The Search for Douglas DC-3 ECT-025

 

Stephen Whitaker wrote me in Jan.2008, requesting help for solving the mystery of DC-3 ECT-025.

This Douglas DC-3 / C-47 vanished without a trace on 03Oct1980, north of Palma de Mallorca (the Mediterranean).

Stephen wrote:
"It was auctioned by the Spanish Air Force and left the Four Winds Airport (Cuatro Vientos) on October 3, 1980 and was never heard from or seen since. I am attempting to find any more available information such as history, flight plan files, persons who may have spoken with the pilot etc.
This DC-3 and a JU-52 which were flying together from Madrid to Germany in October 1980 to become part of an Air Museum. The DC-3 disappeared in flight, with my father as pilot.
I see three likely scenarios: 1. Ditched in the northern Mediterranean, 2. Crashed in the Spanish mountains, or 3. Recruited into clandestine service, possibly in Central America ala Ollie North.
Another DC-3 owned by Hemet Exploration also went missing 6-7 months later, in flight from Algeria to France.
I am attempting to reconstruct an assumed flight to prepare a video to memorialize my father's disappearance.
Any help would be appreciated."
He included an Acrobat Reader (.pdf) file in Spanish (English translation)

A posting on various fora remained without result.

Googling provided no photographs of ECT-025

The book Spanish & Portugese Military Aviation by John M.Andrade (Midland Counties Publications, 1977) offered the following information on the Spanish DC-3s:
"The first 24 of a grand total of 67 Dakota (EdA designation T.3) were supplied by the USA in 1954-55. By 1976 only a few were still in use with Escuadrones 744, 745 & 911, but late in the year the survivors had been withdrawn from use. They were put in temporary storage at Cuatro Vientos, awaiting prospective buyers, but if none are found they will be scrapped."
The book lists the serials of the C-47s (T.3s) and the closed designation would be T.3-25 (of which no c/n is given).

The identity of T.3-25 led to a report on the Aviation Safety Network, however this quotes a date of accident of 02oct1973. The report quotes T.3-25 as c/n 9037, but has no details nor a location of the accident. It does report the aircraft was written off as result of the accident.

Air-Britain's book Douglas DC-3, the First Seventy Years (2006) provided the following information of c/n 9037:
USAF 42-32811 delivered 05Feb43 - xx - Walker 11Jan45 - Smoky Hill 31Jan45 - Biggs 28Jun45 - RFC Bush 03Oct45 - NC57539 Hoosier Air Transport Corp., NYC, NY (19747) - Delta f/n 61 28Feb49 - Charlotte Aircraft Corporation - Aircraft Ferry Services Inc 30Sep59 - T.3-25 Spanish AF 29Oct61 - Without further use (wfu) 02Oct73 accident.

The webpage of AviationSafety Network has the bare minimum on the 1980 disappearance, but without the aircraft's identity. It lists the operator as Kurfiss Aviation and the routing Madrid-Barajas - Perpignan,France.
Peter-Michael Gerhardt provided the following info on the Air-Britain Yahoo eGroup (AB-IX, members only):
"- Kurfiss Aviation no longer exists, not for decades (I would say since 1995, but am not sure).
- CASA 352-L D-CIAS, after having been bought by Kurfiss, was flown from Spain to Germany as N88927 prior to Jun74, presumably in 1973."

This is where the trail seems to stop...

