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The Star Dust Mystery

Article #285 • Written by Matt Castle

The passenger manifest for British South American Airlines (BSAA) flight CS-59 might have made a perfect character list for a murder-mystery. Aboard were two businessman friends touring South America on the lookout for trade opportunities: a fun-loving Swiss and a self-made English executive. Also travelling were a Palestinian man who was rumoured to have a diamond stitched into his jacket, and a South American agent of the Dunlop tyre company who had once been the tutor to Prince Michael of Romania. The oldest passenger was in her seventies, a widow of German extraction returning to her Chilean home after an inconvenient World War had unexpectedly extended her stay abroad. And to add a whiff of espionage, a member of a select corps of British civil servants known as King’s Messengers joined the flight, carrying a diplomatic bag bound for the UK embassy across the border.

The date was August 2nd, 1947, and the flight was scheduled to depart from Buenos Aires, Argentina, bound for Santiago, Chile. The intrepid voyagers were to fly in the Star Dust, a shiny Lancastrian aircraft derived from the legendary Avro Lancaster World War II bomber. Its aircrew were ex-Royal Air Force to a chap, and the machine was captained by an experienced and decorated wartime flyer named Reginald Cook. Traversing the Andes Mountains in atrocious winter weather was an undertaking that would demand all his knowledge and skills, yet the journey should have been well within the capabilities of both man and machine.

The dependable airliner could fly at speeds of 310 miles per hour and at altitudes of well over 20,000 feet— higher than most aircraft of the time and sufficient to clear the tallest peaks in the area. Reginald Cook had been recruited to the airline from the elite RAF Bomber Command Pathfinder Force, and like all BSAA pilots had received additional navigational training.

The crew maintained Morse-code radio contact with the ground for the duration of the flight, and just before it was scheduled to arrive they signalled their approach. But then a mysterious signal was received at Santiago airfield—comprising the letters "S-T-E-N-D-E-C". Aware of no such Morse abbreviation, the radioman at Santiago requested a repeat of the signal, and the same cryptic message was received twice more. This inexplicable message was the last one received from flight CS-59; it answered subsequent signals with silence, and it never arrived at its destination.

Mount Tupungato
Mount Tupungato

An extensive aerial search was mounted, while the Chilean and Argentine armies combed the area on foot. No trace of Star Dust was found. For over fifty years the disappearance ranked as one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the aviation world, and a lively and inventive mythology grew up around the incident.

The Lancastrian's vanishing act happened at a time of considerable political turmoil in South America. Deteriorating Anglo-Argentine relations held intriguing implications for the contents of the diplomatic bag carried by the King's Messenger; sabotage might have been a convenient way to ensure that it never arrived at its destination. Furthermore, it was hard to ignore the presence of a German-born woman on the flight at a time when American and British authorities were becoming increasingly frustrated with Argentina’s tendency to welcome Nazi criminals fleeing from war-torn Europe. There were myriad ways a Palestinian connection could be worked into a decent conspiracy theory-- and no doubt the Romanian Royal family too-- while the presence of businessmen on the flight raised the spectre of corporate skulduggery.

But the provoking possibilities of the passenger list were never reinforced by any definite facts. The utter completeness of Star Dust's disappearance was so baffling that eventually even alien abduction was invoked; the 1970s Spanish UFO magazine ‘Stendek’ was named in misspelled reference to this theory. In the nearby Argentine countryside the story took on aspects of an old fashioned tall-tale, with many locals believing that somewhere in them-thar mountains was an aeroplane wreck from whose broken hold gold bullion spilled forth onto the rocky, frozen slopes. More sober-headed individuals considered the possibility that the aircraft had simply over-flown Chile entirely and ditched in the Pacific Ocean.

In 1998, two climbers spotted something out-of-place on the lower reaches of a glacier 15,000 feet up on Mount Tupungato, about fifty miles east of Santiago. A piece of machinery was lying on the ice, engraved with the letters "OLLS-ROYCE." Lying around were strips of decidedly unfashionable pinstripe cloth, and mangled pieces of metal. Although the site was remote and inaccessible, there had been previous visitors to the mountain in the last fifty years-- but no reports of any wreckage like this.

They mentioned the discovery on their return, and others quickly picked up on its significance. Tantalized by the prospect of solving the Star Dust mystery, a joint military-civilian expedition of local mountaineers tried to re-visit the location the following year. They were beaten back by a vicious ice storm, so it wasn't until January 2000 that the same team finally returned to the area. Not long after arriving at the base of Tupungato glacier, Sergeant Cardozo of the Argentine Army, and civilian climber Alejo Moiso, dropped to their knees in prayer. They had found the evidence they were looking for: aircraft debris and body parts, gruesomely altered by years of exposure to the cold and grinding ice. Soon they found identifiable wreckage, such as the Rolls-Royce engine and an Avro propeller, and they realized that this was indeed Star Dust's final resting place.

The story excited great interest in Argentina, Britain, and across the world. In the ensuing weeks a much larger expedition was mounted by the Argentine Army with the aim of further documenting the discovery and recovering the human remains. Myriad journalists and a team of BBC documentary makers went in tow. Argentina’s Air Force-led Air Accident Investigation Board also became involved-- in a move smacking of inter-service rivalry, they visited the crash site by helicopter just before the Army team arrived on foot. The resulting investigations soon began to provide important pieces of the puzzle, and for the first time a reasonable account emerged of Star Dust's last hours.

Heading for the seemingly impenetrable barrier of the Andes on a westbound track, Reginald Cook would have seen poor weather ahead. Confident in his machine, he would have climbed to near the aircraft's limit of 24,000 feet to get above both cloud and mountain peaks. As the unpressurized aircraft gained altitude, Star Dust's single flight attendant, 'Stargirl' Iris Evans, would have demonstrated the use of the cabin's oxygen tubes to the varied passengers. With no fixed ground-based navigational beacons in the area, and of course no satellite navigation, the aircrew relied on compass, stopwatch and forecast wind speeds ('dead-reckoning') to estimate their position. Experienced airmen like ex-Pathfinder Cook were capable of impressive feats of navigation using these crude tools, even while out of sight of the ground.

Presumably, after droning above the dense blanket of cloud for several hours, Cook's calculations told him that they had cleared the Andes and were nearing their destination. He started a gentle descent. The aircraft's radio operator indicated their imminent arrival at Santiago, estimated at four minutes, and tapped out the mysterious letters 'STENDEC'. Santiago’s radioman had no reason to question Star Dust's position, although the meaning of the final signal perplexed him in spite of two clear repetitions.

A good fifty miles from the airfield, Star Dust crashed into the sheer upper section of Tupungato glacier, killing the passengers and crew instantly. The impact of the collision shook the mountainside, loosening a mighty mound of snow which developed into an avalanche that swallowed the wreckage whole. Hidden from the gaze of the subsequent searchers, snowfalls in the coming years buried the debris further until eventually Star Dust became part of the glacier, entombed in ice and moving inexorably down the mountain towards warmer air. With ponderous inevitability, the remains of the Lancastrian and its occupants slowly migrated through the ice over several decades, finally emerging from the glacier's melt zone 51 years later.

Old weather charts suggest the most likely cause for Reginald Cook's colossal navigational error: they show that at the time of the flight, conditions over that part of South America were perfect for the formation of a high-speed, high-altitude wind known to modern meteorologists as a jet stream. Jet streams are relatively narrow 'rivers' of fast-flowing air which meander across the globe in both hemispheres at high altitudes, and it seems that Cook and his crew unwittingly discovered this phenomenon during their ill-fated flight. Height and speed can vary but the direction is fixed by the Coriolis effect which is caused by the Earth's rotation. The jet stream over the Andes in August 1947 was blowing west-to-east, at a speed of up to 200mph. At 24,000 feet, Star Dust would have just penetrated its lower reaches. Cook would have been totally unaware of this huge headwind; with the plane's ground speed slowed down to a pitiful crawl, flight CS-59 had not even crested the Andes, let alone got near its destination, at the time of its 'dead-reckoned' arrival at Santiago.

