In 1928, Alfred Loewenstein was the third richest man in the world. The Belgian financier made his fortune by being an early investor in electric power and artificial silk.
On July 4, 1928, Loewenstein boarded his private plane at the Croydon Airport in England, where he lived. The plan was to take the plane to Belgium, where Loewenstein was a citizen. While the plane was flying over the English channel, Loewenstein got up and went to the bathroom. On this particular plane the bathroom was a thoroughfare to the rest of the plane and had two doors: a normal bathroom door that opened to the rest of the cabin and the cabin’s external door for boarding and exiting. After entering the bathroom, Loewenstein was never seen alive again.
When his assistant went to check on Loewenstein, they found the plane’s bathroom empty. The external door was open. The assistant notified the pilot who decided to land the plane on a beach outside of Dunkirk. The crew believed Loewenstein had accidentally fallen out the door and into the English Channel.
On July 19, Loewenstein’s body was found floating in the Channel. An autopsy was performed which found no signs of foul play and nothing strange except it appeared Loewenstein had a small amount of alcohol before his death, and he never drank. The plane’s pilot and mechanic told investigators that the external door in the bathroom was easy to open, and they believed Loewenstein fell to his death accidentally.
Later on, tests would show that the plane’s external door was not easy to open at all. One test involved men from the British Air Ministry trying as hard as they could to open the door at 1,000 ft with no success. They reported the door could not have been opened by accident.
The two main theories about Loewenstein’s death are that he was suicidal or that he was killed by his associates.
Some believe the plane’s pilot and mechanic were hired to kill Alfred Loewenstein, possibly by replacing the bathroom external door with a flimsy version designed to open outward during flight. In a book about the event, The Man Who Fell From the Sky, author William Norris argues that Loewenstein’s death could have been an insurance play by his widow, Madeleine. Others argue that the entire thing was faked and that Alfred Loewenstein never died that day. This theory is supported by Loewenstein’s widow not attending the funeral and his body being buried in an unmarked grave.
Whatever happened to Loewenstein, the most important part is that I personally will never be going to the bathroom on a plane with an external door in the bathroom ever.