Jay Rayner. Star Dust Falling: The Story of the Plane that Vanished. Doubleday, 2002.

On the 2 August 1947, the British South American Airlines plane Star Dust disappered en route from Buenos Aires to Santiago. Its last message, minutes before the landing time was routine, until it ended with the mysterious letters STENDEC spelled out in Morse three times. Then it disappered.

The story of the Star Dust became one of the classic unsolved mysteries of aviation, and the English writer Harold T Wilkins in his book Flying Saucers From the Moon (a.k.a. Flying Saucers on the Attack), a massive potpouri of UFO and fortean lore, introduced the story into the UFO corpus: "Who twice sent out that mysterious word Stendec. Did 'something' intercept the plane, If so what was it?".
Wilkins answer to that was: "suppose that it was one of these vast (interplanetary) craft which flashed out the mysterious code Stendec ... For what spot far out in space, for what world not ours was the word Stendec intended?" This haunting last message became emblematic of unnamable mystery, a hint of the absolute other for which there is neither word nor concept. As such it became, misspelled STENDEK, the title of a well known 1970's Spanish UFO magazine. It became associated with the mysterious fate of its confrères, Star Tiger and Star Ariel, and assimilated into the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle a continent's width away.

In Argentina and Chile, another legend grew up over the plane, that of the treasure plane laden with gold bars, there for the taking for those who could brave the high snows.

However in 1998 the first wreckage of Star Dust was found in the high Andes, and in this book, Jay Rayner tells the full the story of the crash and the expedition to recover wreckage and bodies. The story which emerges replaces awesome mystery with a very human story of arrogance, folly and greed, and what today would be called corporate manslaughter: that of the world's most dangerous airline, British South American Airlines, and its presiding genius, Don Bennett, for whom the description psychopath doesn't seem too harsh. As his planes crashed right, left and centre, Bennett consoled himself with the thought that his losses were rather less than those of his war time Pathfinder squadron on their raids over Germany!

No gold, no aliens, and another Fortean classic into the bin. Or almost, for there is still STENDEC, for which no solution has yet been found.   |PR|

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