Starting with the individual, we should note that albeit a relative few number of people vanish every year as if they had teleported to Mars, though that number still amounts to a significant workload for authorities; a significant degree of heartache for friends and relatives. One can divide missing persons into two categories; those who go walkabout involuntarily vs. those who of their own accord want to drop out and disappear from society at large.
1) People Who Go Missing Involuntarily
You can be kidnapped/abducted; sold into slavery; murdered and disposed of; die a natural, but unexpected death in an isolated place; or suffer an unnatural death by misadventure (swept out to sea; consumed by a man-eating tiger; fall into an icy crevasse).
‘Death by misadventure’ that results in missing person cases are those unfortunate individuals caught up involuntarily due to circumstances beyond their control. Someone can suffer a ‘death by misadventure’ where their remains are likely to be, if not inaccessible, at least unlikely to be found, far less recovered. These are cases of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The presumed death by drowning of then current Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt is a case in point; another famous case is that of polar explorer Roald Amundsen or jungle explorer Percy Fawcett; Australian baby Azaria Chamberlain was allegedly snatched by a wild dog (dingo) – her body was never found. However, there is a certain percentage of missing person cases that, in all honesty, are truly baffling as we shall see.
2) People Who Go Missing Voluntarily
These include refugees who wish to escape from political, environmental, economic and other unpleasant circumstances; domestic runaways trying to escape an unpleasant home life or other personal unpleasant situations; fugitives on the lam; suicides who would rather not burden loved ones with their choice and dealing with the aftermath; those with mental illness who really aren’t accountable for their actions; those who want to change lifestyles (i.e. join cults) without letting others know;
By far and away, the vast majority of missing person reports involves those under 20. By far and away, those reported missing turn up again. Some don’t. At least if Australia is any guide, 95% of missing persons turn up again or are found within less than six months. But there are long-term missing persons, persons missing greater than six months. Overall, in Australia, about 0.17% of the populace go walkabout annually, but most resurface within a week. Other regions, like say the U.K., the percentage jumps to 0.36%. Socioeconomic and cultural factors probably have a lot to do with differing statistics between countries.
Another significant category is those running from the law. Again, most are found and caught – sooner or later. But not all are of course.
3) Vanishing Transport (Ships and Aircraft)
There has been a massive number of ships, and more recently (in historical terms) aircraft that have seemingly vanished off the face of the planet taking all and sundry with them. Many of the specifics are known to more than just aviation, maritime and history buffs – the roll call features individual personalities like Glenn Miller, Charles Kingsford Smith, Amelia Earhart, and Frederick Valentich; ships like the USS Cyclops, Mary Celeste and Joyita; collective names like Flight 19.
In fact, vanishing plans and ships have spawned an entire paranormal subgenre – the Bermuda Triangle (also called The Devil’s Triangle) and the Dragon’s Triangle and the Great Lakes Triangle (or Vortex) and on and on it goes. It’s a pity all of these ‘triangles’ are water ones. What would really be mysterious to the extent of being really paranormal would be having a Central Australia Triangle, or an American Great Plains States Triangle or a Heart of Africa Triangle. Alas, mysterious disappearances tend to happen over water. Of course there are exceptions to that rule, but even when that’s not the case it doesn’t mean that Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be called in to investigate! There are those cases which can appear at first glance to be straightforward but which will eventually prove to be anything but routine cases.
On the other hand, you don’t normally tend to hear about trains and buses and other obviously land forms of transport that disappear without trace, which is also anomalous. Why should an aircraft vanish but not an 18-wheeler?
4) Civilizations Gone Walkabout
Over recorded history there have been hundreds, probably thousands of small settlements that have been abandoned (ghost towns), like The Lost Colony of Roanoke (Roanoke Island, North Carolina). In many cases we have a good reason(s) why – war, environment, natural disasters, etc. However, in many cases the written (if any) and archaeological record leaves no or relatively little clues. The abandonment may or may not be anomalous, but given the large percentage of explained cases it’s probably unwise to read too much into these.
But it’s quite a different kettle of fish when the population of an entire metropolis, even an entire empire, goes walkabout and there’s little to no clue that provides a ‘why’ explanation.
*The Anasazi: In the four corners area of the USA (where Utah, Arizona, Colorado & New Mexico touch), the Anasazi (synonymous with the Ancient Pueblos) thrived from about 400 to 1300 AD. Then they abandoned their traditional homeland (Mesa Verde) by roughly 1400 AD. Why? Drought and other environmental conditions are suspected, but not proved.
*The Olmecs: The Olmecs were probably the first great Mesoamerican civilization and thrived from about 1200 to 400 BC. Alas, virtually nothing is known of their origins, appearance, language or ultimate fate.
