I’ll never forget that day. It was like something out of The Twilight Zone. Actually, it was The Twilight Zone, as far as I was concerned. That’s because I was stuck on a remote Air Base in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness for a whole year. It was so different from anything I had ever known. My home was back in Connecticut in a typical middle-class neighborhood, where stores and restaurants were a mere quarter mile away. On the site, the nearest restaurant, besides the chow hall and the food counter in the NCO club, was probably a thousand miles away. Well, maybe not that far, but you get the idea.
Anyway, on this day, I was alone in the office I shared with my boss and the other guy I worked with when I heard the sound of a plane approaching. Looking out the window, I spotted a C-47, commonly known as a Gooney Bird, making its final approach toward the runway. I became confused; were we supposed to work a plane that day? I was part of a three-man air freight team, but we had not gotten any notice that a flight was coming in. Plus, the C-47 was not our usual cargo plane.
After watching it make a perfect landing then taxi toward the end of the runway and stop, I grabbed my parker off the hook on the wall, plus a two-way radio then headed for our truck, which was parked in front of the hanger where our office was located. While I buttoned up my parker (Even though it was toward the end of winter, it was still bone-chilling cold outside.), I pushed the button on the two-way radio and told my boss about the plane that had landed.
“What the f**k!” I heard him exclaim over the radio.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too,” I explained to him. “I didn’t know we were expecting a plain today.”
“Neither was I.”
“I don’t even think we have any cargo ready to ship out.”
“I know,” came his bitter reply. Then he ordered me to wait in front of our office for him and Rick. “We’ll be there in a few minutes.” Rick was my roommate, and the second member of our team.
Less than ten minutes later, both my boss and Rick came barreling around the end of the hanger and slid to a stop near me. My boss had our other flatbed truck, while Rick was driving one of the forklifts from the supply warehouse.
“So where’s the plane?” my boss asked me.
“Down there,” I said, pointing toward the far end of the runway.
“What the hell is doing there?” replied my boss.
I shrugged. “You got me,” I said to him. “I heard it come in, and when I looked out, I saw it land then keep on going until it got to the end of the runway.”
“Okay,” sighed my boss. “Let’s go see what they have for us.” All three of us hopped in our vehicles and headed for the plane.
Because of the snow on the taxiway we couldn’t go too fast, but we got there okay and parked next to the plane’s wing. Once they opened the side cargo door, my boss would hop inside and find out from the crew what cargo they had for us. But the door didn’t open. So we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited. When it finally became apparent that the door wasn’t going to open any time soon, my boss went over and started pounded on it.
“Hey, open up in there!” he shouted, and pounded on the door some more. Once again, the door didn’t open. Now annoyed, my boss mumbled, “What the f**k are they doing in there?” At this point, he walked around toward the front of the plane, while Rick and I stood around watching and feeling helpless.
The actual nosecone of the plane was too high to reach, so my boss pounded on the fuselage next to the wing. Still no response.
“What the hell!” he mumbled then pulled out his military radio and called the base’s tower. “Tower, have you had any communications with the crew of this plane?” When they said no, he suggested they call for emergency vehicles. “The crew might be unconscious.” Except the crew wasn’t unconscious. In fact, there was no crew, or cargo—the plane was empty!
That’s when they scrambled the Air Police. Speculation was the crew might have actually been Russian spies who hopped off the plane as soon as it stopped, and now were roaming somewhere in the woods beyond the end of the runway. If so, God only knew what their agenda was.
Besides the Air Police, the Air Force called in investigators from other bases, plus two helicopters and a couple of small bush-like planes to search the area outside the base. They also told us to be on the lookout for any strangers, and maybe stay in our barracks or offices, which all three of us did—we stayed in our office until it was time to go have supper. Then we headed for the chow hall.
All the talk was about what was going on, and were we being invaded? When nothing or no one turned up, a lot of the investigators left to return to their bases, but our Air Police guys kept sending out patrols. After a week when still nothing happened, even our guys stopped patrolling.
