Glenn Miller is second to Amelia Earhart as the most famous missing person in aviation history. His fame in life as the hit-making big band leader behind swing classics like “In the Mood” is matched by the mysterious nature of his disappearance more than 74 years ago during a wartime flight from England to Paris. No one is sure why the UC-64A Norseman carrying Miller, pilot John Morgan and Lt. Col. Norman F. Baessell plunged into the English Channel on the afternoon of Dec. 15, 1944, but numerous theories have taken root over the decades.
The official explanation is the most obvious: Miller and the crew fell victim to bad weather. Flights from Twinwood Farm, the British airfield where Miller departed, had been grounded for several days prior due to fog, and the cloud ceiling had fallen to 1,500 feet on the day in question. Conditions in Paris were just as poor, with local French air controllers formally denying Morgan’s request to undertake the flight. But according to a 2014 episode of History Detectives, commanding officer Baessell ordered Morgan to make the trip anyway so that Miller could meet up with the rest of his band and perform a concert for the troops.
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The haze was bad enough to prompt the notoriously plane-phobic Miller to quip, “Where the hell are the parachutes?” Baessell, according to legend, replied, “What’s a matter with you Miller, do you want to live forever?”
Morgan was reportedly not certified to fly using instruments alone, and it’s likely that he lost his bearings and succumbed to spatial disorientation — a common problem that remains one of the leading causes of pilot death. Once this occurs, simulator testing has revealed that pilots have an average of just 178 seconds to correct their course before a crash is imminent.
In addition to low visibility, military planes of the era — including the UC-64A Norseman — were known to have defective engine carburetors. This, mixed with wings that became iced over in the sub-freezing temperatures, likely doomed the aircraft.
“The airplane got out over the water, the ceiling was dropping, the temperature was at freezing, the engine ices up, and all of