Notes to the above:
--Air-Britain (1984 & 2006 editions) DC-3 books state "T.3-25 lost 02/10/73"
--ASN does not provide an identity for the aircraft involved in 1980; no proof this is actually T.3-25
--Are there any reports of T.3-25 between Oct73 and Oct80 ?
--Aviation Letter no.168 confirms ASN record (but no ID as well) and says lost "during film work", meaning ?
--While T.3-25 would be c/n 9037 (ex/ USAF 42-32811), the referenced Spanish language PDF file states a
previous identity of 42-93461 for ECT-025. This would be T.3-67?
--Spanish and Portuguese Military Aviation by John M. Andrade list T.3-67 as c/n 13375, code 744-67 EC-AET / 42-93461

 

Peter-Michael Gerhardt also added on the Ju-52:
"After all I have identified the accompanying 'Ju 52': Kurfiss already had bought three in Spain (D-CIAS/CIAK/CIAL) in 1974 and 1975 and then Casa 352-L T2B-127 (coded 721-12) at Cuatro Vientos in 1979. He applied for a German permit to fly (issued 01.10.80 as D-CIAD) with the following stages: Cuatro Vientos - Montpellier - Strasbourg - Düsseldorf. In fact the flight ended in Sabadell near Barcelona and a new permit to fly was issued on 23.01.81 this time to Frankfurt. In the event Frankfurt airport refused a VFR approach due to massive IFR traffic, so that the aircraft had to land at Egelsbach on 18.02.81. Last flight was from Mönchengladbach to Saarbrücken on 23.08.82, from where it was trucked to the museum at Hermeskeil.
Korastinski was one of Kurfiss partners, being US citizen had no problems to get an FAA registration, when the German reg office demanded documents they did not had. Another common aircraft of both was DC-3 N65371, both names mentioned for it the DC-3 book."

[Stephen wrote me in March 2009: "A clarification may be in order here, the Junkers JU-52 and the third plane may not have been owned by Kurfiss...
I believe that one or both of the accompanying aircraft were along for the trip in order to photograph/film the DC-3 on its last voyage to the museum."]


Peter-Michael Gerhardt followed this up with a posting on the AB-IX forum (08Feb.2008):
Günter Kurfiss has bought three DC-3s at Cuatro Vientos in 1979 for use in his "Air Classik"- exhibition on German airport terraces (see Bob Ogden`s book 'Aviation Museums' of 1979 for its beginnings - not yet solving our problem). They were:

c/n 14005/25450 43-18189 > KG773 > G-AKLL > EC-AEU > T3-62 > N8041A ferried as such to Germany (cancelled by FAA on 30.06.80) and since on display as "D-CORA" and "D-CADE".

c/n 10100 42-24238 > FL517 > G-AJAZ > EC-ADR > T3-61 > N8041B ferried as such to Germany and since on display as "N569R".

c/n 13375 42-93461 > KG616 > G-AJAY > EC-AET > T3-67 > N8041C nothing more heard of....

So, what happened with the latter?
Certainly it did not arrive in Germany nor did any Ju 52 or CASA 352 in 1980...

Only to provide more info: here are all other aircraft G.Kurfiss had owned:
D-CIAK/CIAL/CIAS/CIAD/EABO/EACK/EAGM/CAER/CJET/CONA/CONE/CONI/EBBD/EBBF/EBBG/EBSE
/ECAA/ECBH/ECDR/ECGB/ECGJ/ECTE/ECAD/ECBJ/ECGF/EDLO/ECMX/EFOX/EGAA/EGKA/EHWA/EHUD
/EIRF/EIHB/ELRJ/ELRK/ELRM/EMIM/EMNA/EMQO/EMWG/ENYA/EJZO/GENA/GKKD/IACM/ICCI/ICEG
/IDNL/IHBB/IKUR/IMRW/GBFD/ICAE/ICAE/ICUN/IDIM/IGAH/IJAN/IKAA/IKAB/IKAD/IKAF/ILIS
/ILSY/IKUC/IDKL/EDTQ.


So the last posting would mean that "T3-67 > N8041C nothing more heard of..." could be the sought after ECT-025...

More information welcomed.

P.M. Gerhardt wrote me this in Dec.2009, on the multiple use of registration N569R:
"DC-3 c/n 7390, which belonged to Kurfiss in 1974 (as N569R) and was sold to Hemet in 1976 (as F-BJBY). It is that aircraft which in Apr81 'disappeared' over the Mediterranean Sea.
Kurfiss later used the former reg. N569R as 'fake' markings on at least two of his Air Classik exhibits, among them DC-3 c/n 4828 ex N65371 (now preserved on München airport as 'HB-IRN')."

