A Rolls Royce engine of the Stardust was discovered 53 years after the plane 'vanished'. A crash investigation team combined with members of the Argentine Army set out to collect the pieces of the engine and to search for human remains. The importance of the discovery, recovery and examination of the remaining pieces of the Stardust and its passengers would help relieve the pain of the relatives, the mystery of disappearance and the 'new' mystery of why after 53 years the Stardust was back.
Their journey started with army trucks, then at 13,000 feet mules had to take over from the vehicles and then the team had to backpack up the glacier and the great mountains of the Andes on foot. By the time they reached the stony glacier where parts of an aircraft were reported to be the team had 2 days of supplies left.
Two wheels from the plane were found and one was still intact and inflated! Finding the wheels of the aircraft was important for the 'reading' of the signature that is left behind by certain incidents. As the wheels were intact it suggested that they had been raised prior to the crash. The landing gear was not operated therefore the captain and crew were not attempting an emergency landing. On the mountain the crash team primarily examined parts of the engine to see if engine failure was responsible for the crash and the discovery of the propellers showed that they had been in motion at the time of impact. GPS technology recorded the precise spot wreckage was discovered and its location to other pieces. This is vital in an investigation of this nature as masses of metal, glass, plane seats, human remains and luggage scattered over a vast area would suggest an explosion. If the remaining pieces were found clumped together and in this case the remains found were in a square mile area, then it would appear more likely that the plane went headfirst into the mountain.
It seemed like after informing Santiago airport in Chile that they would be landing in four minutes the plane then crashed into the side of the mountain. However, the crash was roughly 50 miles away. Navigational error seemed to be a certainty but the aircraft was operated by an experienced crew and such a miscalculation seemed strange. The last message from the flight deck was S.T.E.N.D.E.C. in morse code. The receiving airport asked for confirmation of the last message and the word: S.T.E.N.D.E.C. was repeated. This was the last communication from the Stardust and is still a mystery. It became the title of a UFO comic book although the spelling was changed to Stendek.
Analysis of the weather charts from the day showed masses of clouds and storms over the mountains and the aircraft had contacted the airport to inform them that they were ascending to 24,000 feet. In 1947 not many aircraft were capable of flying at such a high level but the Stardust, a World War Two Lancaster bomber, was. The technology in the aircrafts in the 1940s was not as refined as today and weather systems at such a high altitude were not fully monitored. After the Stardust left Buenos Aires in Argentina it began its ascent to 24,000 feet to avoid the storm unaware it was flying into the path of what is now called Jet stream. This is a wind above the clouds which can reach speeds of over a hundred miles an hour. Flying against such a strong current would have slowed the plane down so that when the crew calculated the descent they believed they were clear of the Andes range, when they were still over it.
Many theories surrounding the disappearance of the Stardust circulated ranging from alien/UFOs sucking the plane and its eleven passengers into space to terrorist activity from the Argentine government. This second theory was strenghtened by the fact that one of the passengers was a Royal Messanger to the King carrying important documents from the UK to diplomats in Santiago in Chile.
Two hip bones were identified as being those of two separate women but no other recognisable bones were recovered. The surfacing of the Stardust was believed to be as a result of where it crashed. After hitting the mountain an avalanche covered the site and moved it down the mountainside. When rescue planes searched afterwards they could see no sign of a crash. The ice and snowed built up and slowly the glacier 'moved' down the mountain and as it reached the lower slopes the ice began to melt thus leaving rocks and any non ice/water matter to rise to the surface. Other parts of the Stardust will eventually be recovered as nature makes it way down the Andes mountains.