The Mysterious Disappearance of the “Ghost Blimp” Over San Francisco Bay

The Mysterious Sight

On the morning of August 16, 1942, a woman named Ida Ruby was riding her horse along a dirt path near a beach just south of San Francisco, California. During the week, Ida worked as a telephone operator, but it was a Sunday, so she had time off. She cherished her weekends, often spending them riding along the coastline, taking in the beautiful water, and admiring the stunning cliffs that descended to the ocean. Every time she went out for a ride, she brought her binoculars with her to observe any interesting sights, whether it was an animal or something far out over the water.

As Ida turned a corner, something off to her right, over the water, caught her attention. She stopped her horse and squinted at the sea. The water was very calm, allowing her to see far out past the horizon. There, she spotted a black object hovering over the water. Instead of raising her binoculars right away, she squinted and realized it was a blimp. Today, we might think of the Goodyear blimp hovering over sporting events, but this was a military blimp. It was 1942, right in the middle of World War II, and the United States had joined the war nine months earlier after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

Japanese submarines had been lurking off the coast of California and all along the West Coast, occasionally sending torpedoes and bombing the U.S. mainland. In response, the United States launched a fleet of blimps to patrol the Pacific coastline, searching for Japanese submarines. These blimps flew low over the water, allowing their crews to spot submarines and mark them for bombing runs or scare them off. Although Ida was aware of these blimps, seeing one was still uncommon.

Intrigued, she raised her binoculars and focused on the blimp. What she saw was so strange that, even 80 years later, no one can fully explain it. To understand why, we need to back up about five hours to around 6:00 a.m. at a military base just north of where Ida was seeing the blimp.

The Routine Mission Begins

At 6:00 a.m. that morning, at the military base, the particular blimp Ida would later see was on the ground, with Navy pilots and mechanics preparing it for a routine mission over the San Francisco Bay to look for Japanese submarines. The intended path for the blimp that day was to leave the base, fly over the famous Golden Gate Bridge, travel 28 miles west to the Farallon Islands, then 20 miles north to a peninsula called Point Reyes, and finally head south along the coastline back to the base. The entire mission was scheduled to take about four hours.

The pilots for this mission were 27-year-old Navy Lieutenant Ernest Cody and 34-year-old Officer Charles Adams, both very experienced blimp pilots. They had flown similar missions many times before, making this a routine task. Additionally, a Navy mechanic was scheduled to join them in case of any malfunctions during the mission. That morning, everything seemed to be going to plan. There was nothing unusual about the mission.

However, as the two pilots and the mechanic were getting inside the gondola to begin the mission, Lieutenant Cody noticed that the blimp was much heavier than it should have been. The level of rigor in preparing these blimps for flight was intense, with every item carefully weighed, so for the blimp to be too heavy made no sense. Cody and Adams tapped on the control panel, thinking it might be malfunctioning, but the panel still showed the blimp as too heavy. They flagged over the mechanic, who realized that the foggy weather that morning could have caused extra moisture to stick to the balloon’s surface, adding significant weight.

While this was not a crisis, it was an inconvenience, requiring them to wait until the sun burned off the moisture. However, Cody and Adams did not feel like waiting. The mission was so routine, and they had done it so many times before. They decided the fastest solution was to leave the mechanic behind, which would make the blimp light enough to fly even with the extra moisture. The mechanic agreed, and once he hopped off, the blimp’s weight was acceptable. Lieutenant Cody fired up the blimp’s engines, and just after 6:00 a.m., he and Officer Adams lifted off the ground to begin their mission.

The Disappearance

About an hour and a half later, at 7:38 a.m., Lieutenant Cody radioed back to air control, reporting that the patrol had been routine and they had not seen any Japanese submarines or anything unusual. They were positioned just east of the Farallon Islands, exactly on course. Everything seemed to be going to plan. However, four minutes later, Cody radioed again to air control, saying they had spotted an oil slick on the water, a common indicator of a submarine below the surface. They were going to descend and investigate the slick, then report back. This last transmission was at 7:50 a.m.

A few minutes later, a fishing boat named the Daisy Gray was gliding through the water just east of the Farallon Islands. The captain saw the blimp descending quickly through the clouds toward the water. The captain knew that blimps patrolled for enemy submarines, and realizing he was heading toward the slick the blimp was investigating, he panicked. He ordered his crew to pull in the fishing nets, turned the boat, and accelerated away as fast as possible, fearing the blimp might drop bombs on the suspected submarine.

As he turned the boat around, he saw the blimp about 30 feet above the water, with someone inside the gondola leaning out and dropping two things directly into the water, into that oil slick. Seconds later, huge plumes of smoke were coming out of the water. The person had just dropped some flares, marking where this submarine was. The captain expected the next thing to be a bomb, like a depth charge, dropped right there. He sped away, hoping the bomb wouldn’t affect him and his crew.

After making it another couple hundred feet away from the blimp, the captain turned around, expecting to see the blimp still hovering. But now, the blimp was rocketing back up into the clouds as fast as it could, and before long, it was gone. It had disappeared into the clouds without dropping a bomb. The captain was left wondering what was going on with this blimp.

