Bluegrass Airlines, November 2009


Across The Andes

By Allan Lowson


To travel from Santiago in Chile to Buenos Aires in Argentina you have to first cross the Andes. Not only are the Andes the second highest mountain range in the world, they are also very narrow and tall in the vicinity of Santiago. The oldest air route through the Andes at this point is the Uspallata Pass which is some 50 miles North of Santiago, and which rises to a minimum height of 12,500’.


The first commercial flights through the Pass were in 1929 when NYRBA made a scheduled flight with a Ford Tri-Motor, and then five weeks later Pan American Grace (Panagra) also started a Tri-Motor service from Santiago to Mendoza and Buenos Aires. Panagra were owned equally by Pan Am and the Grace Shipping Company. Ironically Pan Am completed their grip on services south from America by buying NYRBA in 1930 and renaming it Panair do Brasil.


In 1935 the German owned Syndicato Condor started services through the Uspallata Pass with the Junkers JU52/3m.


Tim Cook describes the route through the Uspallata Pass in detail in a charter over on It can be found under the charter DC-3 section by pirep code 813-05 or by distance at 181 nm. By 1937 Panagra were using the DC-3 on this route.  Tim Cook would be interested in any feedback on whether the Uspallata Pass charter works in FSX, so if any of our pilots use it then he would appreciate any comments.  E-Mail Bill at billy[at]   Change the [at] to @  He will forward the information Tim Cook.


After 1946 British South American Airways introduced the Avro Lancastrian to the route. Details of where the Lancastrian and Junkers can be found are given at the end of the feature.


A simpler version of the route through the pass is shown below.
















The history of Star Dust and British South American Airways is told on and in an accompanying book. For a limited period anyone in the UK buying the book through the website will also be supporting the RAF Benevolent fund, as a £5 donation will be made for each book purchased.  So learn some history about a pioneer period of long distance aviation and do some good at the same time. You know it makes sense!

The following details are predominantly drawn from this excellent website.

The formation of British South American Airways          

The story of British South American Airways began with five shipping companies, the Pacific Steam Navigation Company, Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Lamport & Holt Line, The Booth Steamship Company and the Blue Star Line.

A committee was set up in November 1937 under the chairmanship of Lord Cadman to look into the state of British civil aviation.  Cadman had noted that there was no British airline flying to South America and proposed that this omission should be rectified as soon as possible.

The directors of the five shipping companies decided to explore the possibilities of starting their own airline to cover the routes they knew well, between Britain and South America.

Although the shipping companies   were unable to do very much during the war, by 1944 there was hope that the tide was turning for the Allies and so, on 25 January 1944 British Latin American Air Lines Ltd. (BLAA) was formed.  A government White Paper published in March 1945 recognized some of the proposals outlined in the Cadman report.   It set out policy for three main British airlines with clearly defined routes. The first was to operate on what was called the Commonwealth air routes, serving nations such as Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, India, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as the USA, the Far East and China.   The second would serve the capitals and major cities of Europe and internal British destinations and the third would operate to South America.  It also recommended that the company formed by the shipping lines should be assigned the routes to South America.

After much discussion it was decided in September 1945 that BLAA would become British South American Airways Limited.

When BSAA were looking for an aircraft to initiate their South American routes they realised the Lancastrian would be suitable, but insisted that their aircraft be fitted with thirteen forward-facing seats and have windows down both sides of the fuselage (the nine seat version for BOAC only had windows on the starboard side). In this form the Lancastrian III was born, with BSAA taking delivery of their first aircraft in December 1945.

The loss of Star Dust

On 2 August 1947, the British South American Airways Flt CS 59 Star Dust was enroute to Santiago, Chile from Buenos Aires, Argentina when it mysteriously disappeared. An extensive search by British Airways personnel, Argentine, and Chile troops found no sign of the aircraft or its occupants. There seemed to be no reasonable explanation for the disappearance, as the flight crew had all been experienced members of the RAF, and the plane, a civilian version of the Lancaster bomber, was less than two years old. As in many cases of lost airplanes, speculation ranged from conspiracy and sabotage to abduction by invaders from outer space.

In 1947, the aircrew of the Star Dust would have relied on wind, speed, and ground observation, rather than radar, to establish their position.


The map above shows the en-route reported positions of Star Dust taken from the Accident Investigations Branch Report No. C.A 106 published in December 1947. The red dot shows the crash position East of Santiago. I have also plotted the three routes through the Andes used at that time. The weather reports from the day suggest that the en-route report at 1700, which should have been in the vicinity of Mendoza, was made when the aircraft was in cloud and the ground was obscured. The report also stated that this point should have been reached in 3 hours 12 minutes, and the reported location had been reached in 3 hours 14 minutes. By that point the aircraft was at 20,000’ and was climbing to 24,000’.  Although in cloud, the crew may have taken the decision to climb to 24,000’ and use the high altitude performance of the Lancastrian to take a direct route across the Andes rather than continue west over the Uspallata Pass.

BSAA used three routes to cross the Andes, a Northern route via San Juan, the Central route through the Uspallata Pass or direct at high altitude, and a Southern route via Planchon and the Pasa Vergaro.

The Accident Report stated that the crew had been briefed in London and Buenos Aires against taking the central route if the bad weather persisted.

The previous two reports, which were made at 10,000’ and possibly in sight of the ground, indicate that the flight was managing a ground speed about 150-155 knots with an airspeed of 196 knots. The aircraft would seem to have been experiencing significant headwinds even at the lower altitude. Unfortunately the phenomenon of the high altitude jetstream was not well understood at this time.

