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The Somerton Man Case. The body of a man found on an Australian beach close to a major Atomic Testing ground, he was probably poisoned, a copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and an unbroken Code page found and associated to him. Set against a Cold War background in 1948, was this man a spy? We think so and this blog focuses on the evidence that was left behind and in some cases missed, the Code page, Dry Cleaning numbers, A Poem and a small, torn piece of paper bearing the words TAMAM SHUD.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Somerton Man: Sofia to London, The Bulgarian Connection

An overnight flight from Sofia to London and from there onto Australia?

Flight route Sofia to London
TABSO Airline Pamphlet. Li2 Aircraft, 1950


LZ 1556 Location beneath AR
 The image to the left was found just beneath the AR sequence at the end of the final line on the code page. It has a height of approximately .4 mm so it is quite small.

It is quite a definite string of letters and numbers and so began the research into just what that would have come from.

LZ 1556 Close up
To researchers of early 20th Century history, would recognise the LZ almost immediately, these were the two letters used to indicate the Zeppelin rigid airship. However the numbers that followed the LZ prefix only went as high as 21 so I believe our LZ 1556 would not refer to this marvel, thankfully I might add.

Somerton Man: Bulgarian Connection?

Nonetheless it was a lead of sorts so the aircraft theme was pursued and it was found that LZ was a call sign for aircraft registered in Bulgaria. However the 1556 was proving to be a challenge. Fortunately a Bulgarian researcher and investigatve journalist, Olga Dimitrova, was able to help. The answer was that LZ1556 was in fact an IATA flight number and it related to flights between Sofia and London. This information was really welcome even though it still left a few questions. To learn more it was necessary to go back into the history of Bulgarian Air travel and what a history it turned out to be. You are not about to be burdened with the full details so what follows is a summary of the essential points.

JU52 At Manchester Ringway Airport 1947, BEA Flight.
As of 29th June 1947 when Bulgarian Air Lines was formed, flights within Bulgaria were made on ex German JU 52 Tri Motor aircraft. In late 1947, The Russian Army/Airforce, liked what they saw of the fledgling industry and bought into the Airline which was renamed TABSO (Transportno-aviacionno balgaro-savetsko obedinenie) at that time the airline was a Soviet/Bulgarian owned venture. TABSO then purchased Lusinov Li 2 aircraft,  a Russian version of the American DC3 (Dakota). The reason for this move was whilst the JU 52 was a reliable workhorse for passengers and transport, having a range of just 620 miles or so, it was not suitable for the lucrative, longer distance routes such as to London which was a distance of 1550 miles. The Li2 had a range of 1500 miles meaning that a single stopover for refuelling would make the trip.
Lusinov L1 2. This image was taken at Moscow Airport
Of note here is that the long range version of the L1 2 was equipped to carry just 14 passengers, the short range version carried 28.

Summary & Some Questions

In regards to the Somerton Man case what we have on the code page is an IATA issued flight number which could only have been issued after late 1947, for a flight from Sofia to London on an aircraft that could carry just 14 pasengers. Could this have been a flight taken by the Somerton Man? There can be no certainty about that at this stage but is is a possibility and one we would not have known about without first finding this example of micro writing. If this was him, a search of passenger arrivals from Sofia during period from late 47 to October 1948, could give us a name and possibly a photograph. It is believed that there were only 3 or 4 such services a week and with only 14 passengers at a time the task whilst a reasonable size would not be a daunting one. If the flight was not taken by the Somerton Man, then who was on that aircraft whose Flight number was found on the 'code' page?

1. Whilst aircraft registered to Bulgaria had the LZ prefix, ticketing via IATA only commenced following the commencement of  TABSO operations in late 1947, this included the allocation of flight numbers.
2. Airlines can and do alter flight numbers and swap them across routes, it is possible that LZ 1556 in 1948 terms could have been to a different location although TABSO seemed to be consistent with their numbering.


Anonymous said...

GC: why use the correct flight lettering instead of a code?

Anonymous said...

Since the flight was from behind the "Iron Curtain" I would imagine that any passengers arriving at LHR would have been carefully checked. If the SM was indeed a passenger-could he have been in some sort of Trade Delegation visiting the UK at that time (1947/48)? The other thing is that he could have been a member of the flight crew? Clive

Gordon332 said...

Good thought, I have never considered him as flight crew, Pilot, Navigator etc would be a good fit for a man who did not do any manual work,. Great thinking!

Anonymous said...

The reason why a member of a flight crew came to mind, and, please don't laugh! Is that the SM had well developed calf muscles and, if he had been flying an aircraft that was difficult to fly, was his calf muscles due to that factor? Crazy, I know but....Clive

Gordon332 said...

I wouldn't laugh at all, I think that's a very original thought and should be followed up. The Dalota was meant to be a reasonable aircraft to fly but the JU52 was, I understand, a different proposition. Not sure where you start on finding the names of Crew in those days, there ought to be records somewhere though. Not sure how I can help but email me if you need any assistance, if I am able to I will help. Good thinking!

Anonymous said...

Hi Gordon, Any records still surviving would, I imagine, be somewhere in the files in Sofia. If the SM was a pilot, then I wonder if the UK authorities would have any records still extant of pilots from Bulgaria entering the UK in the late 1940s? Can't help wondering if he was a flyer in WW2, as Bulgaria was on Hitler's side, survived the war and flew for the airline?

Gordon332 said...

I think you would have more luck with London than Sofia, many of their records were lost I understand during various changes in name and ownership over the years. Worth trying both, TABSO still exists albeit under a different name. He could well have been a pilot, there were a number of partisan groups operating there in WW2 so he may be even flew for them, yes they did have planes I understand, captured from the Germans. Bit late here so I'll sign off now, I will email a friend in Sofia and see if she has any thoughts, might take a few days to hear from her.