On 16 August 1942, the L-8 blimp, assigned to the United States Navy at Moffett Field, crashed in Dale City, California during a routine patrol. What confounded the investigators, is that it crashed without its crewmembers.
The dirigible belonged to the Blimp Squadron ZP-32 assigned to Moffett Field in California. The U.S. Navy acquired the blimp from Goodyear after entering World War Two. Previously used in a commercial capacity, it measured 147 feet long, 34 feet high with a diameter of almost 40 feet.
About NAS Moffett Field
Blimps were much more common during the WWII era than they are today. Back in the 1940s, they were often used to patrol the seas for Japanese submarines. In California, Moffett Field, located about 25 miles south of San Francisco, directed anti-submarine patrols. Under Naval Air Station Moffett’s umbrella, many airships took off and landed at a specialized airfield on Treasure Island, located in the San Francisco Bay.
Mission to Farallon Islands
On August 16, 1942, an anti-submarine coastal patrol was launched from Treasure Island with two crew members: Lieutenant Junior Grade Ernest DeWitt Cody and Ensign Charles Adams. The piloted the blimp designated as L-8, an airship previously utilized for such missions before. Both men had ample experience in these reconnaissance missions, and everyone expected a routine patrol.
The early morning destination was the Farallon Islands, about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The blimp would circle the islands and then return to base.
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One hour into the flight, the airship radioed back to Treasure Island that they detected a possible oil slick and enroute to investigate further.
Two ships saw blimp L-8 circling the Farallon Islands at approximately 10:30 that morning. A PanAm airline saw it on course at 10:50. Soon after, however, a witness said it glided upwards further into the sky.
Its whereabouts for the following hour are unknown. The next appearance occurred around noon when beachgoers near Daly City fell into a panic as they witnessed the blimp crash into a hill along the shore. The impact dislodged a 325-pound depth charge which fell to the ground. The reduced weight lightened the weight of the dirigible and it subsequently became airborne again. It finally came to rest on a busy street in front of a house at 419 Bellevue Ave, Dale City.
Rescuers ran to the wreckage. However, they were shocked to find the blimp’s cockpit empty. Hundreds of Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Highway Patrolmen, and volunteers searched for the missing crewmen to no avail.
“The land search is completed. The area from the spot where the blimp first touched ground and its final resting place has been thoroughly covered…The Navy is positive the men were not in the ship at any time during its derelict flight over land.”12th Naval District spokesman
U.S. Navy Blimp Crash Investigation Begins
The investigators looked for clues after firmly establishing that neither Cody nor Adams was anywhere onboard. Investigators noticed that one of the doors had been propped open. They found the door propped open as unusual, but all of the necessary equipment remained in working order.
The parachutes and life raft remained stowed in their correct places. However, two of the life jackets were missing. But that didn’t seem to indicate anything unusual, as it was a policy for men to wear them whenever a mission took them over water.
They also noticed the engines were not running, even though the airship had fuel. The biggest mystery was why neither of the men radioed for help during whatever crisis had ensued. The radio was in perfect order.
Theories on the L-8 Ghost Blimp Mystery
A variety of theories began circulating:
- A fight broke out between the two men, and they fell out the open door.
- The Japanese captured the crew.
- UFO abduction.
Investigators recovered the blimp from its crash site, and the investigation yielded no further clues. They summarized that airship somehow exceeded it pressure height and deflated. Everything else is a mystery. Years went by, and the U.S. Navy eventually repaired the airship. It remained in service until 1982.
After the crash, most of its duties pertained to non-military endeavors. After the war, the U.S. Navy returned the airship to Goodyear and broadcasted sporting events for television in its final days of service.
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The ultimate fate of Adams and Cody is unknown. The L-8 ghost blimp mystery remains a secret to this day.
Historic Mysteries updated this article on 10 October 2020.
Fleet Airship Wing Five ZP-32 Operations, U.S. Navy