Jacques Hémet sent me a FAA repairform of N569R, dated 03May1963; Monsieur Hémet was the last owner of this DC-3. PHOTO OF FAA FORM

 

"Since Peter-Michael Gerhardt applied his research and deduction to the problem, it seems evident to me that the mystery aircraft must be:
c/n 13375 42-93461 > KG616 > G-AJAY > EC-AET > T3-67 > N8041C
When I initially wrote about a 2nd DC-3 lost in the same area in 1981, I made a mistake in thinking it belonged to Kurfiss: it was owned by Hemet Exploration (HERE..).
Hemet lost yet another DC-3 in the same timeframe, supposedly to a ground to air missile off the coast of Mozambique (report)."

Jacques Hémet wrote me in Oct.2009 on this:
"I am a former French DC-3 operator (airborne geophysical survey), my company was "Hemet Exploration", we were based near Toulouse, France.
One of my DC 3 disappeared from radar a short time after passing Ibiza (IFR flight Oran / Toulouse - april 1981), Nothing was ever found.
The DC-3 had been bought from Kurfiss in 1976."

"Here is a photo of my Dad, the pilot:
Whitaker, disappeared pilot
This was taken at my sisters wedding just two weeks prior to the disappearance. He would have been 89 years old now.The co-pilot Major Lawrence 'Larry' Eckmann was only 35 at the time. He would now be nearly 65."

Lothar Grim sent me this and wrote:
Mr Kurfiss
"Here is a newspaper clip from a Baden-Baden newspaper from February 17, 1981.
If the story to this (VERY funny) picture is true, one of the disappeared aircraft had no connection to the Spanish A/F."

The German text explains how Mr Kurfiss managed to talk the price down of an acquited DC-3, but had to sweeten the deal with crates of whiskey and foot the bill for the Ugandan General, his 3 wifes and.... his 28 children!

Stephen and I agreed on the following translation:
--18 000 dollars, Five Cases of Whiskey and a Hotel Bill for an old DC-3...--
Gunter Kurfiss, during his worldwide search for old aircraft, may have seen everything as he built his collection. This story proves to be one example:
In Kampala / Uganda, Kurfiss had discovered an old DC 3 and entered negotiations with a Military official there to acquire it.
A high General came as a negotiating partner to Kampala and he demanded 75.000 dollars for the airplane. But Gunter Kurfiss, a seasoned pilot and knowledgeable in the dealings of the airline industry, knew how to negotiate. After three days of tough negotiations he brought the price down to 18.000 USD.
However, he also had to throw in five cases of whiskey, as a gesture. After all negotiations were completed the Ugandan General told Gunter Kurfiss that he should also take care of the hotel bill for his family, who the General had brought with him.
Innocently, Gunter Kurfiss agreed. He later discovered the General had not only his three wives with him, but also his 28 children.
Ironically, this DC-3 disappeared, for some unknown reason, during the ferry flight and has remained missing to this day.

Stephen's reply to this:
"I think I should note that the Kurfiss 'whiskey' aircraft was not one from the Spanish Air Force at Cuatro Vientos. It appears that this DC-3 was yet another Kurfiss plane to disappear within the same 10 month period, not from Cuatro Vientos, but from Uganda on route to Frankfurt.
So that makes four aircraft unaccounted for in 10 months:
--Two Hemet Exploration DC-3s, one bought from Kurfiss
--Two Kurfiss Aviation DC-3s, one bought from Uganda and at least fourteen crew in total."

