10 Things That Went Missing Without a Trace

The Crew of the Mary Celeste
The Mary Celeste was found unmanned drifting towards the Strait of Gibraltar in 1872. DeAgostini/Getty Images

The Mary Celeste is sort of the 19th-century maritime version of Flight 19, except that the ship itself actually was recovered. In December 1872, the British vessel Dei Gratia was about 400 miles (644 kilometers) east of the Azores islands, which are a thousand miles (1,609 kilometers) west of Portugal, when its crew spotted another ship drifting in the distance. It turned out to be the Mary Celeste, which had departed from New York City eight days earlier on a trip to Genoa, Italy.

When the British sailors boarded the Mary Celeste, they were puzzled. The crewmen's belongings were still in their quarters, and the cargo of 1,701 barrels of industrial alcohol was intact. The ship had enough food and water to last six months at sea. So where were the people? The Mary Celeste crew, consisting of Capt. Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife and 2-year-old daughter, plus seven crewmen, was gone, as was the ship's lone lifeboat. The last log entry was from 11 days before the ship was found empty.

There was only one clue to what might have happened: One of the ship's two pumps had been partially disassembled, and there was water sloshing inside the ship's bottom, suggesting that the Mary Celeste had suffered a mechanical malfunction. Even so, the Mary Celeste was still sailable. One theory is that the captain mistakenly thought it was about to sink, so they abandoned ship for a lifeboat and drowned at sea. There are also wilder explanations, ranging from a mutiny to an attack by a sea monster, but more than 140 years later, nobody really knows [source: Blumberg].