Jet streams are relatively narrow bands of strong wind in the upper levels of the atmosphere. Although the jet stream may stretch for thousands of miles around the world, it is only a few hundred miles wide and often less than three miles thick. The winds blow from west to east in jet streams but the flow often shifts to the north and south. There are four jetstreams about 30° N/S latitude and at and 50°-60° N/S. The airflow in these streams can be between 80 and 140 knots.

Relatively few commercial aircraft were capable of flying significantly above 20,000’ at that time. The Lancastrian had exceptional altitude and range capabilities, but could not carry an economic passenger complement. However the conversion of the Lancaster bomber at least allowed BSAA and BOAC to quickly establish the long-range routes to Australia and South America.

Based on the weather reports of the time and our current knowledge of jetstream activity, it is quite possible that star Dust rose into a jetstream with a disastrous reduction in ground speed as a result.

It is possible that the crew continued to use a ground speed of 155 knots in their location reports and therefore started to descend once they believed they were past the mountains. If the last known transmission was made shortly before the aircraft crashed. The ground speed from the 1700 reported location was about 100 knots. Admittedly that position report might have been optimistic if Star Dust was already encountering increasing windspeeds, but it indicates the magnitude of the problem that they had run into.

At an altitude of 24,000 feet, the crew could very well have supposed they were flying over Santiago. In fact, the plane had barely started to cross the Andes range. It is assumed that the Star Dust descended at a high rate of speed and flew directly into a snow bank high up Tupungato, a 22,600’ mountain on the Argentinean side of the Andes, causing an avalanche that buried the plane and its passengers. There was an extensive search of the Andes by BSAA crews and the Argentinean and Chilean governments from the expected route up to San Juan, but no indication of the crash site was found.

The disappearance of the Star Dust remained a mystery for some 50 years until a mountain guide found a Rolls Royce engine at the foot of the Tupungato glacier in 1998. Having buried itself at the top of the glacier, the wreckage had moved down the glacier and by the year 2000 about 10% of the wreckage had surfaced at the bottom of the glacier.  The wheels had been retracted and the propellers running normally at the time of impact, so there is every indication that the crew were making a normal descent and may never have seen the mountain before impact.

Although the crash site was not known at the time of the Accident Report, one of the conclusions was:

8. As this was the pilot's first trans-Andean flight in command, and in view of the weather conditions, he should not have crossed by the direct route.”

Also a final Opinion was added:


Through lack of evidence due to no wreckage having been found the actual cause of the accident remains obscure. The possibility of severe icing cannot be ignored.”

I only mention that as it puzzles me how they could be reporting an ETA of four minutes when they were still above 16,000’. The BSAA approach plate for Santiago indicates that a descent rate of 400-500’ per minute is to be used and that descent from the let down box pattern alone would take four minutes from a height of 5,000’. Therefore the ETA may possibly have been intended to be an overhead arrival prior to letdown. Perhaps they were experiencing problems with icing affecting the instrumentation, which will have made the pilot’s problems even greater.

The Final Message

"E.T.A. Santiago 17:45. STENDEC"

That was the last message received from Star Dust, sent by Radio Officer Dennis Harmer at 17:41 on 2nd August 1947.

The Chilean radio operator in Santiago said the reception was clear, but the message was sent rather quickly, so she asked for it to be repeated...twice. The message was believed to be the same on all three occasions.

Clearly, if the crew believed they were only minutes away from Santiago, the radio officer would have been keen to complete that final Morse message so he could make voice contact with the controller at Los Cerrillos airport. Therefore it is no surprise that the message was sent rather quickly.

There have been many suggestions over the years as to what was meant by Dennis Harmer’s message that day, as it clearly was not intended to be STENDEC. Some of the theories are totally implausible.  One theory promulgated by experienced aircrew follows.

The actual Morse code, which the Chilean Operator believed she received, was:

S    T        E        N       D       E        C

…    _         .         _.      _..       .       _._.

A recognized signoff or 'end of message' signal was 'AR' (with no space between the letters). Therefore a standard signoff would be sent as the Morse '._._.' in other words 'EC' without the space. If the messages from Star Dust were sent quickly it is quite conceivable that spaces were misinterpreted. A common message at the time was "Standard Arrival" followed by the direction from which the aircraft was arriving, so in this case if we simply shift a couple of spaces from 'STENDEC' we are left with 'S T A R E AR' or STandard/ARrival/East/signoff:

S    T        A       R        E        AR

…    _        ._      ._.        .        ._._.


Flight Simulator Files


The base package for the JU52 from by Pierino Primavesi is available from


and is contained in the zip file:


There are three add-on files. The first two cover additional wheeled aircraft, and all of these are included in the aircraft.cfg file installed by the first base package. So if you don’t want all the texture sets, you’ll need to do a bit of cfg file editing. The third add-on file includes the floatplane option that we needed for the flight from Tromsø to Kirkenes in the Northern Norway Feature a few months ago.


 The three add-ons have the following links:


Alternatively you can download Oscar Fischer’s JU52/3m from flightsim in a  single file The most obvious difference between the two models is the fact that Oscar’s do not have any swastika emblems.


The Avro Lancastrian is available from in – just search for Lancastrian in the Search Library option under the File Library link on the left of the main webpage.


BSAA textures by Dave Booker are contained in which he has kindly agreed to us hosting as it is not currently available elsewhere. The main file also contains excellent pilot notes for the sim.