There has always been a great deal of
interest, especially within the aviation community, in the disappearance of
the BSAA Tudor IV G-AHNP Star Tiger on a flight from the Azores to
Bermuda on the night of January 29th 1948. No wreckage was ever found, and
therefore the cause of the loss will probably never be known.
On Saturday 28th December 1996, the following article appeared on page 6 of The Times newspaper, headed "Search may raise planes lost in Bermuda Triangle" :-
BY HARVEY ELLIOTT, AIR CORRESPONDENT
TWO British airliners may have been found almost 50 years after their unsolved disappearance in the Bermuda Triangle. A search to solve the mystery is being led by a retired pilot who was due to fly one of the planes.
A sports injury prevented Peter Wilby from taking the controls of the Star Tiger, which vanished in 1948. At the time an official report said that "no more baffling problem has ever been presented for investigation". Now aged 75, Mr Wilby plans to charter a robot submarine to raise the wrecks of the lost planes from the seabed 2,500ft below the Atlantic, and finally to establish what happened.
More than £500,000 has been invested in a two-year search of the seas off Bermuda by Mr Wilby, two other former pilots and a business partner. Wreckage has been discovered by the crew of a Canadian seabed surveyor boat, making sonar sweeps in the area where the two planes made their last reports.
"The fact that I should have been on the first aircraft has lived with me ever since," Mr Wilby said yesterday at his home in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. "All kinds of theories some of them obvious fantasy have been put forward for the accidents, but technology has now moved on fast. All the indications are that the wreckage is of very similar aircraft." A remote-controlled submarine is to be sent to the seabed in February. If the wreckage is shown to be that of the crashed aircraft, attempts to raise them would be made in the summer. Mr Wilby said: "We believe we can raise them and send the wreckage to Farnborough for inspection and test. We may then be able to lay to rest one of the great aviation mysteries."
The Star Tiger, a Tudor plane of British South American Airways Corporation, flew from London for a six-week journey in South and Central America. A few days before departure, Mr Wilby hurt his foot playing rugby and reported sick. Instead, Captain Brian McMillan was at the controls on the leg from Santa Maria in the Azores to Bermuda. At 3.15 on Friday, January 30, the pilot made his last radio contact and was told that he was 340 miles northeast of Bermuda. Nothing more was heard of the plane, with 31 people on board. There was no mayday call, no sign of wreckage and no oil slick.
A year later, an identical aircraft, the Star Ariel, was flying southwest from Bermuda to Jamaica with 13 passengers and six crew. After a routine radio message, it vanished without trace. The inquiry into the first accident had reported: "The fate of the Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery." An inquiry into the second loss also reported that the cause was unknown. Mr Wilby is convinced that there was some defect with the Tudors. He does not believe that the area is somehow jinxed.
During about 100 years, sea and air disasters are said to have claimed more than 1,000 lives in the triangle of the Atlantic between Miami, Bermuda and Puerto Rico. Theories have ranged from sudden mini-tornados and bad navigation to rays from the lost city of Atlantis, and extra-terrestrial kidnappings.
In 1880, the British frigate Atlanta vanished after leaving Bermuda for England with 290 aboard. In 1945, five US Navy planes were lost on a patrol from Florida. One crewman who had a premonition of disaster remained on ground and became the only survivor of Flight 19, the lost patrol. A flying boat was sent out to hunt for them, and was also lost.
Soon after embarking on our research into the history of BSAA, we were made aware of this article. We tried to trace Mr Wilby to ask him for more details, but found nobody by that name living in Great Missenden. We then wrote to The Times (marking the letter for the attention of Harvey Elliott - Air Correspondent) with a few questions about his article. We received no reply. We tried emailing The Times, again with the same negative result.
During many years of research for Fly With The Stars, we spoke to a large number of former BSAA staff and during the course of our conversations we always added the question "What can you tell us about Peter Wilby"? Not one of the ex-BSAA people had heard the name before.
It seems sad that such a potentially dramatic story should have such an unsatisfactory conclusion. The two Tudors were lost in completely different areas of the Atlantic, so the sonar sweeps which detected wreckage must have been made on completely different surveys, hundreds of miles apart. Perhaps this explains the £500,000 spent on the project? But if so much had been spent, what was the outcome of the submarine exploration of the seabed, reportedly due to take place in February 1997?
If anybody reading this has any knowledge of a retired ex-BSAA pilot named Peter Wilby or of the searches reported above, we would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org .
If any more information comes to light, it will be published on this page.