 

Here is an article published in a magazine called Halo, on 18Oct1980, where Wal Davis -film director- recounts the last hours of the two DC-3 pilots who disappeared... Article in Acrobat Reader (.pdf) format

Technical Report, by Spanish Authorities on the disappearance DC-3 ECT-025 (03Oct1980). The report is concluded by the words "..disappearance of aircraft are surrounded by the mystery that results from the lack of data. In the case of ECT-025, no one knows what occurred after take off from the Cuatro Vientos airport, and as a result no probable cause of an accident can be determined".

 

I found your website during a web search for information on the disappearance of the DC-3 ECT-025..
The copilot of the plane, Maj. Lawrence Eckmann, was my closest friend.
Upon learning of his disappearance in the early 1980's, I've tried to find information about the circumstances. A recent post on a US Army veteran group's site has given me my first solild lead, which in turn led me to you.
Greg Byrne
[Oct.2009]

 

Stephen wrote in Nov.2009:
"I asked the FAA for airworthiness and registration records on N8041C and they sent me a CD with a pdf file describing a Beech U8-D s/n 58-1341, which was donated in 1993-94 by the Arkansas State Police to Pulaski Technical College for a grounded training aircraft...
Possibly I asked for the wrong record?"
" c/n 13375 42-93461 > KG616 > G-AJAY > EC-AET > T3-67 > N8041C nothing more heard of..."

My reply was:
Registrations are re-used from time to time, the tailnumber is probably the correct one but relating to a different airframe.
Also tailnumbers are reserved but sometimes not taken up & paid for; that may have happened with this N8041C registration.
May also have been applied to the aircraft but not FAA applied for, that would be illegal but has happened before esspecially with airframes not in the USA and not going to the USA....

 

'Greg' wrote me (Oct.2009), explaining his memories on copilot Larry Eckmann and shares what he knows on the disappearance of DC-3 ECT-025:
"Larry Eckmann, the copilot of the DC-3, was my closest friend in highschool. He was also my brother's best friend.
I understand that Stephen's father was the pilot, and it is his search that has finally allowed me to get some information about the disappearance of the flight. (We've seen the news article and Spanish accident report.) At the time, all we knew was that he went down. I had lost contact with his parents, and was unsuccessful in locating them. Many Google and military records searches later, your efforts pitched up on the computer. I must admit, I feel a bit like a treasure hunter who has finally found something valuable."

"I've often wondered what motivated Larry to deliver the plane, and who he was with, since it wasn't a military assignment he was on. How did he team up with Stephen's dad? Who was Wal Davis?
It appears that the plane was barely airworthy, having had many of its instruments stripped...
They were delayed, I gather, and speculate that they were pressed for time since Larry was on leave. You may be able to fill in the blanks and end my speculation."

"Larry was a fine fellow. We lifeguarded together and sang in a folk music group in Japan. All of us were military brats, the sons of Air Force officers. He entered the Army as an enlisted man, went thru jump school, and flight training. Flew Hueys as a warrant officer, and then went to OCS. He was a fast burner as an officer apparently, making major after a tour in Viet Nam. He had been in seminary at one point and left it. It was a good decision; he had a bit of larceny in his soul.
He married a woman from Panama, and as I recall, they were married in a cathedral in Columbia, but that could be incorrect. I only met her once. She already had children, and I believe they had more together. I've learned that his son, Lawrence, is now an Army officer."

Peter-Michael Gerhardt contributed the following in Dec.2009:

"Following a public auction at Cuatro Vientos Kurfiss bought 3 DC-3 and one Casa 352L aircraft on 10.07.79, all former Spanish Air Force ones.

Two of the DC-3s are well known as:
c/n 25450 T3-62 N8041A 
c/n 10100 T3-61 N8041B
both reserved for Robert Korastinsky, Sansibarstrasse 21, Waldtrudering, Germany (a friend and partner of Kurfiss, commercial pilot as well, and I believe they had flown alongside in the Biafran war already, for H.Wharton). I think Commercial Aero Lloyd was a joint venture of them. Korastinsky was always needed when difficulties arose to get a German permit to fly or even CofR/CofA. He had magnificent relations to US administrations and easily and quickly got US CofRs.

