Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Crash of Navy Blimp L-8 Mystery

By June of 1942, the United States of America seemed to be turning the tide of the war in the
Pacific but the threat of a Japanese attack against the American West Coast was still high and
the defense of the
Pacific Coast of the United States was still a chief priority. The need to
identify and destroy the threat posed by enemy submarines was critical to preventing another
ambush on American soil.
Key to this defense was a strategy utilizing 'dirigibles', otherwise
known to most as 'blimps'. Their ability to remain in one spot for longer periods, and their
capability to go long periods without refueling, made them excellent observation posts to monitor
for submarine activity in the coastal waters. Not to mention that
armed with machine guns and
depth charges, Blimps were quite capable of locating and bombarding enemy submarines. The
Blimps were prone to having problems and ‘gremlins’, they were also prone to crashes. The
most mysterious crash of any blimp was that of the L-8…
The U.S. Navy purchased the Goodyear blimp Ranger in 1940.  But, the
United States entered
the second World War, and the airship built by
Goodyear to replace the
Ranger was also sold to the Navy, and commis-
sioned the
L-8 on March 5th, 1942, as a part of Blimp Squadron 32
(ZP-32), based out of Moffett Field, near Sunnyvale in California,

under the auspices of Fleet Air Wing Five.

Sunday, August 16th, 1942, started like any other summer day by the San Francisco. The cool fog of the summer morning had

caused the fabric of the blimp's coverings to become inundated with excess moisture, adding additional weight to the aircraft.

In response, the flight plan was amended to reduce the crew size from three down to two in order to save weight. Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd class Jame

s Riley Hill was turned away from the flight.

At 6:03 in the morning, naval blimp L-8 took off from Treasure Island, located in the
center of
San Francisco Bay, with its crew of two. The pilot of this sortie was
Lieutenant Ernest DeWitt Cody. Cody was a 1938 graduate of the
United States Naval
at Annapolis, and had arrived at Moffett Field only five months earlier in
March with his wife, Helen. Having been promoted in the previous June, the 27
year-old was in charge of the safe operation and flight of the blimp.
Cody was an
experienced pilot who in April 1942 may have changed the course of history by guiding
the L-8 to a rendezvous with the USS Hornet in the Pacific. The naval blimp dropped
off a 300-pound load of parts for the B-25 bombers that Jimmy Doolittle's Raiders
would use to pound
Tokyo and boost America's morale.

Joining Cody on the flight that day in Augu

st was Ensign Charles E. Adams. Having only been sworn in as a naval Ensign the day before, this was his first flight as a commissioned officer, despite having over 20 years of enlisted

experience as a boatswain with lighter-than-air vehicles. The 38 year-old was thoroughly versed with the business of the balloon service - "Stay with the ship." Originally from Lakehurst in

New Jersey, he also lived in Mountain View with his wife.

The mission was a relatively simple one: Conduct an anti-submarine patrol of the c

oast of California, going from Treasure Island to the Farallones, a chain of small islands 30 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, then to Point Reyes, and return the blimp back to Moffett Field. An hour and a half into the patrol, at 7:42 A.M., Cody radioed to base the he and Adams had located a possible oil slick in the water, and were going to further investigate. This was to be the last transmission received from the crew of the L-8.

At 11:15, later that same morning, bathers and fishers on the beach near the Olympic Club's La

keside golf course saw the L-8 soar in from the sea. Caddies at the Lake Merced Golf & Country Club witnessed the blimp disappear behind two hills, and then rise again after a brief snag on a cliff on Ocean Beach. This snag gouged the cliffside, causing the starboard engine to be packed with dirt, and bending the propeller blades. Also, one of the two depth charges on board the airship broke free from it's rack, and fell to the ground at the Olympic Club's golf course. The shore patrol of San

Francisco called the Navy at Moffett Field, and informed them that a blimp had accidentally dropped a depth charge on dry land.