During the war there were inklings of this meteorological phenomenon. In Europe high-flying Allied aircraft had occasionally come across inexplicable high-velocity winds, while in the Pacific theatre the effect was better recognized, with the USAAF's early efforts to bomb Japan at altitude being foiled by bafflingly brisk west-to-east breezes. The Japanese themselves made use of those self-same air streams for their little-known balloon-bombing campaign of the American mainland. But it was to take over a decade for these observations to be drawn together into a coherent theory, capable of successfully predicting the location and characteristics of these powerful globe-spanning forces. To Captain Reginald Cook and the other occupants of Star Dust, this exotic 'jet stream' would have been hardly more feasible than spotting a UFO.

It seems that the diverse backgrounds of the passengers on that fateful flight were simply a reflection of South America's turbulent post-war era, and nothing more. Yet there is one final mystery to keep the conspiracy theorists entertained. Despite numerous conjectures, the meaning of the final 'STENDEC' transmission has never been satisfactorily explained. And although the aforementioned account is the most scientifically plausible explanation, nobody knows for certain what happened that cold August afternoon. Star Dust's emergence from the belly of a glacier was unexpected to say the least-- yet some of its secrets are likely to remain buried forever.

Article written by Matt Castle, published on 30 July 2007. Matt is a writer and contributing editor for Damn Interesting, and not quite an anagram of 'Clam Taste'.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows. Edited by Alan Bellows.
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116 Comments
raycombs
Posted 30 July 2007 at 01:37 pm

Never heard of this, very interesting.

Oh yeah and........................

FIRST!!!


Radiatidon
Posted 30 July 2007 at 01:58 pm

Saw this on... I think it was Discovery. It was an interesting piece indeed. The impact of the craft was fierce enough to reduce the human occupants into small pieces indeed. Reminds me of the commercial DC-3 flight that crashed into one of the Tetons in Wyoming. Dangerous and almost impossible to get to, the crash was left alone once it was discovered that there were no survivors. For years you could see the sun reflecting off the wreckage.

That incident also inspired a movie called “The Mountain” starring Robert Wagner who climbs to loot the wreckage and Spencer Tracy, who plays his father.


Helazoid
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:09 pm

Thanks for the DI article Matt.


EVERYTHINGZEN
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:10 pm

Very damned interesting. Were they able to recover and confirm the identities of those on board (or parts of those on board)?

I have heard several times that people in airplanes actually survive in much better shape than one would think after crashing, but then I read things like this and have to wonder...I would think at even 100 miles an hour, which is about 40 miles an hour slower than most airplanes descend to land, you could get pretty torn up if you crash.

Very cool that they finally found the wreckage though. Great article Matt!


ggnutsc
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:23 pm

It's probably better to find this after all of these years than to find a bunch of skeletons who survived a crash only to die on a glacier. This was a good interesting read for late in the day at work before heading home.


Hayley
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:30 pm

I'm wondering if the message was maybe an abbreviation for a signal in another language that maybe the recievers didn't recognize. But I'm sure someone would have figured it out by now if it was, right?


dubyamd
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:42 pm

perhaps the captain was dyslexic and was trying to say "DESCENT" instead of STENDEC... hrmmm...


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:50 pm

DI again old chum!


justjim1
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:56 pm

Damned interesting indeed! This is one remarkable tale... something nice to tell around the camp fire on a cool summer evening.


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 30 July 2007 at 02:59 pm

'tyre' tee hee!


rev.felix
Posted 30 July 2007 at 03:09 pm

- .-. ..- .-.. -.-- / -... .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. --. .-.-.- / .. / .-- --- -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .-- . / .-- .. .-.. .-.. / . ...- . .-. / ..-. .. --. ..- .-. . / --- ..- - / - .... . / -- . .- -. .. -. --. / --- ..-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-.


Spike
Posted 30 July 2007 at 03:22 pm

Damn Interesting, Mr. Castle. Great mystery to ponder on a rainy afternoon complete with rumbling thunder. Really interesting, though, was the whole being swallowed up by the glacier. Where do you guys find this stuff?

Love it.


tednugentkicksass
Posted 30 July 2007 at 03:37 pm

Radiatidon said: "Saw this on… I think it was Discovery..."

Don, you know someting about everything. Damn.

About the whole "Stendec" thing-- could somebody's oxygen supply have been messed up? I'd think it would be pretty hard to send any message in morse while deprived of oxygen. Just an un-educated thought.


Radiatidon
Posted 30 July 2007 at 03:43 pm

EVERYTHINGZEN said: "Very damned interesting. Were they able to recover and confirm the identities of those on board (or parts of those on board)?"

ggnutsc said: "It's probably better to find this after all of these years than to find a bunch of skeletons who survived a crash only to die on a glacier."

When the mountain climbers first discovered the plane engine (one of four) they also discovered a women’s mummified hand. The discovery expedition (since rescue is a moot point) found various body parts (many unidentifiable, but definitely organic and human) including two left hipbones (thus possible identification of the two women) and a foot in a shoe. From the condition of the remains, they speculated that none on board suffered since death was basically instantaneous and brutal.

The main landing gear was intact with only minor damage, indicating that it was retracted not extended for say an emergency landing. One wheel was still, amazingly inflated. A prop discovered showed signs of severe damage indicating that at least this engine was running normally without problems at point-of-impact.

Hayley said: "I'm wondering if the message was maybe an abbreviation for a signal in another language that maybe the recievers didn't recognize. But I'm sure someone would have figured it out by now if it was, right?"

For STENDEC various theories have arisen. One was by slightly changing the spacing in the message, and dropping a Morse code dot, you get ”E.T.A. Late”, an easy mistake to make. Another theory is that the letters e & c share the same number of dots & dashes as a & r which is the standard for ”end of message.”

Even so, it still does not explain the first part of the message. Since abbreviations are not a standard used in Morse Code, none have really delved into this possibility.

dubyamd said: "perhaps the captain was dyslexic and was trying to say "DESCENT" instead of STENDEC… hrmmm…"

tednugentkicksass said: "Don, you know someting about everything. Damn.

About the whole "Stendec" thing– could somebody's oxygen supply have been messed up? I'd think it would be pretty hard to send any message in morse while deprived of oxygen. Just an un-educated thought."

A possibility worth considering since the altitude of the craft was in thin atmosphere and the operator was suffering oxygen starvation due to his mask malfunctioning and cabin pressure loss.

Well, could explain why no one will play Trivia Pursuit with me. Though I suck at sports questions. ;)


Radiatidon
Posted 30 July 2007 at 03:47 pm

Radiatidon said: "When the mountain climbers first discovered the plane engine (one of four) they also discovered a women’s mummified hand. The discovery expedition (since rescue is a moot point) found various body parts (many unidentifiable, but definitely organic and human) including two left hipbones (thus possible identification of the two women) "

Those hipbones were identified as being from two different females, sorry 'bout that.


Meathammer
Posted 30 July 2007 at 05:13 pm

As always, well done.

EVERYTHINGZEN said: "Very damned interesting..."

Now, this is interesting and I wonder why this hasn't come up till now. What is the DI approved way to say this?

Now, I'm no English major, but this is my take on it. "Damn Interesting" would be the same as "very interesting", right? But "Damned Interesting".....Perhaps something that is so interesting, that prying into it's interestingness condemns you soul to Hell.

Yeah, I know I said interestingness. I don't care. I like it. It's better than interestiality.

So there.


Meathammer
Posted 30 July 2007 at 05:42 pm

As far as STENDEC goes, it's a little known fact that the captian had a sled as a child made by the STENDEC Manufacturing Company...

...or maybe I saw that in a movie somewhere...


Xiphos
Posted 30 July 2007 at 06:12 pm

I was thinking about the oxygen starvation as well . . . except they repeated the signal twice. I would have thought that incoherency wouldn't be consistent.


jerry maxwell
Posted 30 July 2007 at 06:54 pm

i really think dubyamd had it right. they were on final...what makes me wonder though is why no radar picked the plane up. maybe the andes weren't covered then. are they now? good article.


supercalafragalistic
Posted 30 July 2007 at 07:33 pm

Did they ever find the diamond stitched into the man's jacket? What about the mysterious contents of the agent's bag? Were any photos taken of the discovery site? Wow, this really got my curiosity going and it is quite an intrigue. Thanks!


Riley
Posted 30 July 2007 at 09:05 pm

This aircraft could well have been carrying those weapons of masturbation which remain unlocated in Iraq.