Not so for the third DC-3 (c/n 13375 T3-67), which was parked at Cuatro Vientos, serialled "744-67", and basically airworthy. He had requested N8041C but the FAA refused an allocation at all. I do not know the reason. Horst Achatzi of Lufthansa Stuttgart who knew Kurfiss very well had told me that FAA forbidded to use any US reg, and because N8041C was painted on it already immediately reallocated this reg to Beech U-8D s/n 58-1341 of Arkansas State Police, Little Rock AR in 8.79. Pure vexation ("Schikane" in German). This situation became the hour of Kurfiss and his good relations to the Spanish administration. He asked them for a ferry permit to Germany and got ECT-025.

In the years until ca. 1976 ferry regs had been issued as EC-W.., after certification the W replaced by the proper letter (A, B or C). From then on ECT-three digits had been issued for the same purpose. For instance:
ECT-012 was imported Beech A-36, later EC-CYD in 11.76.
ECT-012 was reallocated to imported Cessna F177RG c/n 0173 ex F-BPQQ, later EC-DEL in 11.78.
ECT-028 was imported Learjet 35A c/n 278 ex HB-VGL, later EC-DJC in 2.80.

Another usage of ECT-025 other than for DC-3 c/n 13375 is not recorded. But we do by far not know all ferry regs.

This practice lasted a few years only. Since then until now ferry permits are issued as EC- and 3 digits (without T).

The Casa 352L (Ju 52 development built by Casa in the Fifties) was c/n 37 T2B-127 of Escuadron 721 at Alcantarilla (used for paratroop training), serialled 721-12 wfu 1977 or earlier, parked at Cuatro Vientos until sold to Kurfiss on 10.7.79 along the 3 DC-3s. D-CIAD was reserved for Air Classik Stuttgart on 22.8.80 (although last letter D in the reg stood for its destination Düsseldorf, D-CIAS was already delivered for use at Stuttgart). Permit to fly "Madrid" - Montpellier - Strasbourg - Düsseldorf was issued on 01.10.80. The flight on 03.10.80 ended at Sabadell (not Barcelona airport), where the aircraft was parked in the open until a new permit was issued on 23.1.81. I have quoted the later history already.

The third aircraft was Cessna F337E c/n 0007 EC-BVL which has nothing to do with Germany (not imported, remained in Spain). I understand that it was the camera ship for the first stage only.

What is for sure, is that ECT-025 was destined for Air Classik exhibition at Düsseldorf along Casa 352L D-CIAD and was last reported in the Gerona area north of Barcelona. Most probably it went into IMC (on its VFR flight with minimal navigation aids) and the pilots proceeded over the Mediterranean Sea, crashed and sunk. You supposed that already. If crashed in Pyrenee mountains, it would have been found until now. If deserted to Nicaragua, Africa or elsewhere, it would have needed refuelling. Cannot believe that.

The Hemet crash in April 81 seems to be sheer coincidence, although possibly in the same area. Two aircraft do not establish a new Bermuda triangle.

New for me is the refusal to allow N8041C, that explains the FAA reaction upon your historical inquiry. That means that we historians now have to file it as such:

13375 42-93461, KG616, G-AJAY, EC-AET, T3-67, (N8041C), ECT-025, w/o 03.10.80 ".

