A plane vanished near Costa Rica in 1965. The search continues.

One of the biggest mysteries in Latin American aviation occurred near Costa Rica in 1965.

One of the biggest mysteries in Latin American aviation occurred over or near Costa Rica in 1965.

In November of that year, two Douglas C-54 Skymasters belonging to the Argentinean Air Force conducted a routine training operation from South America with a final destination of San Francisco, California. One of the flights of the multi-day route, on November 3, would transport the cadets from Panama to El Salvador.

Less than an hour after departing Howard Air Force Base near the Panama Canal, the pilots flying plane TC-48 issued a radio call reporting a fire in one of the engines and problems with another. At the time, they were cruising in rainy conditions near Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Facing a mid-air emergency, the pilots of TC-48 allegedly declared their intention of diverting to Limón, Costa Rica. If that destination were unreachable, the plane would have crashed onto land or ditched into the Caribbean Sea off the coast of northern Panama or southern Costa Rica.

But the plane never arrived and was never seen again, disappearing along with its 68 occupants.

The mystery begins

After it became clear TC-48 hadn’t landed safely, the U.S. Navy conducted several search and rescue missions. Days later, the Argentinian government told family members the plane had likely crashed into the Caribbean Sea.

South American authorities said they had found a green life jacket and identity card belonging to one of the cadets who had been on-board TC-48, supporting the idea that the plane had met an untimely fate in the ocean. But there were inconsistencies: The life jackets worn on TC-48 were apparently orange, not green, and the ID card in question appeared to have never been exposed to salt water.

Some family members became convinced the Argentinian government had fabricated this evidence in order to quickly end the investigation.

The Argentinian Air Force might have wanted a fast investigation because TC-48 had reportedly suffered from serious mechanical issues and may have been unfit to fly. That called into question whether the disappearance was an accident or negligence.

Eventually, declassified videos of the search for TC-48 taken by the US military proved they had located orange life vests at sea. This showed — almost without a doubt — that the plane never made it onto Costa Rican land.

But by then it was too late: To this day, many people believe the plane crashed somewhere over southern Costa Rica.

The search is ongoing

More than 55 years after its disappearance, the search continues for TC-48. While the evidence largely points to an ocean crash, some think the plane impacted somewhere in the Costa Rican rainforest.

The latter hypothesis is supported by witnesses (of unreliable veracity) who claim to have seen a low-flying plane over Costa Rica near the time of TC-48’s disappearance.

José Campos, a Costa Rican outdoorsman, has led dozens of expeditions into the Talamanca mountain range in search of the missing plane. The most recent attempt was earlier this year.

Efforts by others have used side-scan sonar to try and locate the underwater remains of TC-48.

To date, nothing conclusive has been found. While TC-48 was almost certainly lost at sea, its disappearance means the families of the 68 lack the closure they so desperately seek.


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