fasten your seatbelt, it’s going to be a bumpy night

Alfred Loewenstein (1877-1928) was, at one stage in the 1920s, called the richest man in the world.

image found here

Admittedly a brilliant financial mind, Loewenstein was devoid of either financial or personal ethics, with a reputation as a serial adulterer.

His first big break came when he joined the Belgian armed forces during the First World War and was sent to London, England where he was placed in charge of military supplies. Zeroing in on the incredible profits to be made contracting to the British Army, by the end of the war Loewenstein was a pound sterling millionaire. How he managed to accomplish this on the salary of a lowly captain was never explained.

Vote for Captain Kangaroo here

On the morning of July 4, 1928 a Fokker tri-motor aircraft took off from Croydon airfield just outside London, bound for Brussels. On board were the plane’s owner, 51 year-old Alfred Loewenstein, the pilot, former WWI ace Donald Drew, as well as mechanic Robert F. Little, a valet, a male secretary; and two female stenographers who had just been hired from a temp agency that day, making a total of seven people.

image found here

According to the four people in the passenger compartment, soon after the plane crossed the English coast off Dover, flying at 4,000 feet, Loewenstein, who had been reading a book, laid it down after carefully marking the place, took off his collar and tie, went to the washroom.

Onboard lavatories were a new development in aviation comfort, this particular model of Fokker being one of the first ever equipped with such an amenity. It was in a small compartment at the back of the plane. After passing through the compartment door, Loewenstein went to the left and entered the bathroom. On the right was another door, which led out of the plane. There was also a door in a bulkhead separating the head from the rest of the aircraft, so anyone coming and going into rest room was not visible from the main compartment.

aircraft toilet in its case found here

After about ten minutes they noticed he had not returned and his valet went to check on him and found…nothing. The ‘richest man in the world’ had vanished. 

After circling for a short time in an unsuccessful search for Loewenstein, at about 6:30 pm the plane landed on a deserted beach on the Normandy coast for half an hour, and no clear account was ever obtainable as to what the passengers and crew did there. The plane took off again and made a three or four-minute flight, landing a second time at a French military airfield nearby, where the crew told authorities that their boss Loewenstein was missing.

Omaha Beach, Normandy found here

Speculation surrounded the possibility that Lowenstein may have become confused when leaving the lavatory and opened the wrong door, plunging several thousand feet to his death in the English Channel.

 Officials of the Fokker Aircraft Corporation said indignantly that their doors were intentionally designed so that the blast of air would make it absolutely impossible for them to be opened in flight, except by the united efforts of two very strong men. 

image found here

Among the rumors surrounding his disappearance, some suspected a criminal conspiracy in which his employees murdered him, others speculated that a growing absent mindedness, noted by many of Lowenstein’s acquaintances, may have caused him to walk out the wrong door of the plane.

Because he had left behind a tangled web of business ventures, others theorized that his business empire was on the verge of collapse. Some even asserted that corrupt business practices were about to be exposed and that Lowenstein, therefore, committed suicide.

 Then there were those who believed he was an early model for D.B. Cooper, having originated the idea of parachuting out of the aircraft to be picked up by a waiting yacht and spirited off to an unknown destination in order to escape his collapsing empire. 

image found here

Immediately following Loewenstein’s disappearance an air and sea search came up empty-handed, but two weeks later his body was found, wearing only underpants and socks, floating in mid-channel by a fishing trawler.

An autopsy was carried out by Belgian authorities and it was discovered that Loewenstein did not die of drowning, but apparently of the pulverizing internal injuries which occurred when his body slammed into the ocean after falling for about four thousand feet.

Which makes Vesna Vulovic’s survival all the more amazing:

Vesna found here

There was really nothing special about this lady, except for the fact that she fell 33,000 feet and lived to tell the tale.

On January 26, 1972 she was working an extra shift due to a clerical error. She took the shift anyway to earn a little extra scratch, probably to supplement her bear-wrestling hobby or something. Anyway, some terrorists decided to blow up her plane and succeeded in doing so at the worst possible time, when the plane was really high up in the air.

image found here

Not only did she survive the explosion that blew the plane to pieces, but she was the only person to live after hitting the side of the mountain. It was winter so the mountain was also frozen 

She did in fact break a bunch of bones and fell into a coma, but when she woke up she looked around and asked for a cigarette. She was left paralyzed … but then regained her ability to walk through sheer force of will. She also didn’t suffer any of those New Age, sissy boy “psychological effects” and continued to fly like nothing happened. As a bonus she collected a Guinness World Record for her troubles.

Vesna receiving her award found here

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44 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hmmm…
    ‘the united efforts of two very strong men’ seems like a strangely subjective measure of force.

  2. Being richest in the world must be a lot of fun?

    • then why do many rich people appear to be so unhappy?