*Teotihuacan: Teotihuacan was a vast city metropolis in ancient Mexico that thrived over 2000 years ago – well actually from the first to the eighth century AD. It was one of the largest settlements of the ancient world, home to an estimated 200,000 inhabitants; it was ancient and mysterious even to the nearby Aztecs when they existed in their prime in a much later time period. Alas, Teotihuacan was just abandoned; no writings, no sculptures, no real clues at all as to who, what, when and the why of things, though that hasn’t stopped speculations about external invasions or internal uprisings. It’s famous for its massive Pyramid of the Sun; Pyramid of the Moon; Avenue of the Dead; and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, showing that the origins of the god Quetzalcoatl go way, way back.
*The Maya: The Maya had abandoned their classical period cities of Copan, Tikal and Palenque long before the Spanish arrived to deliver the final blow to a race already down and out. The exact cause(s) is still being debated today.
5) Extraterrestrial Stuff
It’s not just terrestrial stuff that goes walkabout. Once upon a time astronomers had detected the innermost planet of our solar system – Vulcan (unrelated to Mr. Spock’s home world). Alas, it disappeared. Astronomers also detected a ‘natural’ satellite around our ‘sister’ planet Venus. The satellite was even named – Neith. Alas, that too disappeared, and today Venus is naked when it comes to natural satellites. Maybe Vulcan and Neith weren’t natural. It’s either that or else they never were at all since natural planets and satellites don’t do their own thing and wander about willy-nilly. The ‘canals’ and the ‘face’ on Mars have also vanished, but at least we can be fairly confident, damned confident in fact, that they never existed in the first place. Oh well we all make mistakes. Now back to all things terrestrial.
6) What’s Relatively Explainable
Barring highly unusual circumstances, and there are always exceptions to the rule, anytime the ocean is involved, an obvious explanation is at hand. The seas are vast and deep and currents run swiftly and fish are hungry and there are dozens of reasons why a ship will sink or vanish – mines to freak ocean waves to pirates. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of highly mysterious vanishings that involve ships, their passengers and crew, and the ocean. Anytime you have a large ship and crew vanish without any distress call(s), without any wreckage, survivors or bodies, flotsam, oil slicks, and the like without any obvious or ready explanation at hand, it’s damned mysterious. It’s just that if you want to hide something, deliberately or otherwise, the seafloor or ocean bottom is a damn good hiding place; any evidence often consumed by natural forces and processes.
Vanishing aircraft over bodies of water are similar non-issues, even if highly unusual or downright mysterious, such as no mayday call; no extreme weather conditions forecast; no debris. There are all manner of reasons why an aircraft can be smacked out of the sky, sinking and on the ocean bottom within minutes. There’s invisible wind sheer (macro-bursts and micro-burst downdrafts); equally invisible clear air turbulence (CAT); lightning can and does strike aircraft, usually without incident, but not always; finally planes are mechanical objects with lots of moving parts, and so it’s not unexpected from time to time to have a sudden catastrophic failure in a vital system.
Lone individuals who go missing aren’t usually cause for invoking the paranormal, the supernatural, even nuts-and-bolts UFOs. If it involves bodies of water, well, prosaic explanations abound from being washed overboard to being carried out to sea in a rip to a shark attack, etc. The bottom line tends to be: the body is very small; bodies of water are usually very large and very deep and contain lots of critters than can feed on and digest or decompose human flesh.
Groups of individuals that vanish on the other hand are more mysterious, but they are usually associated with an aircraft or ship that goes missing, but not always. Derelicts are not that unusual, like the Joyita and Mary Celeste. The vessel isn’t missing, only the people on board. However, since the majority of these larger collectives of missing persons have gone missing again within the boundaries of large bodies of water where any number of natural explanations can in theory account for the disappearance of the human component, even if some do strain credibility, such appeals to otherworldly explanations while popular, are often even more incredible.
What’s Relatively Unexplainable: It’s those ‘missing’ where solid ground is the only geographical medium that’s involved and which involves objects of some significant size that are of real interest. I mean a human body can be buried, or I guess given cement shoes and moved to a wetter location or tossed into a cave or abandoned mine. What that unexplainable residue really boils down to are 1) aircraft that vanish over land and stay forever vanished; 2) large numbers of individuals who vanish on land at the same time and place; and 3) those collective cities, cultures even civilizations that have been abandoned or vanished without obvious explanation. Translated, what we really need, if ‘mysterious’ is the goal, is some sot of large object or placement on or over land that vanishes.
There’s at least one missing-over-land case, a combo of an aircraft and people which might be of more than passing interest. It involved two American federal politicians, the Federal House of Representatives Majority Leader and Democrat Hale Boggs of Louisiana, along with Nick Begich, a Democrat Representative from the state of Alaska, an aide to Mr. Begich (Russell Brown), and the pilot (Don Jonz). The four were on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau, Alaska in a twin-engine Cessna 310C – the date was the 16th of October 1972, just weeks ahead of the November 1972 general election, for which Begich was campaigning, Boggs lending support for a political colleague. The purpose of the flight to Juneau was fundraising. On balance, there was nothing overall unusual about that, strictly political business as usual. Unfortunately, the plane never reached its destination, but vanished without trace somewhere between the port of origin and Juneau, no mayday, no nothing.
