2 August 1947

British South American Airways’ Avro Lancastrian Mk.III, G-AGWH, R.M.A. Star Dust. (SDASM)

2 August 1947: At 1:46 p.m., British South American Airways Flight CS59 departed Buenos Aires, Argentina enroute Santiago, Chile. The airliner was an Avro Lancastrian Mk.III, registration G-AGWH, named R.M.A. Star Dust. The flight was under the command of Captain Reginald J. Cook, D.S.O., D.F.C., D.F.M., with First Officer Norman Hilton Cook, Second Officer Donald S. Checklin, Radio Operator Dennis B. Harmer and “Stargirl” Iris Morcen Evans. On this flight, in addition to the five-person airline crew, there were just six passengers.

Captain Reginald J. Cook, D.S.O., D.F.C., D.F.M.

At 5:41 p.m., Santiago airport received a routine Morse code signal from G-AGWH indicating the flight would arrive in four minutes:


The radio operator at Santiago did not understand “STENDEC” and asked the airliner’s radio operator to repeat it, which he did, twice. The airliner never arrived. A five-day search was unsuccessful. The meaning of the last word in the message has never been determined.

The fate of Star Dust remained a mystery until 1998, when two mountain climbers on Mount Tupungato—at 21,555 feet (6,570 meters), one of the highest mountains in South America—50 miles east of Santiago, found a wrecked Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine in the ice of a glacier at the 15,000 foot level (4,572 meters). A search of the glacier in 2000 located additional wreckage and it was confirmed that this was the missing Lancastrian. The crash site is at S. 33°22’15.0″, W. 69°45’40.0″.

Investigators determined that the airliner had flown into the glacier at high speed and the crash caused an avalanche which buried the wreckage.

In 2002 the remains of eight persons were recovered from the glacier, five of which were identified through DNA.

Volcan Tupungato, 21,560 feet ( 6,570 meters). (Diode via Wikipedia)
1948 B.S.A.A. advertisement.

The Avro 691 Lancastrian Mk.III was a four-engine civil transport based on the World War II very long range heavy bomber, the Avro Lancaster. The Mk.III variant was built specifically for the British South American Airways Corporation by A.V. Roe & Co. Ltd, at Woodford, Cheshire, England, and was an improved version of the British Overseas Airways Corporation Lancastrian Mk.I. Eighteen Mk.IIIs were built for BSAAC. G-AGWH, serial number 1280, was the second of this series. It first flew on 11 November 1945 and was registered to BSAAC 16 January 1946.

The airliner was operated by a flight crew of four and carried one flight attendant. It could carry up to thirteen passengers. The Lancastrian Mk.III was 76 feet, 10 inches (23.419 meters) long with a wingspan of 102 feet (31.090 meters) and overall height of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.944 meters). The empty weight was 30,220 pounds (13,707.6 kilograms) and gross weight was 65,000 pounds (29,483.5 kilograms).

Avro Lancastrian Mk.III, G-AGWH, R.M.A. Star Dust

The Lancastrian Mk.III was powered by four 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04 liter) liquid-cooled, supercharged, Rolls-Royce Merlin T24/2 ¹ single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engines producing 1,650 horsepower and turning three bladed propellers.

These gave the airplane a cruise speed of 245 miles per hour (394.3 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 315 miles per hour (506.9 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 25,500 feet (7,772 meters) and the range was 4,150 miles (6,679 kilometers).

Site of the wreck of Avro Lancastrian G-AGWH, S. 33°22’15.0″, W. 69°45’40.0″. (Google Maps)

¹ Two of G-AGWH’s Merlin T24/2 engines had been completely overhauled and converted to the Merlin 500-2 configuration. One engine was converted to a Merlin 502. The fourth engine remained as a T24/2. All engines had less than 1,200 hours total time since new (TTSN) and the converted engines were approximately 500 hours since overhaul (TSOH).

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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14 thoughts on “2 August 1947

  1. As I recall, the PBS show on this accident, there was a Hypothesis that the Jet Stream still wasn’t well understood at this point and the flight was proceeding VFR “on Top” and by “Ded Reckoning”. The practice being that after a certain elapsed time, the crew assumed that they would be clear of the Andes and could begin a descent through the overcast. However, flying into the oncoming Jet Stream was not factored into their ground speed assumptions.

    1. Captain Cook was a very highly-experienced navigator. Undoubtedly, he thought they had already passed the Andes Range before beginning the descent to Santiago. RMA Star Dust probably wasn’t high enough to be in the subtropical jet stream, but very high winds certainly do occur at the lower altitudes.

  2. Also on this date in 1979, Yankee catcher Thurman Munson was killed when his Cessna Citation jet crashed in Ohio.

  3. Jet streams can occur at altitudes of 7000 meters according to Wikipedia. They were very close to that altitude.

  4. Although this has been studied by experts over 70 years, and I’m sure all possibilities have been investigated, I cannot help notice the phonetic similarity between “STENDEC” and “STAR DUST”, maybe even more so to an ear not accustomed to english.

  5. Flying into mountains due to mislocation wasn’t uncommon in those days in aircraft such as the Lancastrian.
    The mountains and hills on Scotland’s western side are scattered remains of aircraft coming in from the Atlantic. Dodgy business relying on a barometric altimeter with are pressure fluctuating

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