Continuing to drift, the blimp was sagging in the middle, forcing it ever downward. ``It was dished on top and appeared to be drifting with its motors off,'' eye witness Bruce McIntyre told a reporter in 1942. ``It came in over Mussel Rock very low, then over the hill back of us. It was so low I could see shroud lines almost touching the


A seaman driving from San Mateo to San Francisco, Richard Quam, saw the behemoth fall from the skies, "It was bent in the middle in a 'V' shape." The plunge scraped the roofs of homes and struck telephone lines, spraying sparks all over the descending mammoth. A contingent of Good Samaritans, rescue personnel, curious persons, and 'looky-Lous' tracked the blimps every move as it plummeted downward, until it came to rest in the center of the 400 block of Bellevue Avenue in Daly City, just two block south of the San Francisco-San Mateo country line.

The first person on the scene was William Morris, a volunteer fireman who lived in the house the L-8 crash-landed right in front of, and had watched the course of the blimp from his front door. Morris rushed to aid the crew which surely must be inside the gondola of the blimp, but as he approached it , he noticed something a touch unusual. "The doors were open and nobody was in the cabin."

Volunteer firefighters tore the blimp's envelope open to see

if the crew might somehow be trapped inside, but they were nowhere to be found. The fabric of the balloon flattened out, stretching across the road and draping over an automobile owned by Richard Johnson, Morris' neighbor, as hundreds of spectators gathered.

A team of salvagers from the Navy arrived with an hour of the crash. They found that the parachutes in the gondola were in their proper place, the two lifebelts that were to be worn by the crew were gone, the life raft stowed in its spot, and the radio still in good working order. Most of the fuel aboard had been dumped, and the engines of the airship were still switched in the 'ON' position, albeit no gasoline was being supplied to them, hence their silence. Even a confidential file containing classified information was still in the gondola.

Aside from the rips in the dirigible's fabric from tearing across the rooftops of Daly City, the airship was perfectly airworthy. The only thing missing was her crew of two.

The coastline and the sea were immediately searched for the pair of officers, but no clue to their fate was to be found. The commanding officer of Moffett Field, Commander Donald M. Mackey, state that, "the Navy is positive it has covered all the ground area covered by the blimp. It is positive the men were NOT in the ship at any time it traveled over land."

The U.S. Coast Guard continued the search for several days, and Navy patrols were on alert for any sight of the men at sea near the Farallon Islands, but even with the clear visibility and clam seas, nothing was found of the two men.

A board of inquiry in the disappearances under covered rumors of warm coffee and half-eaten sandwiched found by the first firemen on the scene, allegations that were quickly dismissed due to lack of proof. But the most compelling evidence comes from a pair of fishing boats.

The crews of two fishing vessels which were in the area testified that they saw the airship descend to 300 feet and circle the oil slick. Expecting depth charges to be dropped upon it, they brought up their fish nets and steered clear of the anticipated detonations. However, no depth charges were dropped, and the blimp rose skyward into the clouds. At no time did either crew witness anything fall or drop from the airship.

The sag in the airship was formed was the weight of the crew aboard was no longer present. The lack of ballast caused the blimp to rise into higher in altitude to a point when an automatic relief valve opened, releasing the helium gas critical to its stable operation. The loss of helium would bring the airship down to the ground, and the sag formed due to the weight of the gondola in the blimp's amidships.

At 8:50 A.M. was when the controllers at Treasure Island were unable to communicate with Cody or Adams. So whatever occurred to create their disappearances most likely took place in the hour between 7:50 and 8:50 A.M. on that day. Rumors persist, and continue to this day, of possible Japanese capture of the two men, a simple AWOL scheme, and even UFOs kidnapping the pair, but nothing have any solid evidence to support their claim.

Lt. Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams were both declared as 'missing', and officially pronounced as 'dead' one year later.

The L-8, however, was not missing and, aside from the damage caused by its rough landing and the firemen's axes, it was fit for duty after refurbishing. It was repaired shortly after the crash and continued to serve the Navy as a training vessel. When the war ended, it was returned to the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. The gondola of the L-8, known as 'C-64' to the folks at Goodyear, was stored at Wingfoot Lake for decades until it was finally rebuilt in 1968 for the Goodyear blimp 'America', to be used to televise sporting events. However, it could never be separated from its old nickname. The "ghost blimp'' flew out of Texas from 1969 until 1982, when the Houston-based 'America' was retired, and the gondola returned to storage back at Wingfoot Lake, where it sits to this day.

Cool Mystery this! Jaut another in a long line of reasons that I invite you to keep an open mind and to keep walking in this big weird world of ours!

I’m Average Joe

email: OurWeirdWorld@gmail.com

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