Kutnicker
Posted 30 July 2007 at 10:02 pm

STENDEC -
STardust ENtering DEsCent? heh


Dr. Evil
Posted 31 July 2007 at 02:12 am

rev.felix said: "- .-. ..- .-.. -.– / -… .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. –. .-.-.- / .. / .– — -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .– . / .– .. .-.. .-.. / . …- . .-. / ..-. .. –. ..- .-. . / — ..- - / - …. . / — . .- -. .. -. –. / — ..-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-."

i think you missed a couple of dots...your message translates to TRULN TAFFLINE. I E NDER IF EE EILL ETER FIEURE UT TEE EANINE F TENDEC TENDEC TENDEC

another explanation could be that the three dots used for an 'S' have grouped into a ...


CanInternet
Posted 31 July 2007 at 03:36 am

"melt zone 51"
says it all...


FixitDave
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:23 am

Another DI read...thanks

According to http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2000/vanished_stendec.shtml

The last message was "ETA Santiago 17.45 hrs STENDEC" - if that is true oxygen depletion can't be the reason as the rest of the message is correct.

Sounds to me like a sign off message...did the pilots have code names...maybe this was his from his war days but nobody else know it as it was an automatic sign off for him.

Meathammer has said (#17) that he had a sledge with this name on...just a thought


HarleyHetz
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:34 am

Nice job Matt!!


Ahuva
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:36 am

Maybe, the pilot and radio operator had made a suicide pact. And, as they aimed towards the summit of the mountain, they glanced at each other, grinned evilly and said: "They'll never know what Stendac means. It will drive them crazy!"


Radiatidon
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:42 am

rev.felix said: "- .-. ..- .-.. -.– / -… .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. –. .-.-.- / .. / .– — -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .– . / .– .. .-.. .-.. / . …- . .-. / ..-. .. –. ..- .-. . / — ..- - / - …. . / — . .- -. .. -. –. / — ..-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-."

I doubt that we will since only the operator that sent the message truly knew what he meant. For now its just another puzzle that many will play with and ponder what the operator truly tried to say.

Oh, and you have an extra dash changing the M in meaning to an O.


wh44
Posted 31 July 2007 at 08:17 am

rev.felix said: "- .-. ..- .-.. -.– / -… .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. –. .-.-.- / .. / .– — -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .– . / .– .. .-.. .-.. / . …- . .-. / ..-. .. –. ..- .-. . / — ..- - / - …. . / — . .- -. .. -. –. / — ..-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-."

It might be better if you used a simple text editor (like Notepad) instead of Word - it translated "...", "--" and "---" into different special characters (ellipsis "…" , m-dash "–" and extra wide dash "—"). It made translating your text rather difficult. I suspect the extra dash that Radiatidon mentions came from your own correction after the fact, when you noticed that it had been turned into a single dash. Here is a corrected version of the message:

- .-. ..- .-.. -.-- / -... .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. --. .-.-.- / .. / .-- --- -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .-- . / .-- .. .-.. .-.. / . ...- . .-. / ..-. .. --. ..- .-. . / --- ..- - / - .... . / -- . .- -. .. -. --. / --- ..-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-.


wh44
Posted 31 July 2007 at 08:22 am

Damn! Sorry rev.felix: it wasn't Word, it is the web-site. The "preview" showed everything correctly, but my corrected post has the same problem with special characters.

Alan: you should see if you can fix the preview function to show the same thing as the final post, or perhaps just turning off this "feature".


Dave
Posted 31 July 2007 at 08:45 am

Could STENDEC, with a slight change of the third letter, become StanDec (as if in Standard Decent)? All that would take is either the operator missing the ending of a dash (thus, turning the "a" into an "e"), or the receiver missing the dash.

It might be interesting to find out what kind of radio equipment was on the plane (as well as the ground). Was the transmitter crystal controlled or VFO controlled? Could a crystal have been slow to start oscillating? Could a relay (or the key) have had a dirty contact (possibly dropping a dash, or extending it into the start of the "n")? Could the receiver have been hit with noise which blanked a dash?

Dave


Dakart
Posted 31 July 2007 at 08:55 am

I'm with Kutnicker. That sounds like the most logical meaning to me.


Matt Castle
Posted 31 July 2007 at 08:55 am

One of my main sources for the article was a transcript of the BBC Horizon documentary screened in the UK in 2000, and in the US on PBS Nova in 2001. Both the linked BBC site and the Nova Online site summarize the main STENDEC theories, and the Nova site has a good selection of readers/viewers' theories too:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vanished/

It really does seem to be a genuine mystery... with maybe a Morse code error somewhere at its heart. But at the end of the day I can't put it better than:

Radiatidon said: "...only the operator that sent the message truly knew what he meant. "

Jay Rayner's 'Star Dust Falling' is a good read for those who want more detail about the crash, particularly on the background-- unfortunately it's out of print, but there are a few second hand copies that can be snapped up on Amazon. It contains a lot about the airline, BSAA -- one of British Airway's precursor companies-- which had an appalling safety record, including a couple of aircraft that went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. The airline's chief was the former head of the RAF Pathfinders, Don Bennett, who basically carried through a wartime risk-taking ethos into the running of his civilian airline, with disastrous results (although there's no reason to suggest this was a factor in the Star Dust crash).


Lisette
Posted 31 July 2007 at 10:23 am

This is an awesome article - DI indeed.

Reminded me of my scariest movie growing up - the one where the plane crashes into a mountain and the survivors take to cannibalism. Forgot the name... probably blocked it out.


struthersneil
Posted 31 July 2007 at 10:43 am

Interesting stuff.

Something else to consider--remove one dash at the end, ignore timings, and STENDEC becomes STALL...

...-.-.-...-.-.

...-.-.-...-..

Of course anyone familiar with morse would probably have laughed out loud when I said 'ignore timings'...


Radiatidon
Posted 31 July 2007 at 02:55 pm

A lot of folks have put forth some good possible insights that this was an abbreviated sentence. The only problem is that in its day, there was a strict, standard use for Morse code. Due to how the system works, to use off-the-cuff abbreviations would result in misrepresentation of the true message. So entire words, code specific acronyms, or ”Q” codes were sent to ensure a correct message received. That is why the message received was so confusing. It is not a true word in any language, or a normal acronym in use at the time.

As a trained professional, it is very doubtful that the operator would have sent an abbreviated message outside of SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Also since it was resent three different times, not a distress signal.

wh44 said: "Damn! Sorry rev.felix: it wasn't Word, it is the web-site. The "preview" showed everything correctly, but my corrected post has the same problem with special characters.

Alan: you should see if you can fix the preview function to show the same thing as the final post, or perhaps just turning off this "feature"."

Alas it depends on the web-browser in use, then there is the monitor, viewer settings, rendering software… will all show various aspects of a web-page differently.

My system showed the Morse Code in basically the same style and format both in pre-view and web-page. Which is why I caught the extra “Dash” in Rev.Felix’s message. That also explains why Dr Evil’s prior message was confusing to me. I thought you were being facetious. ;)

Lisette said: "Reminded me of my scariest movie growing up - the one where the plane crashes into a mountain and the survivors take to cannibalism. Forgot the name… probably blocked it out."

Lisette, that movie was called Alive. It was based on the true story of the Uruguay Rugby Team that crashed in the Andes in 1972, and how they survived the ordeal. They did not resort to murder, only to consuming the dead. They started with non-family members. Sad really.


Nicki the Heinous
Posted 31 July 2007 at 03:22 pm

Lisette, there is an article on DI related to cannibalism you should read. It's called 'The Taste of Human Flesh, Without the Guilt' or something along those lines.


rev.felix
Posted 31 July 2007 at 04:09 pm

Sheesh, remind me never to try speaking in Morse Code over the internet again. I guess that's why they made keyboards.


Meathammer
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:00 pm

...Meathammer has said (#17) that he had a sledge with this name on…just a thought"

LOL, sorry, that was my suttle attempt at a joke. I was referencing Citizen Cane. "Rosebud" and all that.

Oh well, maybe next time....=)


Meathammer
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:05 pm

struthersneil said: "Of course anyone familiar with morse would probably have laughed out loud when I said 'ignore timings'…"

Uhh...Yeah....haha...umm...I know..I did...uhh...ignore timings....good one...

;)


oldmancoyote
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:27 pm

I believe I read somewhere that DNA was campared to family members to help confirm identities in some of the cases. DI, Matt. I don't know how I would like flying passenger in a Lancaster. One wrong lever pulled, bomb bay doors open and there goes your luggage.


tednugentkicksass
Posted 31 July 2007 at 06:39 pm

oldmancoyote said: "I believe I read somewhere that DNA was campared to family members to help confirm identities in some of the cases. DI, Matt. I don't know how I would like flying passenger in a Lancaster. One wrong lever pulled, bomb bay doors open and there goes your luggage."

