Obviously, the disappearance of Flight 441 was also one of the most thoroughly investigated, as regards to the plane, to the weather conditions, and the pilot’s ability to handle it. Weather was considered “somewhat typical” for the North Atlantic at this time of year— no icing but scattered thunderstorms and minor turbulence. A flight traveling opposite at 14,000 feet reported just this, but the pilot believed that a plane at 441’s level would have been above the weather.
The pilot of Flight 441 would have known this. In addition to the basic navigation equipment of the time, Flight 441 carried weather radar. This is, by far, an added bonus. This would have alerted the plane to any unforecast weather fronts ahead, allowing the pilot to bypass it if possible.
An examination of the weather and of Lt. John G. Leonard, the pilot, produced the following summation:
. . .Lt Leonard has been flying the North Atlantic routes for the past two years and it is thought that he was very familiar with this kind of weather. His choice of 17,000 feet altitude for this flight was a good one. According to the weather cross section 19,000 feet would have been an even better altitude. At any rate he should have been on top, for the most part, except for occasional buildup.
It must be pointed out that the R7V-1 was equipped with ASP-42 Airborne Radar and is always used when flying this sort of weather. The Electronic Shop at VR-1 labeled the radar set in R7V-1 BuNo 128441 as very good. The pilots were indoctrinated in the correct use of this gear. In that commercial airliners do not have airborne radar, pilots flying the R7V-1 are at a comparative advantage in flying the weather.
A translation might read: “It’s a complete mystery.” Since Leonard had airborne radar he probably would have increased his altitude to 19,000 feet or higher to completely avoid any complications in the weather. One recalls that Tawney tried to report himself to base, perhaps more than once, and was not overheard. Leonard may have also tried to inform OATC of his higher altitude but was never overheard. The Board deduced that: “The possibility of structural failure during transit of frontal weather cannot be discounted in this accident, but the possibility appears remote.”
Further investigation of Lt. Leonard yielded this recommendation of his flight abilities:
Lt. Leonard was well trained in thunderstorm penetration speed and technique. It is thought that if he did enter a thunderstorm he would have entered at the correct speed and would have flown the up and down drafts without fighting them. The weather that Lt. Leonard was thought to have been subjected to was not beyond the capabilities of R7V-1, nor was it thought to be beyond his own capabilities.
This might translate to: “He probably just flew over the weather in the first place.”
The upshot of this investigation rendered what may yet be the best and only explanation that can be ascribed to all missing aircraft and ships in the Triangle:
It is the opinion of the Board that R7V-1 BuNo 128441 did meet with a sudden and violent force, that rendered the aircraft no longer airworthy, and was thereby beyond the scope of human endeavor to control. The force that rendered the aircraft uncontrollable is unknown.