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The L-8 Blimp Mystery

by Doug MacGowan

It began as a routine military mission.

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 enemy submarines. In California, searching for Japanese subs was undertaken by missions directed from Moffett Field, about 25 miles south of San Francisco. Under Moffett’s umbrella, many blimps took off from and landed at a special airfield on Treasure Island, located in the San Francisco Bay.

l-8 blimp

What happened to the 2 crew members of the L-8 Blimp? (National Archives)

On August 16, 1942, one of these submarine missions took off from Treasure Island with two crew members: Ernest Cody and Charles Adams. The blimp they were piloting was the L-8, which had made such missions before. Both men were experienced in these reconnaissance missions and nothing but a routine trip was expected.

The destination of the early morning trip was the Farallon Islands, about 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco. The blimp would circle the islands and then return to base.

One hour into the flight, the L-8 radioed back to Treasure Island that they had detected a possible oil spill and that they were going to investigate further.

Two ships saw the 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 was around noon when people on a beach near the city of Daly City were thrown into a panic as the L-8 crashed into some rocks along the shore and then bounced back up into the sky. The blimp would finally come to rest on a busy street in that city. Running to the wreckage, the potential rescuers were shocked to find the blimp’s cockpit empty.

The investigation looked for clues once it had been firmly determined that neither Cody nor Adams were anywhere on board. Investigators noticed that one of the doors had been propped open. This was unusual, but all of the necessary equipment was in working order. The parachutes and life raft were still stowed in their correct places. Two of the life vests 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.

The biggest mystery was why neither of the men had radioed for help during whatever crisis had ensued, as the radio was in perfect order.

All sorts of theories were proposed: a fight broke out between the two men and they fell out that open door, they were somehow captured by the enemy, even the old standby of UFOs was suggested.

The blimp was removed from its crash position but the subsequent investigation yielded no clues. Years went by and the L-8 was eventually repaired and would stay in service until 1982. Most of its duties after the crash were for non-military endeavors and it was even used to broadcast sporting events for television in its last days.

Not a trace of Cody or Adams was ever found. The L-8 blimp mystery remained a secret to the end.

“The Ghost Ship,” Beacon Journal
August 16, 1942, ghostblimp.com, pulled May 14, 2013

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