You could make a game of it though... I'm thinking RAF Roullette.


MoleOfProduction
Posted 31 July 2007 at 07:33 pm

But then a mysterious signal was received:

rev.felix said: "- .-. ..- .-.. -.– / -… .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. –. .-.-.- / .. / .– — -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .– . / .– .. .-.. .-.. / . …- . .-. / ..-. .. –. ..- .-. . / — ..- - / - …. . / — . .- -. .. -. –. / — ..-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-."

Aware of no such Morse abbreviation, the DI readers requested a repeat of the signal, and the same cryptic message was received twice more . . .


jenrie
Posted 31 July 2007 at 09:34 pm

MoleOfProduction said: "But then a mysterious signal was received:

Aware of no such Morse abbreviation, the DI readers requested a repeat of the signal, and the same cryptic message was received twice more . . ."

Ha HA


nona
Posted 01 August 2007 at 05:23 am

I remember reading about this ages ago. From what I can remember, the company, BSAA, had a fleet of these Lancastrians, all called STAR something - and they kept crashing/disappearing. I think this was the most mysterious one, but BSAA planes just kept dropping out of the sky. The company folded, eventually - they just seemed to be too jinxed.


Trykt
Posted 01 August 2007 at 07:40 am

I think we've properly debunked the "delirious message" theory and the mis-sent distress call theory.

The fact that minor changes can be made to the bleeps and bloops (dots and dashes) to create more decipherable messages is interesting to say the least. But considering that the person sending the message was highly trained and highly experienced in what he was doing I find it implausible that he would make that error easily, let alone the same error 3 times in a row.

We can safely assume that those on the plane did not believe themselves to be in any danger so it's likely that the message's meaning, however unclear, was benign.

By all means, continue the speculation though! Damn interesting.


Lisette
Posted 01 August 2007 at 09:49 am

Yes! Alive. That was it... thanks Radiatidon.

And Nicki the heinous.... 'The Taste of Human Flesh, Without the Guilt' eeeuuuwww.... disgusting!


Kao_Valin
Posted 01 August 2007 at 10:35 am

I'd tend to lean toward the idea that the STENDEC was either a call sign or the O2 was gettin to him. Although user error is plenty possible being someone who is experienced can often repeat the same mistakes over due to conditioning (like a bad habit). For instance, I know damn well tomorrow isnt spelled "tommorow" but it doesnt keep me from typing it that way accidentally. The sender couldve been thinking anything and sending something completely different. The important thing is no one is going to really know unless they know... ya know?


Lauri the Lapanen
Posted 01 August 2007 at 01:02 pm

The theory about oxy deprivation sounds feasible. Tried it accidentaly once and send an sms full of gibberish. At that point we noticed to vent the tent...

But can somebody who really knows about morse tell that is it possible for letters to "fall out"? Lets say stendec would originally have been istendec - "is ten decrease". Or has it been known that morse could have had a dialect? For example the word "is" being replaced with just the 's'.

Flabbergasteringly smackingly damn interesting! Thank you Matt!


tarteauxpommes
Posted 01 August 2007 at 01:39 pm

Whoa, this is really cool. This is one of those times where I realize there are a lot more things I don't know than I'd like to think. It makes me feel stupid, yet in awe. DI, Monsieur Castle!


Meathammer
Posted 01 August 2007 at 03:45 pm

Lauri the Lapanen said: "...Flabbergasteringly smackingly damn interesting..."

HOORAY!


Dave Group
Posted 01 August 2007 at 05:37 pm

I'm not so sure that the STENDEC part of the story is genuine; I had always thought that it had been added later by a writer who was careless or wanted to inject a little bit of sensationalism to the story. I suspect that a bit of investigation will uncover a truth far more mundane than what has been reported. Anyone who has read books on the Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz or Richard Winer will know what I am talking about (especially if you've done your own research or compared their books to Kusche's The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-- Solved!). And speaking of the Bermuda Triangle, the loss of the Star Tiger in 1948 and Star Ariel in 1949 over the Atlantic was the death knell for the Tudor IV aircraft, despite their excellent track record.


SoxSweepAgain
Posted 01 August 2007 at 06:40 pm

I LOVE this site.

STENDEC: "Stardust In Descent"?


NDNdad
Posted 01 August 2007 at 07:29 pm

Dammit...I think it deleted my post(what do you expect with buggy Vista lol)

STENDEC=Stardust Twin Engine Now Descending (with) Extreme Caution?

Seems plausible considering the situation(or what was perceived as the situation by the pilot). Before hand they had told the tower what their supposed position was and were basically saying, "We are preparing to descend but I can't see anything in this pea soup so keep an eye out for us in case we need a VERY quick heads-up."

BTW, as always...damn interesting article and hello to all the regulars.


Kao_Valin
Posted 02 August 2007 at 07:40 am

Maybe the STENDEC message was from some punk kid. Could've been a little chitlin screwing with the control tower.


Hank
Posted 02 August 2007 at 08:04 am

Here's a possible explanation for the STENDEC message:

If you shift some (2) of the pauses in the Morse Code for this word, it changes into STAR AR.
Possibly, the sender intended to send an arrival message, but the person receiving it simply made an error in where he put the pauses.
I'm not too familiar with the art of Morse Code communication, but this seems like an easy error to make if the sender and receiever are not familiar with each other's style of coding.
Also, STAR AR seems like a plausible (shorthand) message to send under the circumstances.
What do you think?


harking
Posted 02 August 2007 at 08:45 am

From the Jet Stream Wikipedia article: "... air currents found in the atmosphere at around 11 kilometres (36,000 ft) above the surface of the Earth."

36,000 feet is much higher than the maximum possible height of the Star Dust.


Hank
Posted 02 August 2007 at 09:03 am

Lauri the Lapanen said: "The theory about oxy deprivation sounds feasible. Tried it accidentaly once and send an sms full of gibberish. At that point we noticed to vent the tent…


But can somebody who really knows about morse tell that is it possible for letters to "fall out"? Lets say stendec would originally have been istendec - "is ten decrease". Or has it been known that morse could have had a dialect? For example the word "is" being replaced with just the 's'.

Flabbergasteringly smackingly damn interesting! Thank you Matt!"

Take a look at my comment on Morse Code (see Hank). Possibly the receiving operator just misunderstood the placement of the "pauses" between Morse Code symbols. If 2 pauses are shifted by only one place, the new message becomes, "STAR AR"; a very plausible (shorthand) arrival message! If the operator got it wrong the first time thru, it's likely he interpreted the repeats the same way. No? Yes?


Radiatidon
Posted 02 August 2007 at 11:31 am

Hank said: "Take a look at my comment on Morse Code (see Hank). Possibly the receiving operator just misunderstood the placement of the "pauses" between Morse Code symbols. If 2 pauses are shifted by only one place, the new message becomes, "STAR AR"; a very plausible (shorthand) arrival message! If the operator got it wrong the first time thru, it's likely he interpreted the repeats the same way. No? Yes?"

In answer to your question Hank... No.

A strict guideline was set down by the international community for communication protocol Reason being that communication needed to be understandable no matter if the sender and receiver spoke the same language or not. They also did not like the US version of Morse Code (labeled Railroad Morse) and created the International Morse Code now used worldwide today. Reason was the original US version was considered clunky, and with the “blank signal” in letters like the “C” could cause confusion.

Here is the American vs International Code. I hope it formats correctly once I post it.

MORSE CODE CONTINENTAL CODE
CHARACTER: AMERICAN MORSE INTERNATIONAL CODE

A * - * -
B - * * * - * * *
C * * * - * - *
D - * * - * *
E * *
F * - * * * - *
G - - * - - *
H * * * * * * * *
I * * * *
J - * - * * - - -
K - * - - * -
L ---- * - * *
M - - - -
N - * - *
O * * - - -
P * * * * * * - - *
Q * * - * - - * -
R * * * * - *
S * * * * * *
T - -
U * * - * * -
V * * * - * * * -
W * - - * - -
X * - * * - * * -
Y * * * * - * - -
Z * * * * - - * *

1 * - - * * - - - -
2 * * - * * * * - - -
3 * * * - * * * * - -
4 * * * * - * * * * -
5 - - - * * * * *
6 * * * * * * - * * * *
7 - - * * - - * * *
8 - * * * * - - - * *
9 - * * - - - - - *
0 ------ - - - - -

Period * * - - * * * - * - * -
Comma * - * - - - * * - -
Question - * * - * * * - - * *

For instance the Germans submitted the letters SOE for a nautical emergency. It was turned down due to the possible mistype of the letter E. Instead the universally known SOS (which means Sink Out of Sight not Save Our Ship) was adopted due to the simplicity of the Mores Code for those letters.

