Holston Mountain: Tri-Cities Own Bermuda Triangle? by: Justin H. Guess
There are a number of odd occurrences on Holston Mountain including a high number of plane crashes and ghostly lights, but could a fault line on this mountain explain some of these mysteries?
The first recorded plane crash on Holston Mountain was on 02/02/1958, when, according to a 05/25/1961 Kingsport Times article titled "What Was The Cause Of Fatal Plane Crashes Atop The Legendary Holston Mountain”, a Navy SNB crashed into the mountain, killing its two occupants.
The first strange light phenomenon was corded On January 9, 1959. Both Vincent H Gaddis’ 1967 book Mysterious Fires and Lights: Their Weird Manifestations, the Evidence for Their Occurrence, and the Latest Theories to Explain Them and L. B. Taylor’s 2010 book The Big Book of Virginia Ghost Stories cover the mysterious “ghost light of Holston Mountain”.
After brief radio contact with Tri-Cities Airport, Southeast Airlines DC-3 Flight 308 simply disappeared. At 8:32 PM on January 8, 1959, Flight 308 pilot radioed Tri-Cities Airport for a routine landing. It was 15°F, there were four-inches of snow on the ground and visibility was limited to five-miles. After the transmission, the plane, three crew members and seven passengers vanished. Search teams were immediately organized.
It wasn’t until 2:00 AM that the plane was considered missing, and that is when strange reports started coming in to local authorities. When news of a missing plane was released, authorities were inundated with calls. Dozens of people from Northeast Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and Western North Carolina reported seeing the plane in the sky or hearing one in distress earlier in the day. Also, numerous witnesses called in to report lights popping out of Beech Mountain in Avery County, North Carolina.
A few hours before dawn, a “ghost light” began signaling the location of the crash site. The searchlight was spotted by motorists along US Route 421 from the Bluff City side of Holston Mountain, 20-miles from the airport and two-miles from South Holston Lake. Kingsport Times News staff writer Phil Calhoun wrote about the ghost light in the 01/10/1959 edition of the paper:
A strange, mocking light – never explained – helped lead to the discovery of the Southeast Airlines plane wreckage Friday.
The beacon of light, first sighted by Life Saving Crew members at approximately [5:00 AM], started an intensive search for
the lost plane in the mountains above Holston Lake.
It was at the lake and on Highway 421 which runs from the lake to Mountain City that ground and air searchers
concentrated early Friday. At noon, the wreckage was spotted from the air.
The National Guard plane radioed the position of the downed DC3 airliner on Holston, later pinpointed at about six miles
for the TVA dam but much closer to the lake itself. Ground parties later said it was apparent everyone aboard was killed
Strangely, the crashed plane appeared to be in the same general direction as the mysterious light.
Life Saving Crew members noticed the light while driving over the mountain on Highway 421. From a point near the top of
the mountain, the light appeared to line up generally in a westerly direction with South Holston Dam.
Other Life Saving Crew members, Highway Patrolmen and Civil Air Patrol personnel saw it. And from its unusual behavior
hopes mounted that the wreckage had been spotted and there were survivors.
[Lieutenant] Ed Allen, Kingsport, of the Civil Air Patrol gave his description of it:
“Searchers had been watching it a long time before I arrived. But at one time, we turned off all the lights on the vehicles
and used one extra strong light to answer it.
“As we’d wave our light horizontally back and forth, the beacon would do likewise. When we moved ours up and down, so
would the other light. It would not blink, however, at least to my knowledge. One report was that the light would blink in return to
“There was no sight of a fire and thus light didn’t come from a fire. We watched it until daylight and searchers moved into
the area trying to locate it. But we found after daylight that we couldn’t pinpoint the location of the light.”
Nevertheless, reports of the light turned out to be the only working lead at daybreak and dozens of searchers converged
on the area. At one time, Bristol Life Saving Crew members out a boar into the lake to check some high islands apparently in
line with the light.
Then, after all accessible areas had been hunted out, hope began to flicker.
Searchers congregated on a snow-covered picnic area at the Highway 421 bridge and checked out various reports as
they trickled in. But always the talk got back to the mysterious light.
When search parties initially reported the wreckage in the mountainous area, the light was temporarily forgotten. But it
was never explained.
On-the-scene parties at the crash site ruled out any possibility of the light coming from the plane.
Maybe it was a hunter – out in [15°] snowy weather in the early morning – or a mountain resident or a prankster. But the
light was there and it must be given some credit for helping to locate the wreckage. (Calhoun)
All ten persons on board the plane had died on impact. There were no footprints in the snow and mysteriously nothing to make light. According to the Kingsport News article “None Survive Plane Crash” from the next morning, the victims were: pilot Robert Gollmier, co-pilot Robert Erwin, stewardess Wanda Nalley, J. Alvin Bradley, Frank and Eloise Halstead, W. L. Dennie, Robert Matthews, James A. Porter and Dr. R. L. Hasche.