  3. So how did he lose his shirt and pants??

    • cheap polyester, it always disintegrates in the wash

  4. I was born near Croydon … just sayin’.
    I’d also like to say that Mr McCartney has always struck me as a bit of a prat … which part I’m not sure. I do know exactly where he lives though as a furniture restorer we used to use also worked for him … ooo, and someone we know built a wrought iron gate for him … double oooo … he lives near where one of the TG’s cousins used to live … and triple oooooooo, a very good friend drank a pint with him a couple of years ago in a town just down the road. [I’m clutching at straws here aren’t I?]

    • It sounds as though you have an infestation of beatles. PUT THE BAYGON DOWN!

  5. It’s a dangerous business going to the washroom. Anything could happen. Best to stay put and use a Magic Cone and a bucket.

    • I knew that Magic Cone would come in handy. I’m making a mental note to order one online.

    • hahaha!

  6. You know, my first thought was of D B Cooper when I saw the tagline. Amazing. There is a lot to be said for flying at lower altitudes isn’t there? You can open the wrong door and step out of a plane without anyone being any the wiser. Just try that in the new A380 – explosive decompression anyone?

    • Explosive Decompression sounds like a heavy metal band

  7. I am SO glad The Count never knew about that briefcase toilet.

  8. Just weird!

  9. I am glad you also made it through the Rapture

  10. Vesna was one lucky person. Lucky to survive that is, not to be blown up in the first place.

  11. The best bit is that she didn’t suffer ‘new age sissy boy “psychological effects”‘ and immediatelt asked for a durrie on waking up. (Although on following the link I find she’s Serbian, which explains a lot)

    • No sissies in Serbia?

      • I’m willing to say that there is undoubtedly a few sissies in Serbia, but a lot less percentage-wise than most other countries. I base this on my experiences with Serbian brandy, which was probably what the terrorist’s bomb was made out of. If Serbians can drink that stuff then dance all night to some awesome brass band, then they’re seriously un-sissy.

  12. Captain Kangaroo had the most perplexing hair. Worse than Trumps, in my opinion. Are those sideburns? Really? WHO COMBS THEIR SIDEBURNS?!?! Did he straighten them with flat iron? Put hair products on them? Dye them blonde??? The questions, oh, the questions…

  13. but was vesna really lucky?

  14. First story perplexing, second story mind boggling. And oh look, a picture of Paul McCartney when he still looked sort of human.

  15. I think Vesna V was right to back up in the air for more flying after her huge fall. The chances of another bombing/mountain tumble are pretty low.

  16. I have always feared heights. This just reinforces that fear.

  17. I particularly like the ‘New Age, sissy boy “psychological effects”’ diagnosis. I know a lot of people who are afflicted with that. Not myself, of course.

  18. I once fell approximately 1500 feet — while still in the air plane — when we hit a huge downdraft as we went through a pass. Watching the little altimeter thingie whizzing round and round as we fell, seeing the side of the mountain looming on the left, hearing the pilot next to me say “SHIT!” and the two people in the back throwing up, feeling the slight weightlessness as we fell through the sky, ahhhh. Undescribable really. And the relief as the little plane pulled out of the fall before we hit the side of the mountain.

    I can’t even imagine the feelings one goes through as one plummets 33,000 feet.

    • I can. It happened to me on a flight to Singapore when we were a couple of hours out of Sydney. Several passengers lost their lunch in the incident but the scariest part was coming in to land and seeing rows of fire trucks and ambulances waiting by the runway

      • Yes, that is a nasty jolt, to know ground crew were scared what might happen.

  19. Great story! I clicked on the toilet pic to see if I could see where it was taken (I worked for a few weeks at a company that sold secondhand aircraft parts – you wouldn’t believe how much even the smallest part of a jet airliner costs. Next time I fly, i’m taking a screwdriver with me. 🙂

  20. OMG, I totally forgot about Captain Kangaroo! I used to wish I had the same haircut.

    • I hope you voted for him in the poll bschooled, he’s currently neck and neck with Captain Kirk

      • I voted for Kirk!

  21. Fantastic stories, if I have children they will all be named Vasna in honour of the lady

    • I think you should start off with pets first to see how confusing it might be for all concerned

  22. I thought that a pressure differential sort of like a vacuum is created when you open a door at high altitudes and it sucks you out while making a lot of noise. That’s what happens in movies, anyway. Maybe the people in the plane were lying about not knowing what happened? But why would the female stenographers lie – so they wouldn’t have to jot down his stupid thoughts anymore? That seems extreme.

  23. I remember Vesna! What a woman.

  24. Did Vesna receive her award from Paul McCartney or was he being awarded for falling out of a plane, too?

  25. My dad retreats to the rest room for several hours at a time, but he always reappears eventually.

  26. It is one of those delicious mysteries isn’t it/ As for Vesna Vulovic now she was a very lucky woman

  27. What an amazing story about the woman surviving the explosion and crash. what are the chances!?!?!

  28. She never fly again. She took the JAT uniform on only for press and photo sessions year after the crash. The famous photo shows Vesna praying and looking up to the sky, was taken at Belgrad airport by famous swedish photographer Tommy Mardell for the newspaper Aftonbladet in Stockholm

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