In the meantime, they had towed the C-47 off to the side of the runway, but kept a guard around it. And then something even stranger happened—the Gooney Bird disappeared. I’m not talking about taking off on its own the same way it had landed. I’m talking about like-the-rabbit-in-the-hat disappeared. The two poor guys that had been guarding it were shipped back to Elmendorf (that’s the Air Force Base in Anchorage) to be questioned. We never saw them again, but the scuttlebutt around our base was that when the plane disappeared, our two Air Police guys said they never saw anything—one minute it was there, then the next it wasn’t.
That’s all anyone talked about for the next two weeks, but eventually, all speculation died down, except with me. More than once, I mentioned to Rick, and anyone else who would listen to me that the C-47 had to have been a ghost plane. “It’s the only explanation that makes sense.” Of course, no one took me seriously. Every time I said it, they’d all look at me as if I had just stepped off a spaceship.
Anyway, nothing else weird happened the rest of the time I was up at the site until, that is, I got to my next assignment, which was Towers Air Force Base in Nevada. That’s where the plane showed up next.
Like before in Alaska, it came in for a perfect landing then kept on rolling until it reached the end of the runway and stopped. I happened to be on the tarmac helping to load some outgoing cargo on a C-130 when I saw it come in for a landing. I recognized the C-47 right away, mostly because of its tail number. Immediately a weird buzzing sensation pierced my stomach and shot up my spine. This was just too weird, I thought. What the hell was the plane doing here? But then I had an even more unsettling thought—was it here because I was here? And if so, what did it have to do with me?
Because Towers was a much bigger base than the one I had been on up in Alaska, none of the information about the plane, or the subsequent investigation reached me or any of the guys in my section. But that was okay, because I already knew everything I needed to know.
It took me a few more hours before I developed the courage enough to tell the Lieutenant overseeing the group of guys I worked with about the C-47. At first, he wasn’t sure I was telling the truth, until I convinced him to contact the command center overseeing the site where I had been stationed. After he made the phone call, he said he’d come with me to see the Towers’ Base commander.
I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking while we sat outside his office. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but still, meeting the base commander and trying to explain to him about the ghost plane, wasn’t really something I was looking forward to.
The base commander allowed me to tell my entire story before he asked, “So you think it’s the same plane?” I nodded. Leaning forward with his hands clasped and his forearms propped on his desk, he said, “And why do you think it’s here?”
This was going to be the hard part. Swallowing hard, I replied, “I think it’s here because of me.”
Leaning back in his chair, his eyebrows arched, he asked, “And why would you think that?”
“Because . . .” I swallowed again, “because why else would it show up at the same base I’m stationed at now?”
He remained silent for a moment. Then suddenly, stood up, grabbed his general’s cap, and ordered me to follow him.
As we passed through the waiting area, he ordered my Lieutenant to also accompany us. Outside, he had a jeep and a driver waiting. Immediately, all of us piled into the jeep then headed for the plane.
Once we arrived, I saw that the plane was being guarded by several Air Policemen with M-16s. As soon as the jeep stopped, the commander got out and immediately stalked up to the side of the plane. Its door was already open. Leaning his head inside, he took a peek. While I watched, I wondered, once again, if the plane had had a crew and where they might have gone to?
After pulling back his head, he looked over at me and asked, “It was empty like this up in Alaska, too?” Standing outside the jeep with my Lieutenant and the driver, I nodded. That’s when the commander took one more peek inside then started climbing the short metal steps that lead to the open door.
Watching him, I immediately felt my stomach clench. Something inside of me was screaming he shouldn’t be doing that! I wanted desperately to stop him. I even found myself reaching out a hand as if I could somehow grab him and pull him back. But before I could say or do anything else, the plane vanished. Just like that, it popped out of existence. The guards surrounding it shot to attention with their M-16s pointed at the space where the plane had been, but there wasn’t anything left for them to point to. The plane was gone—and so was the base commander!
I spent the next two weeks being interrogated by just about every agency in the world. But in the end, they had to let me go—there was no evidence I had done anything wrong, but still, they ordered me not to talk about the plane or anything having to do with it. I gladly obliged, even though I kept having nightmares about what had happened for months even after I left the Air Force.
Once back in civilian life, I settled into a normal routine. I got a job working for a small municipal airport; I got a girlfriend, we even got our own place together. And then one day, while I was loading passenger bags onto a mobile carrier, I heard a plane flying overhead. Even without looking up, I knew which plane it was.
“Oh, crap!” I moaned. “Not again!”