Now of course there’s going to be a massive search and rescue effort mounted no matter what, but all such efforts will be doubled and no stone left uncovered when federal politicians are among the missing. And so the combined efforts of the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy, plus civilians (over 60 aircraft in all) searched high and low for 39 days, until the 24th of November 1972, before the search was abandoned. Neither the wreckage of the plane nor the pilot’s and passengers’ remains were ever found. All were declared dead on December 29, 1972. We note that the plane they were in was a twin-engine aircraft, so the failure of say one engine should not have been an issue as would have been the case with a single engine aircraft.
Apart from the above incident featuring Hale Boggs et al. what are my own picks of just a few of the top mysterious disappearances? While I’m sure everybody has their own list, here is mine.
*Enoch (Roughly 4000 years BC): According to Genesis 5:24 (King James Version): “And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.”
According to Hebrews 11:5 (King James Version): “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.”
So what are we to make of this? No matter which way you slice and dice this, Mr. Enoch “was not” and “God took him” and “was not found” and therefore he was a long-term missing person, at least as far as his peers were concerned.
Now since IMHO there is no such animal as a supernatural deity, God is nothing but an ordinary run-of-the-mill flesh-and-blood extraterrestrial (which is still pretty extraordinary by our standards I have to add). So, is this a case of abduction by a UFO, and if so probably the first abduction case on record, even if the victim, Enoch, was a willing abductee? Apparently Enoch, in his trilogy the “Books of Enoch” (not part of the Bible I must add and text which didn’t surface until around the 300 BC to 500 AD transition period – long after Enoch went away) routinely took trips up to Heaven (God’s starship).
What’s unusual about all of this is that of all of Adam’s descendents (those Generations so listed in Genesis), even though they lived extremely long lives (by our standards anyway, like Methuselah) only Enoch avoided mortal death that the others eventually succumbed to. That’s not to say Enoch didn’t live a very long life (365 years before God kidnapped him), it’s just relative to others of his ilk, like Methuselah, Enoch departed this terrestrial abode still relatively wet behind the ears – except, if Enoch didn’t kick-the-bucket as the Bible alleges, because God wouldn’t allow it, then Enoch must still be alive somewhere. And if that’s the case, the “Guinness Book of Records” will have to depose Methuselah from top spot on the longevity list. I mean Enoch has to be over 6000 years old now (if Genesis can be dated to roughly 4000 BC). I bet he must use a lot of wrinkle cream! So in the case of Enoch, he’s missing but NOT presumed dead.
The point is, we have a major mystery as to why Enoch, and Enoch alone, was abducted in the Biblical Book of Genesis!
Actually I really shouldn’t count Enoch as missing in action as an explanation was given, but can you trust it – the explanation that is. I mean it came from the ultimate science fantasy anthology of tall tales – the Bible. IMHO the Bible is as reliable as a ‘reliable’ politician. I mean read my lips of this election promise: “There will be no carbon tax under my government”. Post election, what do we get under “my government”? You guessed it, a carbon tax! While Australians will identify with this example, I’m sure nearly any citizen of any country can identify with unreliable political (ultimately broken) promises.
*The Lost Army of Cambyses (roughly 525 BC): Now if you think a missing army of 6,000 men is anomalous (see immediately below), try one of 50,000 men!
According to the ancient Greek historian, the “Father of History”, Herodotus, King Cambyses II sent an army to threaten the Oracle of Amun at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt since the Oracle predicted some bad things in store for him. His army of 50,000 men was halfway across the Egyptian desert when apparently a massive sandstorm sprang up, burying them all. Although many Egyptologists regard the story as a myth (and you’d of thought there would have been at least one survivor to tell the tale with some greater authority), people and institutions (including Harvard University and the National Geographic Society) have searched for the remains of the soldiers for many years without any definitive results to date. Until such time as the remains are found – assuming they exist – the 50,000 are collectively missing in action.
The Ninth [Roman Spanish] Legion (Second Century AD): The recent films “The Last Legion” (2007) and “Centurion” (2010) had a go at incorporating or exploring one of the more ancient historical mysteries, the fate of the Roman Ninth Legion that invaded Britain. Now it’s one thing for one individual to vanish into thin air, but quite something else for an entire mob of thousands to disappear as if flown to Mars. Since we’re dealing with a Roman Legion here, that equates to about 6000 men. There is no evidence of what actually happened to the famous Ninth Legion, as it simply drops out of records around the early second century AD.