STAR AR would not have been used. Aircraft were identified by their markings. Star Dust (a fancy name given the ship by the owner to make it more romantic) was identified by the call letters G-AGWH. This series of letters identified type of aircraft and country of origin and were used for this one aircraft and none other.

Reason for this; consider how many different companies in how many different countries could have/would have named any type of aircraft, Star Dust?

So a trained Radio Operator would not have delved into English abbreviations, since doing such would probably have confused not only an English-speaking operator, but also one that spoke Spanish or another language. If you are multilingual you would understand how abbreviations, short handed language phrases, or slang does not translate well.


Radiatidon
Posted 02 August 2007 at 11:39 am

Nope, stripped out my blank spaces. So how about this;

CHARACTER: AMERICAN MORSE INTERNATIONAL CODE

A (* -) (* -)
B (- * * *) (- * * *)
C (* * *) (- * - *)
D (- * *) (- * *)
E (*) (*)
F (* - *) (* * - *)
G (- - *) (- - *)
H (* * * *) (* * * *)
I (* *) (* *)
J (- * - *) (* - - -)
K (- * -) (- * -)
L (----) (* - * *)
M (- -) (- -)
N (- *) (- *)
O (* *) (- - -)
P (* * * * *) (* - - *)
Q (* * - *) (- - * -)
R (* * *) (* - *)
S (* * *) (* * *)
T (- ) (-)
U (* * -) (* * -)
V (* * * -) (* * * -)
W (* - -) (* - -)
X (* - * *) (- * * -)
Y (* * * *) (- * - -)
Z (* * * *) (- - * *)

1 (* - - *) (* - - - - )
2 (* * - * *) (* * - - -)
3 (* * * - *) (* * * - -)
4 (* * * * -) (* * * * -)
5 (- - -) (* * * * *)
6 (* * * * * *) (- * * * *)
7 (- - * *) (- - * * *)
8 (- * * * *) (- - - * *)
9 (- * * -) (- - - - *)
0 (------) (- - - - -)

Period (* * - - * *) (* - * - * -)
Comma (* - * -) (- - * * - -)
Question (- * * - *) (* * - - * *)


Radiatidon
Posted 02 August 2007 at 11:52 am

Crud, now I’m doing it. I deleted the pause in the following letters;

Original American Morse.

C (** *)
O (* *)
R (* **)
Y (** **)
Z (*** *)

And these letters were a long dash (represented by +, which equaled four dashes but the key was held down during a normal 4 beat), not a series as I misrepresented above. Sorry for the confusion.

L (+)
Number 0 (+ - -)


Radiatidon
Posted 02 August 2007 at 12:28 pm

SoxSweepAgain said: "I LOVE this site.


STENDEC: "Stardust In Descent"?"

Nope. See my previous post.

NDNdad said: "STENDEC=Stardust Twin Engine Now Descending (with) Extreme Caution?"

Nope. The Star Dust was a Quad engine aircraft. Operator would not use aircraft name in transmission, he would have use aircraft signature ,G-AGWH, EC was not a code used in trasmission for aircraft at that time.


Radiatidon
Posted 02 August 2007 at 01:30 pm

harking said: "From the Jet Stream Wikipedia article: "… air currents found in the atmosphere at around 11 kilometres (36,000 ft) above the surface of the Earth."


36,000 feet is much higher than the maximum possible height of the Star Dust."

First I would only take what is printed in the Wikipedia with a grain of salt. You should always compare with other sources.

Actually there are both high-level jet streams and low-level jet streams.

The Earth’s atmosphere is broken down into various layers. The layer we exist in is called the troposphere extending from the ground to about 6 miles or 10 km. This height varies from the equator to the poles. The next layer is called the Stratosphere. It is the temperature variances between these two layers that create the jet streams that pilots usually encounter during high-level commercial flight.

The height of the jet stream is affected by time of year, temperature variances, and ground obstructions (read mountains vs. oceans). Just as a rock in a stream can affect the surface (creating both a rise and dip of the water flow over it) so do mountains affect the height of the jet stream and how it moves. The jet stream has been monitored dipping well within the maximum flight ceiling of medium altitude aircraft such as the Star Dust.

Ask an Expert
NASA


Radiatidon
Posted 02 August 2007 at 01:49 pm

Sheese, I really should not be doing this with other projects. I corrected the Ask An Expert link.


Spudhead
Posted 02 August 2007 at 03:19 pm

I’d suggest that “STENDEC” is a code phrase meant for someone other than the air traffic controller.

Number one: we can probably rule out the idea that “STENDEC” was sent in error; the fact it was sent three times indicates the radio operator sent it deliberately.

Number two: “STENDEC” doesn’t seem to be any kind of standard acronym or abbreviation – and radio operators are not encouraged to make up these things on their own.

Number three: there's no reason the air traffic controller had to be the only one monitoring this frequency; at the very least, I'd suspect BSAA's ground crew in Santiago did so as well. And given what it was like to tune (and retune) those old radios, it would make sense to send this message on the same frequency you'd been using all along.

Number four: most of the codes I’ve run across from this era use a five-letter group. Add “ST” (for “Star Dust”) to indicate who’s sending this message, and you have “STENDEC.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean the Star Dust was on a spy mission – lots of companies used codes back (not least because it was a good way to save money on telegraph bills). STENDEC may have meant nothing more, in other words, then “message from Star Dust to BSAA's office in Santiago: tell the ground crew we’re going to need more coffee.”

Then again, it’s tempting to think MI-6 had someone on the ground in Santiago . . . someone who’d been monitoring air traffic control frequencies, waiting for the coded signal that would tell him “mission accomplished – we’ve successfully photographed Argentina’s border defenses; meet us at the airport so that you can pick up the film.”

And having heard the magic phrase “STENDEC,” he drives to the airport . . . only to wait. And to wait. And to wait. And to wait.


Spudhead
Posted 02 August 2007 at 03:21 pm

"Back then" -- I meant to say that lots of companies used codes "back then."


Meathammer
Posted 02 August 2007 at 08:50 pm

Soon To END Electronic Communication

HEY! NOT BAD! I was actually trying to make a joke out of STENDEC, some kind of silly acronym, and this is what I get.


Jeffrey93
Posted 03 August 2007 at 06:20 am

STENDEC - Secrets To Existing Nazis Destroyed, Executing Crash

Remember.....all of this is based on what the ground operator heard or thought he heard. Not only could the radio operator on the Stardust have botched the message but the ground operator might have screwed up too.
If the transmission was as it was intended....it's a code word for something. We're kind of assuming it came from the radio operator and not one of the passengers committing espionage/sabotage.


Jeffrey93
Posted 03 August 2007 at 06:23 am

Existing could be Escaping.


kjdsahf
Posted 03 August 2007 at 05:28 pm

ST - Star Dust
E - En route
N - Notify
D - Diplomat
E - English
C - Consulate


tednugentkicksass
Posted 04 August 2007 at 12:49 am

my personal STENographer needed to DECode this message. I'm sure that was what they meant. It makes perfect sense.


jpvillab
Posted 04 August 2007 at 02:28 pm

Funny, Im related to the Chilean widow who was on the flight, she was in Germany getting the ashes of her recently deceased husband.


Haywood Jablome
Posted 06 August 2007 at 08:42 am

I love DI articles like this. Lady Be Good is my all time favorite but this one was pretty damn good.


S0122017
Posted 06 August 2007 at 10:15 am

STEN was a WWII abbreviation for a submachinegun, DEC is sometimes used for DEC Design Error Check.

I suppose it couldnt be that.. they kept machineguns on board as standard compagny policy... (to protect themselves from nazis??) which had a nasty little design flaw... causing them to explode at high altitudes?


S0122017
Posted 06 August 2007 at 10:29 am

Perhaps my suggestion isnt as crazy as intented.

