A Mystery Man Lands In Middletown, R. I. – 1959


Middletown, Rhode Island – June 13, 1959 

     On the evening of June 13, 1959, Albert Presso went to answer the insistent knocking on the door to his Willow Avenue home in Middletown, Rhode Island.  He opened the door to find a well dressed man in his twenties who identified himself as Greg Saunders, and then began to relate an incredible story.

     Saunders appeared shaken, but managed to tell bits and pieces of what he had to say – a plane – a fire – bailing out – a crash.   Presso knew immediately that he needed to alert authorities. Middletown police arrived in short order and took Saunders to Newport Hospital for examination.  There he recovered his composure enough to give a detailed account of what had happened.

     Saunders said he was a travel agent from Los Angeles, California, on a combined business and pleasure vacation.  He had left California for Mexico City a few days ago flying his own twin-engine, blue and white Piper Apache.  From there, he traveled to Nassau and on to Miami, Florida.  After leaving Florida he landed at Flushing Airport in Queens, New York. 

     At 4:30 p.m. on the 13th, he took off from Flushing bound for Maine, and attained a cruising altitude of 6,500 feet which put him above a rainstorm moving up the coast.  Somewhere near Rhode Island, he noticed flames licking out of the port engine and tried to extinguish the fire, but couldn’t.  He then tried to use his radio to call for help, but found it inoperable due to the fire. 

     At this point he felt he had two options, to drop down through the storm and risk a crash landing, or set the autopilot, bail out, and take his chances.  He opted for the later and took the plane up to 8,000 feet where he put it on a heading that would take it out over the Atlantic Ocean and away from populated areas.  He figured that the craft had enough gas to carry it another 300 miles provided it didn’t explode first.

     Saunders explained that normally he wouldn’t have had a parachute aboard, but because his flight plans had carried him over water he thought it prudent to carry one, along with an inflatable rubber raft. 

     Saunders came down on a Christmas tree farm in Middletown, and after removing his parachute he began looking for help.  He said he hiked for almost an hour before he found himself at Mr. Presso’s home. 

     Officers noted that the neatly pressed tan suit Saunders was wearing showed no signs that he had hiked through wet weather on a farm, and his shoes were dry and free of mud.  They also discovered that no reports of any aircraft in distress had been received. Skeptical of his story, they asked Saunders for positive identification, but he explained that in his haste to leave the burning aircraft that he had left it behind. He added that he would be filing an insurance claim for $49,795 for the loss of his plane, but first he needed to report the loss to Federal Aviation officials in Boston.   

     Saunders was dropped off at the Viking Hotel in Newport while police made plans to verify his story. 

     A check of the Flushing Airport revealed that there was no record of Saunders or his aircraft having ever been there. Civil Aeronautics Division officials in Boston stated that they had no record of Saunders ever filing any flight plans with them as required by law. 

     When daylight came the following morning, there were still no reports of any downed aircraft.  An air search conducted by Trooper Ashworth of the state police and Robert Wood, the owner of the Newport Air Park failed to find any trace of the parachute that Saunders claimed he had abandoned. 

     Saunders had told officers that his permanent address was 1136 Glendale Boulevard, in Los Angeles, California, however, phone company records showed this to be untrue. Obviously there were a lot of holes in Mr. Saunders’ story. 

      When police showed up at the Viking Hotel they discovered that Saunders had left, telling the clerk on duty that he was “going back home to Boston.”  The FAA in Boston was notified to be on the lookout for Saunders as Rhode Island officials had more questions for him, but Saunders never showed.  In fact, he was never seen again. 

     Who was Gregory Saunders, if in fact that was his real name, and what would possess him to perpetrate such a hoax?  Was it the media attention, an attempt at insurance fraud, or was it something else?  The story is long forgotten in Middletown, but the mystery remains.  


Providence Journal, “Man Says He Leaped From Burning Plane”, June 14, 1959, N:1

Providence Journal, “Dapper Parachutist’s Tale Grows Even More Murky”, June 15, 1959, Pg. 1 

Providence Journal, “Now, He’s Gone, Like His Plane, Parachute” June 15, 1959, Pg. 6


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