 

Harold William Whitaker - Aircraft Commander on 03Oct80
William Whitaker
a.k.a Whit, Whitaker, Pappy (FAA nicknames)
Born 27Dec1919 at Warren, Ohio
Age in 1980: 60
Served in USMCR 1937-1967 Ret.
FAA - FIDO 1960-1976  Ret.
Lawrence Jerome Eckmann
Lawrence Jerome Eckmann
Maj. US Army - Co-Pilot on 3 Oct 80

Born in 1945 at Andrews AFB
Age in 1980: 35
Enlisted US Army 8 Oct 1965
Lawrence Jerome Eckmann-
DECORATIONS AND AWARDS: National Defense Service Medal; Parachutist Badge; Army Aviator Badge; Vietnam Service Medal; Air Medal w/Numeral 14; Bronze Star Medal w/l OLC; Army Commendation Medal; Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal; Good Conduct Medal; Expert Infantryman Badge; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/Device "1960"; Vietnam Cross of Gallantry w/Palm.

Further research by Peter Gerhardt resulted in his following email (Jan.2010) to Stephen Whitaker:

"Your father is quoted to have ferried two DC-3s from Zagreb to Frankfurt. That reminded me to delve into my files once more and I found a card saying that the following C-47s/DC-3s

N8041A 14005    )
N8041B 42-24238 ) were deregistered 30.6.80 as sold to Germany (the 2 of my last mail)

N8071X 42-92857 )
N8071Y 43-48285 ) were deregistered 2.10.80 as sold to Germany
N8071Z 42-68819 )

This card was filed on my visit to the German reg office in 1.81, where they had shown me a file of FAA deregistration telexes they have received however felt unable to attach them to a D-registration. I could not help insofar.

It means that your father even ferried three (or 2 of them, and we do not know which ones):

12704 42-92857, SovietAF, PolishAF, SP-LCB, OY-AIC, FrAF, F-BRGM, YugAF 71241, YU-ABU, N8071X (rgd to Atlas Aircraft Corp., München 05.11.79), delivered to South Africa with fake reg "TN-ADS", SAAF6887.

25546 43-48285, FrAF, F-BTDE, YugAF 71254, YU-ABV (cancelled 02.10.79), N8071Y (rgd to Atlas Aircraft Corp., München 05.11.79, delivered to South Africa with fake reg "TN-ADT", SAAF6880, N330RD, ZS-OJL, 9U-BHL, ZS-OJM, N330RD, ZS-OJM.

11746 42-68819, SE-APG, F-BEIS, FrAF, F-BRGI, YugAF 71237, YU-ABW, N8071Z (rgd to Atlas Aircraft Corp., München 05.11.79), 9Q-CYI, SAAF6875."

"Today I received a response to my Freedom of Information request of the United States Central intelligence Agency.

I had requested CIA records on any of the involved persons or relating to any of the four DC-3 aircraft that went missing in 1980-81.

They denied my request in its entirety based upon national security grounds stating that they can neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records relating to any of the persons or aircraft.

--"In accordance with section 3.6(a) of Executive Order 12958, as amended, the CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request. The fact of the existence or nonexistence of requested records is currently and properly classified and is intelligence sources and methods information that is protected from disclosure by section 6 of the CIA Act of 1949, as amended."--

Maybe my suspicions were not without merit...

I might understand the withholding or records only relating to operatives or operations currently in place. But for dead or completed operations or persons unrelated to either, I see no grounds for them to not either declassify and  produce the records or state that no such records exist.

I note that my father's plane disappeared just two weeks after the Sandanista's  FMLN reportedly assassinated Samoza who had been exiled to Paraguay. The CIA was ramping up its Central American covert operations for support of the Contra 'Rebels'. That project later involved Ollie North and his crew!

I suspect that, even if my Dad is dead by now, the likelihood is that the co-pilot Eckmann is not and therefore they cannot disclose where they went, working for who...."

Stephen
01Mar2010

 

This email arrived 27Nov2015:
My name is Sophie Soria, I was born Salhab and I am a French national.
My father Alain Salhab (co-pilot) disappeared on DC-3 F-BJBY (company: Hemet) on 21st of April 1981.
I contact you because Stephen Whitaker explains his search for DC 3 ECT-025 and makes a link with F-BJBY. Maybe you can help us to contact each other to explain him every details of my search.
Thks a lot for your help ,

 

 

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