"The MK II and MK III Stens could accidentally discharge if dropped whilst the gun was cocked. This was particularly true of early Stens using bronze bolts, where the sear projection underneath the bolt could wear down more easily than ones made of case-hardened steel."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sten


S0122017
Posted 07 August 2007 at 06:29 am

Hmm... neh. Its still crazy.


davidh
Posted 09 August 2007 at 02:29 pm

The plane's final message at 17:41 hrs, "ETA Santiago 17.45 hrs STENDEC", conveys no sense of urgency that might indicate an emergency. Even upon being questioned by the ground station and repeating, "STENDEC, STENDEC" there is no apparent emergency indicated.

We can therefore conclude that the message was of a routine nature. The mystery of the meaning of STENDEC should be looked at with the assumption that it was a routine communication conveying routine information.

The radioman on the plane was ex-RAF with 3 years ground experience in the RAF and 615 hours with the airline, including six crossings of the Andes. Apparently his familiarity with the route and procedures may have led him to use non-standard abbreviations thinking that the receiver would know what he meant.

Apparently that was not the case, or a different operator was on duty who did not pick up on the meaning of STENDEC.

Theories abound on the meaning of the word, mostly relying on the supposition that "dits" or "dahs" were dropped or added, or put in the wrong order. This is very unlikelys since the radioman was a trained operator and especially since the same word was transmitted the same way three times. It is far more likely that the correct sequence of "dits" and dahs" were sent, but misheard by the receiver who was unfamiliar with the radioman's sending.

"STENDEC" in Morse Code is: dit-dit-dit / dah / dit / dah-dit / dah-dit-dit / dit / dah-dit-dah-dit

I think it most likely that this was a misreading of the sequence of code which should have been:

dit-dit-dit / dah / dit-dah-dit / dah-dit-dit / dit-dah / dit-dah-dit , or "STRD AR" - STaRDust AR." AR is standard Morse code for "end of message" and has the same sequence as EC. It is always sent as a single stream rather than two separate letters. Therefore AR and EC are the same - dit-dah-dit-dah-dit.

The final message was "ETA Santiago 17.45 hrs STRD AR", or "Estimated Time of Arrival Santiago, 17:45 hours, Star Dust, end of message."


Meathammer
Posted 10 August 2007 at 06:12 pm

@ davidh

Wow, good job.....ya show off.

=)


jrvwagner
Posted 11 August 2007 at 01:50 am

For me one of these is what was coded:

. . . / - / . / - . / - . . / . / - . - . / (S T E N D E C)

. . . / - / . - . / - . . / . - . - . / ( STRD = STARDUST ) + (AR = END OF MESSAGE)

. . . /- / . - /. - . / . / - . - . / (STAR = STARDUST ) + (E = AND) + (AR = END OF MESSAGE)

The message was sent too fast and the tower confused the spaces.

Sorry my english.

José Roberto Wagner


thisismyseriousside!
Posted 14 August 2007 at 12:11 pm

Loved the story....love the comments even better. DI stuff. You guys are my new bestest friends and heros, seriously. Glad I found this site.


the_abyss
Posted 14 August 2007 at 10:25 pm

Dunno about the original, but the message as a new meaning:

STENDEC= Stop Talking Errotically Now. Definitely End Code-cracking!!

Good story and DI. i think the name of the plane is interesting though. Star Dust just sounds so fishy. and clichéd .


davidh
Posted 15 August 2007 at 08:31 pm

Star Dust may sound fishy to you but that's the way it was.

The airline had a number of planes, all with names starting with "Star"

They were (type of aircraft, registration letters and name):

Avro Tudor Freighter 1

G-AGRG Star Cressida'

G-AGRH (not named)

Avro 688 Tudor 4 and 4B

G-AGRE Star Ariel

G-AGRF (not named)

G-AHNI Star Olivia

G-AHNJ Star Panther

G-AHNK Star Lion

G-AHNN Star Leopard

G-AHNP Star Tiger

Avro 689 Tudor 5

G-AKBZ Star Falcon

G-AKCA Star Hawk

G-AKCB Star Kestrel

G-AKCC Star Swift

G-AKCD Star Eagle

Avro 691 Lancastrian 2

G-AKMW Star Bright

G-AKTB Star Glory

Avro 691 Lancastrian 3

G-AGWG Star Light

G-AGWH Star Dust

G-AGWI Star Land

G-AGWJ Star Glow

G-AGWK Star Trail

G-AGWL Star Guide

G-AHCD Star Valley

Avro 691 Lancastrian 4

G-AKFF Star Flight

G-AKFG Star Traveller

Avro Lancaster Freighter

G-AGUJ Star Pilot

G-AGUK Star Gold

G-AGUL Star Watch

G-AGUM Star Ward

Avro York

G-AGJA Star Fortune

G-AGJE Star Way

G-AGNN Star Crest

G-AGNS Star Glory

G-AGNU Star Dawn

G-AGNX Lima

G-AGOC Star Path

G-AHEW Star Leader

G-AHEX Star Venture

G-AHEY Star Quest

G-AHEZ Star Speed

G-AHFA Star Dale

G-AHFB Star Stream

G-AHFC Star Dew

G-AHFD Star Mist

G-AHFE Star Vista

G-AHFF Star Gleam

G-AHFG Star Haze

G-AHFH Star Glitter


the_abyss
Posted 15 August 2007 at 10:25 pm

Fair enough davidh. Nice list- but I'd hate to be the male pilot of the last plane on it. "What plane do you pilot sir?" "I fly the very manly G-AHFH Star Glitter!"

Anyway it wasn't just the "Star" i found fishy, it was the whole "stardust" concept. just the name seemed to be condemning the plane to vapourisation, or fiery death if you know what I mean. It's more cliched than most of the others on the list too. (look, i know the plane didn't actually vapourise, but it's just a little bit of a bad omen.)


drhoz
Posted 17 August 2007 at 03:27 am

A letter to Fortean Times about this mystery pointed out that with a single length error in the Morse code, STENDEC becomes DESCENT.


mpaint33
Posted 18 August 2007 at 07:54 am

Love DI, and find this to be one of my favorite sites.
I have never commented before, but I can' t resist pointing out that this particular article has a damn interesting passenger list that simply crashes into the Andes. Not particularly DI or even an uncommon occurrence.


davidh
Posted 18 August 2007 at 08:02 am

drhoz said: "A letter to Fortean Times about this mystery pointed out that with a single length error in the Morse code, STENDEC becomes DESCENT."

Not so;
STENDEC - dit-dit-dit-dah-dah-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dit-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit
DESCENT - dah-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dah-dit-dah-dit-dit-dah-dit-dah-dah
There is no correlation between these two strings. Even if there were, the fact remains that the highly trained telegrapher sent the same message string three times.

I think it's time to put this "mystery" to rest.

(1) The same message was sent three times.

(2) The code string was sent correctly.

(3) The code string was mis-read by the receiver.

(4) The correct meaning of the message has to be derived from the code characters AS THEY WERE SENT.

(5)I go with STRD AR, which fits and has meaning. If anyone else can use the code characters to derive a different message then you probably have as much of a chance of being right as I do. Just don't add or subtract or rearrange letters to fit something that you've made up.


BSAA1947
Posted 05 September 2007 at 05:01 am

Very good article Matt, and interesting to read all the varied responses.
davidh, I like your STENDEC theories (and appreciate the fact you obviously have an interest in BSAA). My sister and I have recently written a book about BSAA, published by Sutton Publishing, and obviously researched the airline (and of course STENDEC) over a number of years. For what it's worth, my preferred interpretation (supported by a number of ex-BSAA crew) is that the message transmitted was ST AR E AR meaning STandardARrivalEastAR (AR being the signoff). This is exactly the same dots and dashes as STENDEC but with two spaces moved, and would apparently be a normal signoff message.
Incidentally, to all those who dismissed BSAA as an appallingly dangerous airline run by a man who constantly took military style risks, please don't believe all the stories you read which were written by 'non-aviation' people whose primary aim is to sensationalise and embellish the facts. The truth is often very different.


charlie4
Posted 13 September 2007 at 10:52 am

Very interesting article, especially the part about the aircraft being frozen in the glacier. The hypothesis about the jet stream is entirely plausible and highly likely. I agree with Davidh's hypothesis of the radio transmission, in that the code word was sent correctly but misinterpreted by the radio receiver in Santiago. The most important of David's observations is that the message was sent as a routine transmission - since the aircraft was flying in cloud, by the time that the crew realised that they were on a collision course with the mountain there would have been no time to fire off a message - let alone three. The fact that it contains an ETA means it was not a distress message. Good work.


angus
Posted 24 September 2007 at 11:26 am

it must have been a very informal radio operator to use the plane's "star" identification instead of its normal five-letter callsign (G-AGWH)...then again, maybe that callsign isn't/wasn't used in Morse transmissions...
However, if the message was indeed STENDEC, it is possible, in my opinion that DEC could be an abbreviation for the navigational term "declination" which, surprise surprise, is something pilots must factor in for dead-reckoning navigation; it has to do with the difference between true north and magnetic north, and also has something to do with wind drift, if I rightly remember.
But considering you accept my humble theory...then what would STEN be?


hamsterherder
Posted 28 January 2008 at 02:29 pm

dubyamd said: "perhaps the captain was dyslexic and was trying to say "DESCENT" instead of STENDEC… hrmmm…"

i never thought of it like that. it makes sense. interesting article.


