Ghost Hunters: Phantom Pilot

The best thing about this episode is the completely gobsmacked expression on the pilot's face when describing his experience. Otherwise there's a lot of Archie Roy expounding extreme speculation like fact, as usual. And I recognise that a lot of 'crisis apparitions' have been recorded. But I'm not sure that makes them 'very very common' as he'd have you believe. Also, this episode really doesn't explore very well where the vision could be coming from. Is it conjured up by the mind of the experient entirely? Or is it their mind picking up something from the person they see? Or is it entirely down to the person who appears (whether still alive or dead)? I mean these are quite different things, and the distinction is very important to the analysis of the topic as a whole. Captain Bob's great though. You cannot doubt that he's relating what he experienced. 

Jean: A thing happened to me a long time ago, with my mother in law when she died. She came one evening, well one Thursday night. I didn’t know what it was, the bed was just rumbling about you know and things do – I thought it were a cat under the bed. The following night, I saw my mother in law sat at the bottom of the bed. In a grey coat, green headscarf, as large as life. And she said things had been moved out of her house, and so on and so forth, and she was very upset about it. So I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t hurt, upset, frightened or anything, because she wouldn’t harm me. So I said I would look into it. So I phoned my brother in law the day after, asked him what he was doing with mum’s things. He said he’d put them away for safe-keeping while he decorated. Plus an ebony box which she also explained about, with a dragon on. And I didn’t know about this box. Anyway he says, oh that was mum’s jewellery box, and I said well put it back please on the chest of drawers where it belongs. And put her ornaments back. And I told him why. He did this for me as a favour, he didn’t ask any questions. Sure enough the night came, I felt her walk in and the feeling round the bed, she came again. She sat down, took her scarf off. And I said, well things have been put back now, mum. I says, you’ll be alright now. Please leave me alone, I said, because I’m losing a lot of sleep. You know, I says, you can rest in peace. So up she went, and turned away, and I said – oops you forgot your scarf! And she picked her green scarf up, put it back on her head and went. Never seen her again since. 

Narrator: Jean’s strange encounter with her dead mother in law, for all its extraordinary and eerie qualities, is a remarkably common experience. It’s clear from the research records that many thousands of people from different cultures and different parts of the world have had something similar happen to them. They seem to happen most frequently between members of a family, or people who have a profound emotional connection with the dead person. And they’re remembered with immense clarity – the time, the place, the details of dress and movement and so on. In paranormal circles they’re described as ‘crisis ghosts’.

Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy: One of the interesting aspects of apparitions is the close relationship between the appearance of many apparitions and the fact that the person whose apparition appears was going through a crisis – either in fact in danger of death, or actually dying. And the first set of collections of these was the 1895 one by the Society for Psychical Research. And we’re not talking about a set of anecdotes, we’re talking about cases that were exhaustively researched. Obituaries looked up, witnesses interviewed, newspapers looked at, tombstones, the lot.

Narrator: Perhaps the single most extraordinary thing about these crisis ghosts is their profound realism. They seem to be so true to life in terms of dress and mannerisms, and characteristics and expression of the living personality – so real and solid in fact, that those that encounter them immediately respond to them in living terms. They engage them in conversation and so on, right up until the moment when the apparition is revealed for what it is, because it disappears or moves off through a wall.

Archie Roy: And usually you find that if there is more than one person present, then in a third of the cases, all of them see the apparition. It looks solid, it looks real, it may act out a very reasonable scenario so they will for example see the door open, and Uncle George comes in – and they’re surprised, because the last they heard Uncle George was in Australia, and they’re in London. And they’ll say – George! How did you manage to get here so quickly?- and he’ll smile, and on occasion you might get a word or two. And then, only then he will do something that a human being couldn’t do, like disappear or walk through the walls. And then they begin to get scared. And then, sooner or later word comes that at that moment Uncle George was drowning off the Great Barrier Reef or something like that. Sadly, because of the two world wars, there have been many many cases like that, of a person being shot down in their plane at a time when the family thinks they see him, large as life, sometimes in uniform, sometimes in mufti, walking up the garden path. Oh, John has got unexpected leave, oh how wonderful! And they go to the door and open the door, he’s not there, and then they begin to wonder. It’s very very common.

