January 30, 1979
Varig Flight 967 disappears; its whereabouts are still unknown
Flight 967 departed from Tokyo-Narita Airport, Japan to its first destination of Los Angeles International Airport, United States. In addition to the 6 crew members, the cargo flight was carrying various items of value — most notably a collection of 153 paintings by Japanese-Brazilian artist Manabu Mabe, which was valued at $1.24 million (about $4.5 million in today’s economy).
The full trip was to cover 18,000km (11,200 miles), from Tokyo to Rio de Janeiro, with two stops along the way, the first being Los Angeles. The aircraft took off at 20:23 hours local time, and last made contact with the air control tower at 20:45. It was expected to make contact again at 21:23, but failed to do so. When contact could not be made for over an hour after the scheduled time, the authorities were contacted to search for the missing aircraft. Two Japanese patrol planes searched the ocean for signs of Flight 967, but could find no trace of the airplane, its crew members, or any wreckage. All six aboard the flight are presumed to have been killed.
Because there was no evidence left behind to suggest how the accident was caused, it is suspected the “sudden and accidental decompression of the cabin” was at fault, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. Depressurization could, as Transponder 1200 noted, caused the crew to fall unconscious and leave the airplane to continue its journey on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and descended into the ocean. It has also been speculated the aircraft, which had traveled in international airspace northeast of Tokyo, may have flown too close to the border of the former Soviety Union and was mistakenly shot down. Yet another theory involves the cargo plane carrying secrets about Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25P, a supersonic interceptor from the Soviet Union.
The six crew members aboard the Flight 967 were Captain Gilberto Araújo da Silva, First Officer Erni Peixoto Mylius, Second Officers Antonio Brasileiro da Silva Neto and Evan Braga Saunders, and Flight Engineers José Severino Gusmão de Araújo and Nícola Exposito.
Coincidentally, Captain Araújo da Silva had been piloting a Varig Boeing 707 on July 11, 1973, when a serious fire led to the plane requiring an emergency landing near Orly Airport in Paris, France. A lit cigarette in the aircraft’s bathroom was the ignition of the fire, and all but 11 of the airplane’s 134 occupants were killed during the incident. Captain Araújo da Silva was nationally recognized by both the countries of Brazil and France for his emergency landing.
Aviation Safety Network. Accessed: January 30, 2021. https://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19790130-0
“Crash of a Boeing 707-323C in the Pacific Ocean: 6 killed.” Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. Accessed: January 30, 2021. https://www.baaa-acro.com/crash/crash-boeing-707-323c-pacific-ocean-6-killed
Oakley, Ben. 1979: 365 Days of True Crime, Cold Case Murder, and Serial Killers. Twelvetrees Publishing, 2020
Cerqueira, Erick. “A 40 años de la misteriosa desaparición del Boeing 707 de VARIG.” Transponder 1200. January 30, 2019. Accessed: January 30, 2021. https://www.transponder1200.com/a-40-anos-de-la-misteriosa-desaparicion-del-boeing-707-de-varig/ (Spanish)
“Cargo Aircraft Overdue at L.A.” The Salt Lake Tribune. January 31, 1979