During a Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) hearing on 03/03/1959, the crash was most likely caused by instrument failure. In a Kingsport News article titled, "CAB Starts Hearing On Area Plane Crash”, it was revealed that the pilot had radioed that he was having problems with the plane’s automatic direction finder.
Some claim that plane crashes on Holston Mountain seem statistically higher than in other mountainous regions.
A website titled “Bluff City, TN Airliner Crashes On Holston Mountain, Jan 1959" reveals that in 1958, a Navy airplane went down on Holston Mountain.
. . . a twin-engined SNB Navy plane which crashed February 2, 1958, after a mid-air brush with a civilian plane near the
airport. Helicopters and planes from Sewart Air Force Base, CAP planes and others searched for 12 days until the plane finally
was found late February 14 on rugged Holston Mountain near the Shady Valley section about 10 miles east of Bristol. It was
The Kingsport News article titled "Army Craft Found Near Cove Ridge" from 12/28/1960 covered the story of an L-20 that crashed the night before on Holston Mountain:
A light Army plane crashed in the rugged Holston Mountain area early Tuesday, killing the pilot, [First Lieutenant] Donald G
Bales of El Paso, Texas.
Site of the crash is about 50 feet from the top of Cove Ridge in the same general area where two previous fatal aircraft
accidents has occurred within the last three years. It is about 12 miles over land and [four to five] air miles southeast of [Tri-
A Civil Air Patrol ground crew reached the plane at 4:30 [PM], after its wreckage was sighted from the air at 3:45 [PM].
Bales was alone in the plane, and L-20 observation and reconnaissance craft, on a training flight from El Paso to Fort
Belvoir, [Virginia], near Washington, a spokesman for the Military District of Washington said:
“When he last contacted the tower, the pilot said he was about 20 miles southwest of Tri-Cities at 6,000 feet with enough
fuel for about three hours flying-time. A refueling site at [Tri-Cities Airport] was on his flight plan.
Aerial search operations, delayed by poor visibility and icing conditions were started from Maxwell Air Force Base,
Montgomery, [Alabama], and Fort Belvoir. CAP ground units of the [Tri-Cities] area also helped search for the plane.
Bales’ next of kin were listed as his wife, Jamie, and two sons, Michael, 5, and Edward, 3.
The pilot was thrown from the plane. His body was found about 50 feet from the main wreckage.
The plane did not burn but was virtually demolished.
A military security crew roped off the crash area and permitted photographers to take pictures of the wreckage only from
outside the ropes.
Cove Ridge is one of the lower ridges of the Holston Mountain Range, which at its highest point reached 4,300 feet.
. . . (Kingsport News)
According to a Kingsport News article titled "Plane May Have Run Out Of Fuel" from 04/07/1961, four months later an Army TL-19 D Cessna 182 crashed on Holston Mountain. The victims were A. E. Cline, Travis Eller and Ray Cook of Hickory, North Carolina. They had attended a Shriners convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota and stayed overnight in Kingsport. The next morning, they left Tri-Cities Airport. For some reason, and without radio contact, they were returning to the airport, but crashed 10 miles south of Bristol at about 6:00 AM. The reason authorities believed that the plane may have run out of fuel was cited in the article: “Officers at the scene said there was no evidence of gasoline around the wreckage and none in the plane’s tank.” (Kingsport Times) The article continues by saying that a representative of Appalchian Flying Services at Tri-Cities Airport “voiced the opinion that the plane did have plenty of fuel and that the impact probably knocked it from the tanks.” (Kingsport Times). It is almost as if in the space of less than half an hour, the plane ran out of fuel.
There was yet another plane crash in 1962. According to a website on FindACase™, in that year, a pilot for Southeastern Aviation, Inc. crashed a DC-3 into the mountain. Unusual weather conditions were cited as the cause.
According to a website titled "RF-4C Phantom Jet Crash on Holston Mountain, TN”, another plane crashed on Holston Mountain, in 1976.
From the October 4th, 1976 Elizabethton newspaper, we learn "Two German Air Force officers were killed instantly when the US
Air Force [reconnaissance] jet they were flying crashed into Holston Mountain near here, authorities said. The [wreckage] was
located early Saturday morning just over the . . . Carter County line where it had broken up badly on impact and was strewn over
a wide area. Authorities said the supersonic jet, an RF-4C, also known as a Phantom, was manufactured only recently and
carrying highly sophisticated radar and photographic systems in its nose. The jet was said to be on a routine low-level flight
from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, SC when it disappeared from the Air Force radar around 4PM in the vicinity of Holston
Yet another crash happened on June 24, 1998, according to a website titled "Portland NORML News”. An OH-58 Kiowa Army National Guard Helicopter was searching for marijuana fields when it crashed into Holston Mountain, six-miles east of Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton.