Narrator: A pilot coming up the garden path long after his death. A story very similar to that occurred not tens of years ago but as recently as last October, to an airline pilot indeed, as he crossed the foyer of a large modern airport used daily by thousands of travellers [Glasgow International is shown]. He bumped into a colleague. He still finds it difficult to describe the profound emotional shock on learning that the colleague, with whom he chatted with for some time, had in fact died in a very sudden and unexpected way some time previously.

Captain Bob: On the way I slightly deviated from my route instead of going to the bus. And as I deviated, I saw this friend of mine, in the door, come into the airport. I stopped, turned round – he came straight across to talk to me. I put my bags down, spoke to him fairly briefly  - What are you doing, you old bugger! – that sort of phrase. Now this is a guy that I’ve known for eight or nine years. We’ve both flown the routes to the Western Isles, up and down. We meet in the hotel, erm, et cetera, et cetera. We had a few words. I noted one or two things about him – I went to shake hands and he didn’t respond, which seemed a bit odd, er, puzzled me a bit. He was very thin, he’d lost a lot of weight. Anyway, all of a sudden he said ‘I’ve got to go’ and I said ‘fair enough’, picked my bags up and legged it for the door to get the bus for the hotel. The following day I went into town, did a bit of shopping, and went to see a friend of mine in the pub where we normally meet. And he bought me a drink, said hello, how’re you doing, what’s going on… not a lot and all the usual rubbish you talk about. And he said – just a minute – and he went round the corner to the paper rack, picked up The Scotsman from the paper rack, and came straight back to me. Put it on the bar in front of me, saying ‘You must know this man. You flew together, you were in the same airline.’ And to my Absolute Astonishment – I was stunned. It was the obituary of this friend of mine I’d spoken to the day before. And I just couldn’t believe it. Wasn’t possible. It was not possible.

Archie Roy: The captain’s case is a typical post-mortem apparition, with overtones of unfinished business. There is no doubt about it, we’ve investigated the case, we’ve talked to witnesses. And what is an important aspect to this is that it has made a tremendous difference in the attitude to life of the witness, the captain. Apart from that there is also almost the seemingly the indication that something to do with the man who died – who died incidentally after some short illness and unexpectedly – was trying to make his presence, his continued presence or existence still felt. And this is absolutely typical.

Captain Bob: Now. You can… think what you like. If I’m a nut then you can call me a nut! But I can assure you. As an ex-naval officer, fighter pilot, commercial pilot – I am not, er… what’s the word…  I don’t make up these silly stories.

Narrator: That encounter has profoundly changed Bob’s attitude to life and indeed to death. He has no doubts whatsoever that he met and chatted to his dead colleague. And that view underlines the powerful scientific relevance of these so-called crisis ghosts. They occur so frequently, and they are so verifiable in the sense that the dates of the death and the encounter can be clearly established. They pose a major challenge to scientific thinking. What is happening? What happens after death if this seems clear, some aspect, some dimension of the dead person is able to re-establish contact with the living [sic].

Archie Roy: There’s so many cases that we have to accept that a fraction of people, when they are dying or in danger of dying, somehow contrive that their apparition appears as large as life.

Narrator: Crisis ghosts are one of the most widespread of paranormal experiences - these appearances of people just before or just after their death to a loved one or to a relative. In Asian cultures they are very readily accepted  as a fact of life, so to speak. In the West, grounded as we are in so many centuries of scientific rationalism, they are regarded with the utmost scepticism. People who experience them are embarrassed to talk about them. Scientifically they scarcely appear above the horizon. There are very few theories that attempt to explain what is happening.

Archie Roy: There is a part of a human being that can operate outwith time and space, and by that I mean that human beings are not separated one from another as clearly as they seem to be. We have our bodies, we have our personal consciousnesses, we have our personal subconsciousnesses. But I go along with Jung for example, who said that the deeper he went into a person’s psyche, the closer he came to a level where it couldn’t be said to belong to that one person alone. And the analogy that one can use is that above the surface of the ocean the islands are separate. And below the surface of the ocean the islands are separate. But go deep enough and all the islands join on the bedrock of the ocean.

