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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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