Terrifying Runways, UFO Encounters and Airport Ghosts

Written by Kate Goldstone

This week we thought we’d take a look at the spooky, mysterious and hair-raising side of airports. Buckle your seat belt and prepare to take off into a world where ghosts stalk the concourses, UFOs and passenger aircraft almost come to grief and landings are so terrifying only the world’s finest pilots dare attempt them.

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Is Heathrow Haunted?

Airport ghosts – Is Heathrow airport haunted?

Whether you think ghosts are everywhere or nowhere, time travellers, echoes from the past, people who don’t realise they’re dead, actual spirits, hallucinations or simple quirks of physics, everyone loves a good ghost story.

You might not expect something as relatively modern as an airport to be haunted. But according to Ghost Story UK, Heathrow has already gathered a rich collection of sightings and strange events. In fact it’s widely recognised as one of Britain’s most haunted places.

If you’re ever bored at Heathrow, waiting for your flight to be called, keep your eyes peeled. What’s that shadowy person-shape you spot flickering at the end of the dimly-lit passageway? It’s enough to take your mind off the fear of flying.

Dick Turpin – Heathrow’s most historic ghost

Of course he was around centuries before the airport, in the 1700s. But unlikely as it might sound, Dick Turpin, the legendary Highwayman, haunts the main terminal. Turpin allegedly appears in his signature tricorn hat. Several airport workers and airline crew have reported feeling his presence behind them, others say they’ve felt his horrid hot breath or heard a man barking close by, only to turn and find nobody there.

Dick Turpin

Dick Turpin

The name Dick Turpin comes laden with romance, and his story has been embroidered over the ages to become a Robin Hood-like tale of robbing the rich to feed the poor. In reality he was a horror, incredibly cruel, find of setting people on fire, raping and torturing. Why the legend? Apparently he caused a stir by swaggering his way to the gallows exuding ‘charm’ then jumping off into oblivion with gusto, more or less hanging himself. The peasantry loved it, stole his body and buried it with quicklime, ensuring there wasn’t much left for the scientists of the time to cut up.

The man who lost his hat

More hats. Following hot on Turpin’s heels, a lost and bewildered gentleman was spotted wandering the site of a tragic air crash on the approach to runway 2. The year was 1948, it was foggy and a DC3 Dakota had just crashed, killing everyone on board. As the rescuers worked frenziedly to find survivors, a man in a hat appeared through the mist and asked if anyone had seen his briefcase. As the men looked, he faded and disappeared before their eyes, melting into the mist. Apparently they found his body later, mangled in the wreckage.

There’s more. In 1970 the police had a call saying there was a man on the runway, clearly visible on radar. When the police arrived on the scene they couldn’t see the man even though the radar operators could still see him on their machines. They kept looking but couldn’t find the man anywhere. It remains a mystery.

The worried businessman in grey

If you spot a stressed-looking bloke in a grey suit and you’re in one of Heathrow’s VIP lounges, grab your camera. He’s seen fairly frequently but fleetingly, disappearing soon after he turnd up. Not so scary, you might think, until you find out how many people have seen him appearing from the waist up, legless. Creepy!

Manchester airport ghosts with an Air Force focus

The Manchester Evening News reports how the city’s airport is also home to plenty of hair raising sightings. When they unearthed a load of old airport documents they were surprised to find how many staff at the time had ghostly encounters, mostly around Terminal Three’s departure gates. Several people had seen a ghostly airman in the area, others came across an older man widely believed to be a night watchman killed on the spot a few years earlier. Slamming doors were also common, or at least the sound of doors slamming… when in fact no doors had been closed.

military fighter aircraft at Manchester airport

Fighter Aircraft at Manchester Airport

Late at night one airport worker saw a man in a pilot’s hat walk into the loos and heard the loo door slam shut. But there was nobody in there and the motion sensor hadn’t been set off. The uniform connection is interesting here, since Manchester airport is built on top of old RAF buildings, home to 613 City of Manchester Squadron in World War Two. As you can imagine a lot of young men took off from the site, never to return.

The scariest landing strips on earth

Back to real life, and three of the planet’s most hair-raising landings. As featured by The Telegraph, they’re not to be approached lightly. Take the Juancho E. Yrausquin airport in the Netherlands Antilles with its tiny, weeny runway just 1300 feet long. Pilots say it’s one of the planet’s most challenging with its deadly high hills to one side and sheer drops on the other three.

Landing at Kansai International airport in Japan is another terrifying yet fascinating experience – or a mighty thrill if you happen to be an adrenaline monkey. There wasn’t enough space to build a new airport on land so the Japanese built an entire new island off Osaka, a seven year project so big you can see it from space. $20 billion later, the airport is already threatened as global warming-led sea level rises continue.

Funchal airport on Madeira used to be famously dizzying with its horribly short 5240 foot runway. Now there’s a vast bridge made from girders, which supports 180 230 foot high pillars, on which planes land and take off. It’s clever. It’s a masterpiece of engineering. But take offs and landings still deliver a decent-sized thrill.

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UFOs spotted from aircraft

Ghosts on the concourse at one end, terrifying landings at the other end. So what’s in store for you in between, when you’re supposedly safe in the sky? UFOs, that’s what, and there are all sorts of reports about close encounters of the unexplained kind. And not just from nutty, overexcited, drunk or bored passengers, either. From pilots, the people we rightly trust to get us safely from A to B. If a pilot says he’s seen a UFO, who am I to argue?

JFK airport is your location for one UFO story, with amateur footage suggesting a bizarre object hurtling past a passenger plane as it took off. On the other hand one very British UFO expert, Mr Russ Kellett, isn’t convinced. In his words it, “could be anything. It comes behind from the aeroplane’s tail, you can tell it’s behind but it does move sort of like a bird, when something’s moving when the wings are flapping. If it’s moving away, it will give that appearance.”

In January 2014, as reported by The Telegraph, the captain of a Thomas Cook flight to the UK from Spain reported a “near miss” with a “rugby ball”-shaped object passing within feet of the aircraft over Reading. There’s been a report into the incident but the mystery craft, if that’s what it was, hasn’t been identified. As The Telegraph says:

“The captain said he spotted the object travelling towards the jet out of a left hand side, cockpit window, apparently heading directly for it. He said there was no time to for the aircrew to take evasive action. He told investigators he was certain the object was going to crash into his aircraft and ducked as it headed towards him.

The incident was investigated by the UK Airprox Board, which studies “near misses” involving aircraft in British airspace. The report states: “(The captain) was under the apprehension that they were on collision course with no time to react. His immediate reaction was to duck to the right and reach over to alert the FO (First Officer); there was no time to talk to alert him.”

It adds: “The Captain was fully expecting to experience some kind of impact with a conflicting aircraft.” He told investigators he believes the object passes “within a few feet” above the jet. He described it as being “cigar/rugby ball like” in shape, bright silver and apparently “metallic” in construction. Once it had passed, the captain checked the aircraft’s instruments and contacted air traffic controllers to report the incident. However, there was no sign of the mystery craft.

As part of the inquiry, data recordings were checked to establish what other aircraft were in the area at the time. However, all were eliminated. The investigation also ruled out meteorological balloons, after checking none were released in the vicinity. Toy balloons were also discounted, as they are not large enough to reach such heights. Military radar operators were contacted but were unable to trace the reported object.”

Have you had a strange, weird or unexplainable experience in an airport?

If you have a story to tell, we’d love to hear it. In the meantime, grab top value airport parking and airport lounge access on our site and have an excellent trip.

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