Narrator: If it is possible to generalise in this shadowy area, it seems that the contact is made with a particularly sensitive person at times when their minds are in a particularly relaxed and receptive state. That often occurs in and around the margins of sleep. It leads to a state that is known as lucid dreaming.

Pat: And in the dream I actually saw my father in a coffin, and he was in a funeral parlour, in this dream. And I remember going into this funeral parlour with my brother and sister, in the dream, and looking  - my father’s coffin was on like a wooden Charlie horse, you know the horses, the wooden horse, because it was a brand new funeral parlour. And in the dream he looked about two or three stone lighter than I’d remembered him. And his hair had turned snow white and he was in his coffin. And I remember asking the gentleman who owned the funeral parlour why his eyes weren’t closed completely, because you could see part of the blue of his eyes. And they said that he’d been in so much pain before he’d died that they’d teared, and they couldn’t close them properly. I also remember in this dream opening my bag and taking out a blue rosary beads and putting them on my father’s hands, because my father had been Catholic. Now I had never put those rosary beads into my bag. The next day, when I woke up the next morning, I got a telegram to say my father had died. When I came back, came back to Britain for his funeral, everything happened as it had in that dream. To the extent that my ex-mother-in-law had actually put that rosary into my bag. And that rosary was blue, a pale blue rosary, and that was the same as the rosary in my dream. And it was exactly as my dream.

Archie Roy: Very often, in the lucid or very vivid dream, that makes such an impression on the person that he remembers it when he wakens up, he will see someone, he will be in contact with that person, that person will talk to them. That person will be anxious, that person might have died even months or years before, and may have died without the person knowing it, and that person will be trying to get information across, unfinished business. And when the person wakens up they remember the dream. They then perhaps in a number of cases, carry out the plea of the person in the dream, and subsequently find out that the information given in the dream, and which may not be in the minds of any living person, is correct. And leads to unfinished business being finished.

Pat: Well, when I was about fifteen years of age I was up in London, and I was modelling at that time. And I’d been doing a lot of photographic work in the morning for a photographer, and I went back to the hotel to take a rest before the afternoon shoot. And I fell asleep, and I had a really unusual type of sleep. It was as if I was awake, but yet I was asleep. And I saw my grandmother. And I saw that she was coming from the back of a field, towards me. And as she came towards me she’d started to turn. And as she turned she grew younger till she was about thirty years of age. And she said to me in this state, this dream state I was in, she said – Patricia, I’m all right. I want you to know I’m all right. Everything is fine, and that I love you. And I want you to go to my house and look, there’s a certain drawer, there’s a key hanging – and she told me where this key was hanging to open this drawer. And you’ll find that I’ve left something for you. And she said, I want you to write my book, to write my story. It’ll be a real success. Now her name was Maggie, and when I woke up in that room in the hotel, the room was just filled with her fragrance. And I knew that she’d passed on. I called my father on the phone and he said my mother had gone back to Ireland to bury her. And I called Mommy in Ireland and told her to get this key – and it was where she’d said in the dream – and she went to this little dresser. And she pulled this big envelope out with my name on it. And in it was quite a lot of details about this book she wanted me to write, and a picture of her mother.

Narrator: Many of these stories involve actual appearances of people who have died. But there are many more that involve the passing of a message of some sort. The voice is clearly recognised, the sound is quite clear, and the message is remembered in all its detail. This is the sad story of Teddy, close friend of Jane and Sheldon.

Jane: Well I came back from holiday, and we were totally exhausted because we’d been up for twenty four hours, and I came in the house and went straight to bed. About half an hour later I sat bolt upright in bed like this – and there was no thought in my head, I went straight downstairs and I said, ‘Sheldon, you have to go and get Teddy, there is something wrong. You must go now, immediately.’ And he got up and he went.

