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Histories, Institutions and Characters

In Argentina

by Eduardo A. Kesting

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The Stardust was a civilian aircraft that disappeared into the Andes mountains in the late 1940s. Despite the fact that the plane was searched for, it was not discovered again until 53 years after it had disappeared.

Its fate was made rather obvious by what was left of the plane. However, there are still many mysteries regarding what happened to the Stardust.


The Stardust was a civilian passenger version of the Avo Lancaster bomber. It was an advanced aircraft for the time and was capable of reaching speeds of 310 mph and an altitude of more than 20,000 feet, which was nearly unheard-of during its time. On August 2, 1947, the Stardust departed from Buenos Aires Airport in Argentina on its way to Santiago, Chile, with five crew members and six passengers on board.


The Stardust maintained communication in morse code throughout the flight. Everything seemed to be going well, but the weather wasn't good. The captain of the Stardust, Reginald Cook, decided to attempt to bring the aircraft up above the weather for a smoother flight. Experts believe that the plane got caught in a jet stream when the plane reached the desired altitude. The captain would not have been aware of this, because jet streams were largely unknown at the time because very few aircraft had the capability of flying at an altitude where a jet stream would have been a problem. It would seem that the jet stream blew the Stardust far off its course.


When it seemed that the plane was in position to begin its descent, a morse code signal was sent and the pilot began lowering the plane. Soon after, a message came from the Stardust; it simply said STENDEC. This code made no sense to the recipient of the message, so he asked that the message be repeated. The same message was sent twice more. The final STENDEC that was received marked the end of communications with the Stardust. The plane never landed in Santiago and the passengers and the crew were never heard from again.


A search to find the missing aircraft was conducted shortly after its disappearance, but not one trace of it could be found. Many theories regarding the Stardust's disappearance arose over the following fifty years.


Some of these theories were plausible, but others were literally out of this world. Many of these theories were discounted, when, in 1998, a pair of mountain climbers discovered some of the wreckage on Mount Tupangato in the Andes. The wreckage was fifty miles away from where the plane should have been at the time of the final communications.


It wasn't until two years later, in 2000 that an investigation into the crash could be conducted. That January a group of Argentinian Army mountaineers and some civilian climbers went to the site with the intention of finding some of the body parts of the crash victims in order to identify them. When they reached the site they discovered one of the plane's engines (a Roll's Royce creation), two of the plane's wheels, a propeller, a hand, some clothing, chunks of hair and pieces of a victim's midsection. Despite the fact that much of the wreckage is still missing, experts were able to come up with a very plausible theory explaining the cause of the crash and why it took so long for the wreckage to be discovered.


Experts believe that the jet stream is the reason that the Stardust deviated from its course without the knowledge of the captain. In its new position, the plane would have crashed into the side of Mount Tupangato during its descent. It is believed that the speed of the plane and the devastating nature of the crash would have ensured that the eleven people on board died instantly. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise.


The reason that the Stardust remained undiscovered for so long could be because it was buried in snow and ice. It is believed that the wreckage would have become covered in snow rather quickly and that the snow would have eventually turned to ice, thus trapping the wreckage in the Tupangato glacier. As the glacier slowly and naturally moved down the mountain, the wreckage would have moved with it. Eventually it reached a place where the temperature was warmer and the remains of the Stardust that were discovered would have been released from the ice. This is the most satisfactory explanation as to why it took so long for the wreckage to be found.


Despite the fact that we now have a good idea of what may have happened to the Stardust, the crash is still quite mysterious. Of course, we cannot be certain that the above explanations are entirely correct and we may  never be certain. There is also the fact that much of the wreckage and most of the victims remain missing. Then of course, there is the cryptic message that was sent by the Stardust three times. There is no known morse code abbreviation to explain it and its meaning remains a mystery. It is quite possible that we will never know what the message meant to convey.



Avro 691 Lancastrian 3 aircraft

Star Dust Crash

At Mount Tupungato

2nd August 1947

Ceremony which took place at the British Cemetery

with relatives of the Star Dust Crash

found at the Tupungato

Ceremony was performed at the Chapel in British Cemetery Corporation Chapel
Peter Young - One of the passangers who died at the Crash in 1947
Different moments at the Star Dust Crash Ceremony at British Cemetery in Bs. As.
Different moments at the Star Dust Crash Ceremony at British Cemetery in Bs. As.
Words by Rev. Kenneth Murray
Different moments at the Star Dust Crash Ceremony at British Cemetery in Bs. As.
Different moments at the Star Dust Crash Ceremony at British Cemetery in Bs. As.
Different moments at the Star Dust Crash Ceremony at British Cemetery in Bs. As.
The Remains which were found were deposited at the Garden of Remembrance
A plaque in memory of the passangers of the Star Dust Crash at the Historical Wall
A plaque in memory of the passangers of the Star Dust Crash
Plaque at British Cemetery in Memory of those who died. Star Dust Crush - Tupungato - 2nd August 1947

Photos taken by Teddy Kesting