It was Halloween 1991. Radar controllers checked and rechecked what they had just seen. The scope was blank in a spot now. Everywhere else all seemed normal, and routine traffic was proceeding undisturbed, in their vectors, tracked and uninterrupted. But moments earlier radar had been tracking a Grumman Cougar jet over the Gulf of Mexico. The pilot was John Verdi. He and trained co-pilot, Paul Lukaris, were heading toward Tallahassee, Florida.
Just moments before, with a crackle of the mic, Verdi’s voice had come over the receiver at the flight center. He requested a higher altitude. Permission was quickly granted and the turbo jet was observed ascending from 25,000 feet to its new assigned altitude of 29,000 feet. All seemed normal. Some thunderstorms had drifted into the path of the jet, and satellite imagery confirmed the area was overcast.
But that was of no concern for Verdi. They were above the weather. At their present altitude they were just breaking out of the cloud cover, emerging into the bright sunlight. The clouds must have been their typical, breathtaking sight, billowing below in glowing white hills and arroyos; they were bright puffy wads of cotton.
They were still ascending. Verdi had not yet rogered reaching his proscribed flight level.
Radar continued to track the cougar. Until, that is, for some unknown reason, while ascending, it simply faded away. Verdi and Lukaris answered no more calls to respond. Furthermore, they had sent no SOS to indicate they had encountered any hint of a problem. Read-outs of the radar observations confirmed the unusual. The Grumman had not been captured on the scope at all as descending or falling to the sea; there had been no sudden loss of altitude. Frankly, it had disappeared from the scope while climbing; they just faded away. One sweep of the scope they were there. The next—raised brows on traffic controllers: it was blank.
The ocean, sitting under convective thunderstorm activity, was naturally not conducive to a search. No trace, if there was any left to find, was ever sifted out of the Gulf. When it was all over, the whole incident was just chalked under a familiar assumption— the Spartan: “aircraft damage and injury index presumed.”
One case of mystery like this is enough to start heads shaking, but such an incident does not stand alone. There is also the case of the missing Starfighter just north of Bermuda. Because radar had captured no sign of the aircraft falling to sea, jets screamed up above the cloud layer to search for contrails indicating the missing aircraft had ascended rather than descended.
To this day there has been no explanation for either disappearance.
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Since 1990 Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.