A mysterious plane crash in nearly inaccessible terrain. A foreign government fails to investigate thoroughly. Missing black boxes. No bodies or blood. An airline that was later implicated in large-scale cocaine smuggling, then went bankrupt. And... a bunch of crocodile skins? These are the mysteries that drew Americans Dan Futrell and Isaac Stoner to the decades-old case of Eastern Airlines Flight 980, which crashed into the side of a Bolivian mountain on New Year's Day in 1985. With journalist Peter Frick-Wright in tow, the pair hopped a plane to South America to see if they could locate the black box flight recorders, which were never found. Surprisingly, they did find both—in pieces. The full tale, published at Outside, turns out to be more fascinating than they could have ever predicted.
Eastern Airlines Flight 980 went down on its stormy approach to La Paz, Bolivia, killing all aboard. The flight, operated by now-defunct Eastern Airlines, originated in Paraguay. Due to a number of factors, the crash site was never satisfactorily investigated by Bolivian or US authorities. The families of the 29 passengers were left in limbo, and conspiracy theorists quickly began whispering about dark dealings involving the Bolivian government, Ronald Reagan's White House, and the Paraguayan mafia. And as it turns out, Futrell, Stoner, and Frick-Wright didn't really have all that much trouble accessing the site, where debris from the crash is slowly sliding down the mountain. They even brought back the black box fragments, as well as the tape, which now sit in Futrell and Stoner's kitchen in legal limbo. So why all the secrecy? As the Bolivian government and the US government aren't on great terms at the moment, it may be a while before we can find out. Until then, Frick-Wright's story is excellent. (Read more Longform stories.)