The Vanishing Blimp

Meanwhile, back at air control, the last thing they heard from Lieutenant Cody was that they were going to investigate the oil slick and report back. Cody and Adams had clearly descended to the water because the fishing boat saw it happen. But after rocketing back up to the clouds, they never radioed back to air control. Air control waited and waited, but they didn’t hear back from Cody or Adams. Eventually, they began hailing the two pilots, asking what had happened, but they received no response.

Air control sent two seaplanes out to the area east of the Farallon Islands to find the blimp and ensure it was okay. However, the seaplanes couldn’t find the blimp anywhere. They flew all over the area, doing wider and wider circuits, but there was no sign of the blimp. The oil slick that Cody had reported and the fishing boat had seen was either gone or not visible from the air.

The seaplanes stayed on station near the Farallon Islands for another two hours, flying all over, hoping to spot the blimp. Eventually, at about 10:30 a.m., one of the seaplanes spotted the blimp way high in the sky, much higher than any blimp would normally go. It was dangerously high and way off course. When the seaplanes approached the blimp, it began rapidly descending, seemingly trying to avoid being seen. It dropped below the cloud cover, and by the time the seaplanes circled back, the blimp was gone. It had vanished again.

The seaplane pilots reported back to air control, saying the blimp was way off course and at a dangerously high altitude before rapidly descending and disappearing. They needed to get in touch with Cody and Adams, but neither pilot responded to repeated hails. They had gone completely radio silent.

The Ghost Blimp’s Final Descent

Amidst this chaos, Ida Ruby was riding her horse along the dirt path near the beach south of San Francisco. She looked out over the water and saw the blimp. She stopped, raised her binoculars, and focused on it. The balloon portion of the blimp, which had “Navy” written on it, was so deflated in the middle that the word “Navy” was crumpled and unreadable. The blimp appeared to be listing, blown by the wind rather than being directed by pilots. It was drifting towards Ida and getting lower.

As the blimp approached, Ida raised her binoculars again and got a clear look inside the gondola. She saw three people inside. This was shocking because the gondola was only supposed to have Lieutenant Cody and Officer Adams. Ida didn’t know who was supposed to be inside, but she clearly saw three men. As the blimp drifted closer, Ida lowered her binoculars and watched in horror as it passed just above her, over the cliffs behind her, and crashed into the ground.

Seconds later, Ida heard sirens going off in Daly City, the nearest town. The blimp scraped across some residential rooftops and hit a few power lines before coming to a stop in the middle of the street. It didn’t explode or catch fire; it just crumpled to the ground. First responders rushed to the scene, having tracked the blimp’s unusual behavior all morning.

The Discovery

When first responders arrived at the crash site, they were initially stunned by the apparent lack of destruction. They expected to find a significant wreck, but the blimp had not exploded or burned. Instead, it lay deflated and crumpled in the street. This surprise quickly turned to confusion when they discovered that there was no one inside the gondola.

Despite Ida Ruby’s clear sighting of three people, and the blimp being designed to carry only two pilots, the gondola was empty. First responders thoroughly searched the surrounding area, thinking the occupants might have been thrown out during the crash, but found no one. This discovery baffled them because it seemed the blimp had landed relatively softly, and the gondola was intact, with no significant damage.

Even stranger was the state of the gondola’s interior. Everything was functioning perfectly fine. The controls were in good working order, and nothing seemed out of place. The parachutes, which would have been essential if the pilots had chosen to jump out, were still neatly stowed inside the gondola. Additionally, the life raft, another critical survival tool, was still inside. It was as if the occupants had simply vanished without a trace.

The Navy launched an exhaustive investigation into what had happened to the blimp and its crew. The only explanation the Navy could offer was that Lieutenant Cody and Officer Adams must have fallen out of the blimp at the exact same time and disappeared into the ocean. However, this theory was deeply flawed. Both pilots were wearing life preservers, a basic safety measure that was standard practice. Even if they had fallen out and perished, their bodies, buoyed by the life preservers, should have floated to the surface. Moreover, the entire route they had flown was heavily scrutinized and searched, but no trace of the bodies was ever found.

The Unresolved Mystery

The Navy could not explain the sightings by Ida Ruby. She had no reason to lie and was adamant that she had seen three people inside the gondola. The entire situation defied explanation and logic, leading the blimp crash to be dubbed the “ghost blimp” story. Over the years, numerous theories have circulated regarding what could have happened on that fateful day.

Some speculate that the extra weight detected at the beginning of the mission was not due to moisture but a stowaway hiding in the blimp. This stowaway might have emerged after takeoff and somehow caused the pilots’ disappearance. However, this theory does not explain why the bodies were never found or what happened to the stowaway.

Other theories range from the pilots being captured by the Japanese to being abducted by aliens. While these theories seem far-fetched, the truth is that there are no concrete answers. The disappearance of Lieutenant Cody and Officer Adams remains one of the most perplexing aviation mysteries in history.

Conclusion

The ghost blimp story continues to captivate and mystify people decades later. Despite extensive investigations and countless theories, the disappearance of Lieutenant Cody and Officer Adams, and the strange behavior of their blimp, remain unresolved. The sighting of three people by Ida Ruby adds an extra layer of intrigue to an already baffling case.

As we reflect on this mystery, it serves as a reminder of how much we still don’t know about our world. Despite advances in technology and understanding, some events defy explanation and remain shrouded in mystery. The ghost blimp is a testament to the enduring enigma of the unknown, leaving us to wonder what really happened on that foggy morning in 1942.

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