Ghost Blimp

Ghost Blimp

There are many stories of Ghost Ships, perhaps the most famous being the Marie Celeste, from 1872.
The Marie Celeste set sail from New York for Genoa, Italy on November 5th 1872. On November 25th Captain Benjamin Briggs made the last entry in the ship’s log, reporting nothing to indicate and trouble with the ship, crew or cargo. On December 4th (or 5th depending on sources) The Marie Celeste was found adrift, headed for the Straits of Gibraltar with plenty of food, no apparent damage, no sign of her crew or passengers and no signs of violence.

History abounds with stories of missing aircraft, especially those early explorers making trans-oceanic trips. Amelia Earhart comes to mind.

A lot can happen far out at sea over open water with no witnesses.

Somewhat less that can happen to an airship over the course of a few hours when there are regular, if not constant, witnesses.


August 16, 1942
The mystery surrounding the disappearance of the two man crew of the Navy submarine chaser blimp, L-8, has been remained unsolved. What was supposed to be a routine mission turned into an enduring mystery.

Blimps were used in the war to patrol for enemy submarines. Moffett Field, also know as Sunnyvale N.A.S – Naval Air Station – included an air field on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. It was from this air field that the blimps took off and patrolled the seas looking for Japanese submarines that hunted along the Pacific coastline.

On the morning of August 16th, 1942, the L-8 took off on it’s morning mission. On board were Lieutenant Ernest Dewitt Cody and Ensign Charles Ellis Adams. The mechanic assigned to the flight, J Riley Hill, prepared the L-8 for it’s flight,

As it was about to take-off, Hill was told that the ship was too heavy and ordered to stay behind.

This fact leads to conjecture of experimental equipment being on board. If the normal crew compliment was three, why should the ship be “too heavy” to carry them? Check out GhostBlimp blogspot for that story.

Back to the story.

The L-8 took off at six a.m. At 7:50 a.m., about five miles east of the Farralone Island, they radioed that they were investigating an oil slick. “Standby…” was the last anyone heard of the crew of the L-8…..

The L-8 circled over the spot for about an hour with the crews of two ships as witnesses.

The crew of the fishing boat, the Daisy Grey, and a Liberty ship, the Albert Gallatin. Both crews gave testimony during the inquest that was to follow…

The L-8 dropped one flare and circled over he spot attempting to use the MAD, Magnetic Anomoly Detector, trying to detect if there was a large metal mass under the oil slick. Other than visual sightings, MAD was used to detect submarines, but had a very low rate of success. Less than a 4% success rate, MAD is a metal detector mounted in the gondola of the blimp.

Circling the spot, coming down towards the surface, the L-8 continued to circle until just after 9am. At that point, it dropped ballast, and rising, headed back to towards San Francisco instead of continuing to the Farralone Islands, site of a radio listening post, or heading north to Reyes Point.

Having not heard back from the crew of the L8 and unable to make contact, Moffett Field sent aircraft out to search and broadcast that all aircraft in the area should be on the lookout for the L8.

A Pan Am flight heading towards San Francisco spotted the L-8 at 10:20 , heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It was under control…

At about 10:30 witnesses saw the blimp suddenly rose dramatically at a sharp angle and go up into the clouds…

About 10:50 the L8 is sighted along the coast highway. An off duty seaman driving along the highway, heading for a day at the beach, takes a picture of the L-8. The blimp is partially deflated and the seaman can tell the L-8 is behaving strangely. He and his photograph would end up in the inquest later on.

The lettering along the center of the balloonet, ” N A V Y”, starts to form a V-shape, merging the A V…

The L-8 comes in just above the sand. Two men swimming in the water attempt to control the blimp, grabbing at it’s guide ropes. The blimp, too massive and being driven by the wind, rolls along the beach, unstoppable. After making it over the dunes and onto the golf course, still venting drags along the grass. The bomb on the right side of the gondola gets dislodged and drops onto the ground.


photo taken by an off duty Seaman driving to the beach

The blimp would finally come to rest on a busy street in Daly city. Running to the wreckage, the potential rescuers were shocked to find the blimp’s cockpit empty.

The investigation looked for clues once it had been firmly determined that neither Cody nor Adams were anywhere on board. Investigators noticed that one of the doors had been propped open. This was unusual, but all of the necessary equipment was in working order. The parachutes and life raft were still stowed in their correct places. Two of the life vests were missing, but that didn’t seem to indicate anything unusual, as it was a policy for men to wear them whenever a mission took them over water.

The biggest mystery was why neither of the men had radioed for help during whatever crisis had ensued, as the radio was in perfect order.


The L-8 where it finally came to ground

There are conjectures about what happened that range from a fight over a love triangle with a mystery woman to a stow away, secret government experiments that caused disorientation to the pilots to the pilots were forced at gun point to abandon ship by a discovered Japanese sub, to they simply fell out while making a repair. Conjectures vary in plausibility. The fact remains that no one (we know of) but Ernest Cody and  Charles Adams were present at the time of their disappearance, and the truth may never be known. No remains were ever found to offer clues.

The L-8 went on to be refurbished and served as a Goodyear Blimp for many years.

For a list of other ghost ships, both historical and modern, check out

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Henry Paterson