*The Ninth [Roman Spanish] Legion’s disappearance has raised speculations over its fate. There are lots of theories about where and exactly when the Ninth met its collective fate. Some say Scotland around 117 AD. It is often said that the Ninth Legion disappeared in Britain about 117 AD. By far the most plausible answer to the question ‘what happened to the Ninth’ is that they fought and died in Britain, disappearing in the late 110s or early 120s when the province was in disarray.
The Ninth was certainly no longer in existence by the mid 2nd Century as a list of legions compiled during the reign of the emperor Marcus Aurelius fails to mention it. The last concrete information of its whereabouts is in 107-108 AD, where they are mentioned being stationed to help rebuild the legionary fortress at York (Eboracum).
However, the names of several high-ranking officers of the Ninth are known who probably served with the Legion after roughly 120 AD which suggest that the Legion continued in existence after this date. It has been suggested that the Legion may have been destroyed nowhere near the British Isles say instead during the Bar Kokhba Revolt in Judaea Province [Israel] in 132-136 AD or possibly in the ongoing conflict with the Parthian Empire [Persia], those Roman-Parthian Wars, but there is no firm evidence for this. Rather, it has been also thought that the Legion was destroyed in some unknown war near the Danube frontier or perhaps whilst serving on the Eastern front fighting the Partians, during or before the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
That the fate of the Ninth was settled somewhere in the East, following a strategic transfer, rather than being lost in a British catastrophe, has now become the preferred scenario, although ultimately the evidence for this is rather insubstantial. Just about any scenario is grist for the mill seeing as how anomalous this is. I mean the Roman Empire just doesn’t lose 6,000 soldiers!
But even if the Ninth had gone missing in Britain, it is highly unlikely to have reappeared and continued in existence as a military force for the three centuries between 117 AD and 460 AD, undocumented by the otherwise thorough Roman administration. At any rate by the late fifth century AD Britain had already been abandoned by Rome for many decades.
So, what happened to the Ninth? Maybe they found six thousand British wives and quietly merged into British society. Or maybe they were slaughtered to the last man. Regardless, there’s no actual archaeological evidence to decide the argument and end the controversy over the fate of the Roman Ninth Legion. If the ancient Romans didn’t have a clue as to the fate of their own, what luck scholars in the 21st Century? Maybe they were flown to Mars!
*The Mary Celeste (1872): Everybody knows the story of the Mary Celeste, a seaworthy ship discovered without any crew on board or clue as to why. Despite the explanation provided by the TV show “Doctor Who” – the Daleks so terrified the crew that they all jumped overboard – why should seasoned/experienced crew trade in a perfectly large seaworthy vessel (the Mary Celeste) for a much smaller and therefore less seaworthy vessel (one lifeboat)?
Despite all the speculations, we’ll probably never know the reason for absolute certain, and so the legend of the Mary Celeste will live on and on in the annals of unsolved maritime mysteries. But it’s interesting to speculate that had the Mary Celeste never been found on the high seas, it would have eventually succumbed to the elements and sank. The world would have then assumed that ship and crew were lost together. So how many other lost-at-sea ships may have actually been abandoned first, voluntarily or otherwise?
*Flight 19 (1945): I gather just about everyone knows the story of Flight 19. If not, the basics are that a training flight of five TBM Avengers vanished. A rescue plane sent in search of the original five also vanished. The conclusions reached were that the five planes became disoriented and the search-and-rescue aircraft exploded. All were presumed lost at sea.
Assuming all compasses weren’t working, and all the pilots were disoriented, since the training flight of the five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers took place in the latter afternoon and in December, the Sun should have been visible in the western region of the sky. Since their original course and destinations were to the east of Florida, followed by a leg heading north, then it should have been obvious, if you were lost, to just head in the direction of the Sun – towards the west. No matter where the five planes were (and they should have been somewhere east of Florida’s coast), if they had headed west they would have had to have made landfall. Very mysterious!
In any event, that doesn’t explain the disappearance of the search-and-rescue aircraft (PBM Mariner flying boat) that was sent out to look for the original five planes. It took off to the northeast (off the Florida coast) since that’s the general direction where the missing planes should have been. Alas, the rescue plane vanished too. The PBM Mariner was assumed to have been lost because of a midair explosion, but, like the TBM Avengers, no trace of men or plane was ever found.
*Kinross Incident (1953): [See my previous essay “Pilots and UFOs”.]
*Frederick Valentich (1978): [See my previous essay “Pilots and UFOs”.]
Further readings: Authors note: There have been so many books written on mysteries of the sea and air, some with paranormal emphasis (like the Bermuda Triangle), some without, and many other accounts of specific mysteries like the May Celeste and Amelia Earhart that to list them all would be to have the bibliography way, way longer than the essay! Your local bookstore and/or local library should be able to provide help in obtaining some of this vast literature.