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The Crash of Navy Blimp L-8

16 August 1942


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, a check of the helium gas valves showed that they were set exactly as they should have been, and 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.

Getting to the Bottom...

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 of the observed oil slick later testified to the board that they saw the airship descend down to 300 above the ocean's surface 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.

Having a Reputation...

L-8, while landing, with ground crew at ready.  This photo, taken on September 2, 1942, shows the blimp after the repairs made after the August 16th crash.

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 metal gondola of the L-8, known internally to the company as 'C-64', was stored at Wingfoot Lake for many years until it was finally rebuilt in 1968 for the Goodyear blimp 'America', to be used to televise sporting events around the nation. 

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.

Recently, in 2003, Goodyear donated the control car to the National Museum of Naval Aviation, where it has been restored to its World War I styling for exhibition to the public.

Goodyear airship pilot Pat Henry examines the "ghost ship" gondola's control cables at Wingfoot Lake.

Click here to see the crash site today

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This page last updated Wednesday, July 01, 2015

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