Another tragic plane crash occurred on September 1, 2007. According to the Kingsport Times-News article "Plane Crash on Holston Mountain Kills Five Jehovah's Witness Ministers” from Rex Barber, five Jehovah’s Witness ministers were killed on impact when the single engine Beech Bonanza crashed near the top of the mountain. They had left Elizabethton Municipal Airport about 10:30 AM bound for Virginia Highlands Airport in Abingdon, Virginia.
No subsequent crashes were followed by mysterious light phenomena, but the ghost light of Holston Mountain can be explained by science. Cognitive neuroscience Michael A. Persinger explains in his Tectonic Strain Theory (TST) that piezoelectricity is electromagnetic radiation that can occur when crystalline solid and/or silicon dioxide are placed under seismic stress and produces light called triboluminescence. In fact, the book Geology of Northeasternmost Tennessee verifies that there is a Holston fault.
Triboluminescence could explain the beam of light coming from the assumed wreckage of Flight 308, as well as strange balls of light that appear on Holston Mountain.
On a Fortean Times Message Board post on the topic of "Will O the Wisp”, a former Boy Scout troop leader reveled that in 1963, he and a friend witnessed triboluminescence:
We noticed a light maybe 60 to 80 yards away - in the direction of the first 'peak' one crossed when following the trail up to
our site. The light appeared to be discrete, round, and yellow with a slight greenish tinge - somewhat like a bright firefly.
However, once we determined its location it was clear the light was too big to be a firefly, and it wasn't blinking. The light
appeared to slowly bob up and down. We then realized that the light was also apparently moving along the trail (along the ridge
crest) toward us. We originally thought it must be someone with a flashlight coming up to our camp. Since it was a rules
violation to be out after bedtime, we positioned ourselves to find out who it was.
We watched the light continue to follow the trail, slowly bobbing up and down as if being carried by someone walking. We
watched it descend slightly from the first 'peak', climb and cross the second 'peak', and approach our position. The light
seemed to be continuous, except for blinking obviously associated with passing behind the undergrowth bordering the trail.
The undergrowth stopped where the trail entered our site's clearing. My friend and I were only about 15 feet away from the
point where the trail entered the clearing, so we could get a clear look at whomever was out after hours.
After some 2 to 3 minutes of our continuous observation, the light entered our site's clearing. Instead of the flashlight we
originally presumed, it turned out to be a sphere of pale light floating along some 3 to 4 feet in the air above the trail. It was no
smaller than a golf ball, and no larger than a tennis ball. It was pale yellow with a slight greenish tinge. It was a single
spherical shape with no features.
As it came out from the underbrush lining the trail, we had a clear view across the clearing (and on to the valley beyond)
with the ground before us illuminated by moonlight. There was no person (or anything) holding the light up. There was only the
It continued at its sedate walking pace - bobbing up and down as if with footsteps - up-slope through the center of our
campsite. It barely missed the leader's tent at the clearing's uphill end before continuing up onto the steeper slope leading
Another strange fact is that the series of four plane crashes beginning with Southeast Airlines DC-3 Flight 308 in 1959 and ending with the RF-4C Phantom Jet in 1962 might have been foreseen by five residence years before the trend began. A Kingsport Times article from 12/09/1949 titled "Bristol Plane Crash Rumors Unconfirmed" documented that:
A rumor of an airplane crash in the vicinity of Holston Mountain near Bristol sent police and airport officials on a fruitless
search of the area late Thursday.
However, the search for the “wreckage” was abandoned later in the evening by sheriff’s officers and highway patrolmen.
Four TVA workers reported seeing a plane crash into Holston Mountain about a mile from the old CC camp site there
about [4:00 PM].
A Bristol woman also reported that she heard a plane crash about the same time.
A check with the Civil Aeronautics authorities and the Air Force authorities at Mobile, [Alabama] revealed that no planes,
military or civilian, were overdue in this area. (Kingsport Times)
Evidence suggests that intermittent spikes of high electromagnetic radiation from seismic tension on Holston Mountain explain many perceived odd occurrences there.
Gaddis, Vincent H. Mysterious Fires and Lights: Their Weird Manifestations, the Evidence for Their Occurrence, and the Latest Theories to Explain Them. New York: D. McKay, 1967.
King, Philip B., Herman W. Ferguson, and Warren Hamilton. Geology of Northeasternmost Tennessee. Washington, DC: United States Govenment Printing Office, 1960. Geological Survey Professional Paper 311.
Kovach, Bill. "What Was The Cause Of Fatal Plane Crashes Atop The Legendary Holston Mountain." Kingsport Times [Kingsport, Tennessee] 05/25/1961: Page 5. Courtesy www.newspaperarchive.com.