Sheldon: So I went over to Teddy’s, and immediately I saw Teddy, he wasn’t doing very well. And I said ‘Enough of this nonsense, you’re going to the hospital.’ Now Teddy didn’t have a phone, so there was no way of calling an ambulance. So I helped him down the stairs, and he actually lay down on the back seat. And I got in the car and I started to drive off, and I tried to drive as fast as I could. At one point along the journey, I turned around, and I saw Teddy look up to me, and I saw his eyes roll. His eyes roll into the top. And at that moment I was terribly frightened that Teddy had died.

Jane: I could hear all this sort of commotion outside. And it was a commotion, there was car noise, and I could hear Teddy saying “Sheldon, Sheldon, you’ve got to let me out of the car, let me out of the car, I’ve got to get out, you’ve got to stop.” And I got up, you know, with hearing this whole commotion, went down to Lenny, because I wasn’t dressed or anything. ‘Lenny, Lenny, please go and help Teddy.’

Lenny: I was watching tv at the time, and my mum came in, and said ‘Help Teddy get out of the car,’ because she could hear him outside. Erm, I went outside to check if he was there, and there was no-one there, I couldn’t see the car, I couldn’t see my dad and I couldn’t see Teddy. I looked around, I looked round the corner and there was no one there, so I came back inside and told my mum. And she said she could definitely hear voices, and she could definitely hear Teddy’s voice in particular. And she said he needed help. And I said, you know, I said to her I thought she was crazy, basically! Because I couldn’t hear a thing.

Jane: And I knew then that there was something – that Teddy must have died or something had happened, so I went back to bed. Just waiting for a call. When you know something like that’s happened, it’s just everything goes still, and it’s just waiting to hear the news.

Sheldon: I sped as fast as I could. Ultimately I got to the emergency in the hospital and I rushed out of the car, through the doors, I ultimately found a nurse. The whole hospital team came running out to grab Teddy, and they took him into the hospital and I heard all sorts of electronic things going on. And then I was asked to wait in the waiting room. And I was about to make a phone call when a nurse came over to me and she said ‘don’t use that phone, you’d be more comfortable using this private phone in this room over here. ‘ Well, so, I did that and I telephoned Jane, and I said ‘I think that Teddy’s dead’. And Jane said ‘I know.’

Jane: When these things happen you’re there with the feeling, you can’t start, you don’t start analysing what is it or what does it mean or anything, you’re just in the feeling, you’re in that experience in that moment in time. I think afterwards, you know, when I got the phone call from Sheldon, and he was dead, there wasn’t that [gasp], a feeling of terrible shock, because it was quite, you know, because  you can’t actually explain this to other people because they think you’re a bit weird!

Narrator: The fact of crisis ghosts would seem to present science with a profound challenge. They are so widespread they can’t simply be brushed aside as aberrations or a few misguided individuals. The manifestations or apparitions are described with such clarity and detail, and they have such realism that they do raise fundamental questions about the nature of death and dissolution. Is there part of the human being that survives its worldly death. Is there a need, as some scientists would put it, for a new science, a science of the mind?

Dr Peter Fenwick, Consultant Neuro-psychiatrist: Ghosts which appear to people who have just recently been bereaved or possibly to other members of the family when they’re dying, I’d explain in two ways. Firstly, I’d take a normal scientific explanation: if you look at people who are recently bereaved, most of them have visions of the bereaved person. It’s a common function of death. But that doesn’t account for everything in the way of crisis apparitions. Because sometimes people know nothing about it, don’t expect it, and an apparition occurs. I think you have to argue that there may be emotional links, and there’s certainly some scientific evidence to suggest that emotional states in one brain may be transmitted across distance to another brain, where they can be measured. And that would be the sort of basis on which one would then explain crisis apparitions.

Archie Roy: I have to say that over the last hundred years there has been collected a vast amount of evidence on all sorts of aspects of psychic research which to anyone openminded, I would feel, makes it imperative to believe that a human being is not just the big animal that grew the big brain. That there are facets of the human being that can operate outside time and space, and perhaps mortality. The evidence is such that many psychical researchers would say that the question ‘shall I survive death’ is one that can be seriously contemplated by an intelligent person. And as for myself, I would say that if, when I die I find I have ceased to exist, I will be very much surprised.