NEMESIS
Posted 18 March 2008 at 09:24 pm

Just finish watching BBC documentary on this crash and my explanation for last transmission STENDEC was actual STENDECK , which the K was never recieved , as these individuals were all of RAF , the coded transmission was derived from "Sten" sten sub machine Gun , so Sten -deck , below the deck , sub-deck , below flight deck altitude , would be the most obvious meaning for last transmission !


Oster
Posted 31 May 2008 at 06:28 pm

STRD AR

"Star Dust Out"


pedders
Posted 04 August 2008 at 03:35 am

The only thing I can add to this is that as a now 50 year old; the word /acronym Standec has remained at the front of my mind since I was about 11. For some reason, I can't explain, I just decided to Google it. The story as is; is familiar, however, my recollection is a little different. Now at this time I must admit I was an avid reader of anything to do with space travel, UFO's etc. This was not a point of discussion with my pubescent friends. (Post Apollo 11). The thing I do recall, because I divulged it to my oldest friends, Julianne's mother, that, as I recall a story was published, regarding a "Craft" landing at the end of an airstrip and, when challanged, transmitting the word Stendec, before disappearing. Maybe this is just a childhood fantasy, however, why is it still so vivid in my mind all these years later?


Correct me if I'm wrong, but:
Posted 25 September 2008 at 01:08 pm

guys guys calm down! i figured it out!
Shit!
Theres
Eels
Nestling
Down
Everyone's
Crotch
theres a justifiable reason to crash a plane if i ever heard one


RoflBeard
Posted 12 January 2010 at 04:24 am

DI article!..... Well to be honest they all are....however this has left me feeling empty I really wish I knew what happened in that plane just before it crashed.


Ribble
Posted 16 August 2010 at 08:37 pm

'ETA Santiago 17.45 hrs STENDEC'
My guess "ETA Santiago 17.45 hrs ST END AR"
ST = Santiago Time - He would send that because he was entering a different country and
time zone, either different or unknown.

END = End of text - END (The whole word) has a distinct unmistakable sound and in Morse you don't
copy the letters, you copy the word. These were professional radio operators at both ends and they hear words, not letters. The word "End" actually has a very pleasing rythmic sound in Morse.

AR = Morse for end of transmission (signing off) always sent with no spacing between A and R. So commonly used that it would not have been mistaken. This is a word in Morse, not letters.

N3ET


Ribble
Posted 16 August 2010 at 08:56 pm

I should add that each radio operator has a distint "fist" and AR is commonly sent in a friendly way with a very slight pause after the first dit, making it sound almost like "E C", likely with the first dah greatly extended. Possible if the recieving end thought they were copying an unknown (STENDEC) word or a word in a different language. The sender would not even know that for the past ten years he has been sending it in this friendly manner.


RAFSPARKS
Posted 21 August 2010 at 01:27 am

Ribble - you have it nailed, I am an ex-Royal Air Force Coastal Command Wireless Operator, and without fail we would always end ANY transmission in Morse with AR (referred to as AR barred because we would draw a line above the two letters) but invariably operators would have a "fist" or characterization which would end up with them adding a very slight pause after the first dot and then emphasizing the next dash so that it ended up as . _ ._. (not EC) however it was quite clearly read by all of us operators and was widely understood, the old " bathtub " key fitted in the Lancaster, and just about every British plane was notoriously stiff to use and we tended to use a pretty heavy hand in sending Morse almost forcing operators to develop those strange ways of keying, (some were really hard to read) The STARDUST op would also be no different ! but a foreign operator would understandably read the whole thing incorrectly as a word. You are probably right with the assumption the ST meant Santiago Time (to confirm he was not using GMT) and then END (for end of text) plus AR barred (end of message). As an old school Air Force operator I would read that message as quite logical in it's meaning ! 73's N3ET AR

VA7DU (ex N0FET)


glindhot
Posted 23 September 2010 at 03:54 pm

Ribble's explanation, supported by RAFSPARKS, has solved STENDEC and I gladly dump my own "clever" guess. Their explanation of AR and the manner of its sending is fascinating. What I wondered was why AR ever became the signing-off word. I note that if its code had an additional dit then it could be converted into END which leads me to wonder whether the original signing-off word may have been END but had become corrupted to AR by leaving off the final dit.


Andrew Battenti
Posted 16 January 2011 at 09:26 am

"S-T-E-N-D-E-C" sounds like something a hypoxic person might say at 24,000 feet or higher. (possibly meaning: "Stand by for deck landing") If G-AGWH had in fact been flying into a strong headwind (jetstream) she could well have run out of oxygen, not to mention fuel.

Mild hypoxia can also produce euphoria (as well as spatial disorientation) and this could explain the absence of a Pan-Pan or Mayday radio broadcast.


Sauce
Posted 24 January 2011 at 09:28 am

OK Guys, Ive been googling the STENDEC mystery and have found the following explanation, which seems by FAR the most plausible. Its a link to the NT Skeptics group, and they cover the crash and facts very well. The article ends with the Morse code message on page 4.

Quote :
"Once again, STENDEC reads / . . . / - / . / - . / - . . / . / - . - ./. The actual message probably ended with / - - . /. The wireless operator in Santiago must have assumed that the last letter was C, and added a dot after the first dash: / - . - . /. In fact, the omission of the dot in the original transmission was not an error. The letter was not C. Nor were the first two letters of this strange message ST: / . . . / - /. The dots and dash formed one letter, V: / . . . - /.
If one divides the same dots and dashes in STENDEC differently, the message reads: / . . . - / . - / . - . . / . - - . /, which is VALP, the call sign for the airport at Valparaiso, some 110 kilometers north of Santiago. The experienced crew of the “Stardust” apparently realized the plane was off course in a northerly direction (it was found eighty kilometers off its flight path), or they purposely departed from the charted route to avoid bad weather. In either case, they attempted to contact what they thought was the nearest airport, Valparaiso, not Santiago."

http://www.ntskeptics.org/2010/2010december/december2010.pdf


CountvonLuckner
Posted 30 October 2011 at 10:47 am

Yes, the ship's radioman might have been sending the call letters "VALP" which may well be those of Valparaiso Airport now, but were they back in '47? And if the radio op had been intending to reach Valparaiso Airport, he would have keyed out "VALP DE (call letters of acft) K" and repeated it at least two more times without being prompted by Santiago after only having sent it once. He would not have merely tapped out the group "VALP" w/o including "DE" (from) and then giving the ship's call letters and had they been low on fuel or some other emergency, Sparks would have immediately included "MAYDAY", "MEDE", "SOS" or "PAN".

Radar transceivers, although commonplace in military acft by 1947 had still not been adopted for use in civilian airliners and the only nav instruments aboard the Star Dust would have been the bubble sextant and international time signal (flatly unusable under the prevailing meteorology), a radio direction finder loop (RDF) or "bird dog", a radio range receiver (for use with the then widespread "AN-system" radio range stations) and of course, as the article states, the practice of dead reckoning in conjunction with the cockpit panel instruments, airspeed indicator, altimeter, gyro and mag compass and possibly but not necessarily a radio-altimeter. To further murk things up, the captain most likely had to throttle back to not much above stalling speed since that is always highly advised when flying through severe turbulence to avoid undue structural
stresses on the plane. So their true airspeed could have been perhaps as low as 170-180 knots or even less placing them more at the mercy of cross winds.

