has ever been presented for investigation. In the complete absence of any reliable evidence as to either the nature or the cause of the accident to “Star Tiger” the Court has not been able to do more than suggest possibilities, none of which reaches the level even of probability. Into all activities which involve the co-operation of man and machine two elements enter of a very diverse character. There is the incalculable element of the human equation dependent upon imperfectly known factors; and there is the mechanical element subject to quite different laws. A breakdown may occur in either separately or in both in conjunction. Or some external cause may overwhelm both man and machine. What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of “Star Tiger” must remain an unsolved mystery.”