With Halloween approaching, it seems appropriate to post a spooky mystery story. The fate of the World War Two blimp, L-8, is one of San Francisco’s greatest mysteries. I have read of the story before, but a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Gary Kamiya raised my interest in the incident again. During World War Two blimps regularly patrolled the Pacific Ocean in search of Japanese submarines that may be lurking off the coast. (In fact, it was discovered after the war that a Japanese submarine did, indeed, fire a torpedo at the Golden Gate Bridge) On August 16th 1942, a navy blimp piloted by Lieutenant Ernest DeWitt Cody and Ensign Charles Adams left Treasure Island, flew over the Golden Gate Bridge, and headed toward the Farallon Islands. Shortly after that, a message, “Am investigating suspicious oil slick, stand by.” was sent to Treasure Island from the blimp. That was over 76 years ago, and that was the last thing ever heard from the two pilots! The blimp came down empty in Daly City, just south of the Crocker Amazon District, (not far from where Parry Hearst was captured) and to this day, no one knows what happened or what became of the two pilots on board. (Vintage photo from Welweb.org)
The L-8 blimp had a few previous moments in history. This photo from Wikipedia shows it delivering parts to the aircraft carrier USS Hornet just before she left for the famous “Doolittle Raid”.
Around 11:15 AM, the blimp was photographed near the shoreline by Lake Merced deflating and descending. It struck a hill near the Lake Merced Golf Course which caused one of the depth charges on the ship to break off and roll down the hill. Fortunately, it didn’t explode. (Allthat’sinteresting.com)
The blimp eventually crashed down on Bellevue Avenue in Daly City, seen here in this view looking southeast. (SF Chronicle)
The blimp was intact, all the parachutes were still on board, but the door was latched open, which it should not have been. I think I may have solved a mystery within a mystery I was encountering from this San Francisco Chronicle photo of the gondola taken at the time. The L and 8 letter and number visible in the previous photo are missing in this picture. This may have been requested by the navy as not to identify which blimp it was.
Two views of the downed airship from the San Francisco Chronicle, looking southwest:
A view of the gondola looking northwest: That’s probably the same telephone pole.
The San Francisco Examiner edition that covered the story: (Atlas Obscura)
The two, lost forever, pilots, Ernest Cody and Charles Adams: It’s unlikely anyone will ever know what became of them.
While I was researching the story, I met a nice lady from the area named Veronica who was interested in the incident, and the pictures. She helped me match up some of the angles. The top vintage photo was on the north side of Bellvue where the blimp came down. I was looking at the three houses in the center photo as the ones in the old photo; the stairs, doorways and small windows on the right side of the houses match up. Veronica thought it was where the houses in the bottom photo further to the east are, even though two of the houses didn’t match. There is a gap on the right that could be the same as the one in the vintage photo, so I took a picture of her guess, just in case.
When I got back to the office I looked the area up again on Google Maps. Trust a woman’s intuition, Veronica was right!
The L-8 gondola was eventually used for other Goodyear blimps after the war, and is now on display in the Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. (navalavationmuseum.org)
2 thoughts on “The mystery of the “Ghost Blimp” (For Veronica)”
Not many people have heard of the Ghost Blimp. I know other natives who have not heard of it.
So many possibilities, but we’ll never know. Why did the pilots latch the door open in flight against regulations? They were wearing their lifejackets as required while on board and they would’ve stayed afloat. And what was the oil slick they were investigating? We’ll never know. The only thing we do know is they went out that open door and never came back.