They were immersed in heavy weather obviating all chance of visual ground reference and according to the description, there were no radio beacons or radio range stations anywhere to be found in the Andes in those days. So the best they would have had by way of knowledge of their position would be a radio azimuth or bearing to Santiago but no certain knowledge of their distance from it. Also it doesn't seem reasonable that they would have radioed Santiago field and sent a most assured and definitive "ETA four minutes" and then suddenly discovered they were 100 km off course to the North. Radio operators skilled in CW (Morse) instinctively learn to almost immediately recognize each other's code "signatures" so that if the sender aboard the ship had sent "VALP" instead of "STENDEC", the Santiago field op would not have mistaken the two words.... especially after three times.

Still very much a tragic mystery.


CountvonLuckner
Posted 30 October 2011 at 11:05 am

hamsterherder said: "dubyamd said: “perhaps the captain was dyslexic and was trying to say “DESCENT” instead of STENDEC… hrmmm…”
i never thought of it like that. it makes sense. interesting article."

If dyslexic, then how did he get through RAF flight school let alone get himself placed in command of a passenger liner? Besides, the pilot is fully occupied handling the plane---especially when near the vicinity of an airfield or other controlled airspace and usually the navigator or someone other than the pilot is going to be tapping out the radio dispatches.


vincetheman
Posted 05 September 2013 at 05:57 pm

STENDEC was a code used in the RAF... stands for 'severe turbulence encountered / now descending / expecting crash' The radio operator was ex-RAF.


David P
Posted 19 January 2014 at 08:40 am

I'm an ex Radio Operator with several years military and civilian experience.
Not one of the theories proposed above make any sense at all and contain many mistakes. Lets go through a couple :-

The operator Harmer was ex RAF but had been a civilian operator for some time. Both the RAF and Civilian operators would have used Internationally agree 3 letter Q code to pass that sort of information on and the Q code was around long before WWII.

The callsigns allocated to Chile since 1909 ITU were within the range of letters between CA _ CE, ground stations using three letters + a number and ALL aircraft use 5 letters. Stardusts callsign was GAGWH. No operator would use aircraft names or abbreviations of the ground station's location.

I never came across a time when two experienced operators misread each others signals especially when in this case STENDEC was sent twice.

All the comments about various morse combinations of dots and dashes make no sense either. Experienced operators don't make silly repeated errors like adding or loosing dots. Not twice!!!

The word 'End' is not needed because AR (.-.-.) means 'end of transmission/message'

All the other stuff about it meaning arrival time zones and so on are unlikely for two reasons. QRE was/is the internationally agreed code for "my time of arrival is". and ETA was and is widely used alternative (its quicker to send). Even if it was common practice to use a non standard abbreviation the Chilean operator (and those carrying out the investigation) would have been aware of possible other meanings and./or combinations of dots and dashes. GMT/Z (GMT) & LT all have well understood meanings as to what time band you are using. ETA or ETD are so frequently used by a/c and ships operators that there isn't much room for using abbreviations which you've made up.

There are Q codes for just about most things including descending, flying in/above/below cloud too. By 1947 had the pilot been aware he was lost he - well the operators could have homed in on the groundstation. And there are short Q codes to do this too.

As for all that about american morse code. That was not used during or after WWII At all!


sebastian
Posted 27 January 2014 at 01:06 pm

Very interesting we learned this when I was in school nice to learn it again. Still wander what S.T.E.N.D.E.C means though


BigssmileNZ
Posted 16 February 2014 at 09:30 pm

SoxSweepAgain said: "I LOVE this site.

STENDEC: "Stardust In Descent"?"

After reading the comments posted here I think it is along the lines of 'descent' maybe "Santiago Tower, Entering Descent"


Mike Lewis
Posted 12 March 2014 at 07:26 am

'Stendec' means Severe Turbulence Encountered Now Descending Emergency Crashlanding

It was a phrase widely used by WW2 British bomber crews - and would have been very familiar to the radio operator aboard the Star Dust.


Alan Bellows
Posted 12 March 2014 at 07:52 am

Mike Lewis said: "'Stendec' means Severe Turbulence Encountered Now Descending Emergency Crashlanding

It was a phrase widely used by WW2 British bomber crews - and would have been very familiar to the radio operator aboard the Star Dust."

[citation needed]


Spexx
Posted 14 March 2014 at 04:32 pm

I found this reference for STENDEC which seems plausible ... perhaps. Interesting interpretation.

http://www.flywiththestars.co.uk/Documents/STENDEC.htm


John F
Posted 15 March 2014 at 01:10 pm

A lot depends on how good the sender and receiver is, if morse is sent at a good speed at the person receiving it is not that good two words can sound like one because there is only a small gap between words. DE means "This is" so, the end part could mean DE C, C meaning Cook. The first part could have been an attempt at SOS but due to a bumpy ride sending morse is not easy so it could easily be messed up, I have sent morse many times and it is easy to make a mistake sitting in a chair let alone on a rough ride in a plane.

Lauri the Lapanen said: "The theory about oxy deprivation sounds feasible. Tried it accidentaly once and send an sms full of gibberish. At that point we noticed to vent the tent...

But can somebody who really knows about morse tell that is it possible for letters to "fall out"? Lets say stendec would originally have been istendec - "is ten decrease". Or has it been known that morse could have had a dialect? For example the word "is" being replaced with just the 's'.
Flabbergasteringly smackingly damn interesting! Thank you Matt!"


gorllewin
Posted 01 May 2014 at 07:25 am

didnt read every entry here but surely surely it cant be a co-incidence that even in plain lettering STENDEC isnt so very far away from STARDUST. Put it into int morse code and the first few letters match quite well. put it into railroad morse and its even closer. STARDU/
Why send that though? possibly an attempt at elision to save time ie, STARDU/ST/ARDU/ST/ARDU where the ST serves at both end and beggining.
not convinced? me neither, but convoluted anagrams and incomprensible acronyms convince me much less.

gor


Tim
Posted 16 June 2014 at 09:56 am

rev.felix said: "- .-. ..- .-.. -.-- / -... .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. --. .-.-.- / .. / .-- --- -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .-- . / .-- .. .-.. .-.. / . ...- . .-. / ..-. .. --. ..- .-. . / --- ..- - / - .... . / -- . .- -. .. -. --. / --- ..-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-."

TRULY BAFFLING. lol


Tim
Posted 16 June 2014 at 10:18 am

wh44 said: "rev.felix said: "- .-. ..- .-.. -.– / -… .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. –. .-.-.- / .. / .– — -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .– . / .– .. .-.. .-.. / . …- . .-. / ..-. .. –. ..- .-. . / — ..- - / - …. . / — . .- -. .. -. –. / — ..-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-. / … - . -. -.. . -.-."

It might be better if you used a simple text editor (like Notepad) instead of Word - it translated "...", "--" and "---" into different special characters (ellipsis "…" , m-dash "–" and extra wide dash "—"). It made translating your text rather difficult. I suspect the extra dash that Radiatidon mentions came from your own correction after the fact, when you noticed that it had been turned into a single dash. Here is a corrected version of the message:
- .-. ..- .-.. -.-- / -... .- ..-. ..-. .-.. .. -. --. .-.-.- / .. / .-- --- -. -.. . .-. / .. ..-. / .-- . / .-- .. .-.. .-.. / . ...- . .-. / ..-. .. --. ..- .-. . / --- ..- - / - .... . / -- . .- -. .. -. --. / --- ..-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-. / ... - . -. -.. . -.-."

I just copied it and pasted it into Wolfram Alpha search engine and it translated it just fine for me.


Ian...
Posted 03 July 2014 at 09:59 pm

John F said: "The first part could have been an attempt at SOS but due to a bumpy ride sending morse is not easy so it could easily be messed up, I have sent morse many times and it is easy to make a mistake sitting in a chair let alone on a rough ride in a plane."

I doubt STENDEC would've been mistakenly tapped out three times if the ride was that bumpy ;-D


Les Thomson
Posted 25 July 2014 at 07:20 pm

Tudor IV's seem to have had a bit of bad luck in that area. Two of Star Dust's sister aircraft, Star Tiger and Star Aerial, both also disappeared without a trace, although it is likely they went down in the sea after running out of fuel or experiencing technical difficulties.


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