Swire Group

travellers' checks

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2006, 12:00am

Lost and found

If it were still in business, British South American Airways (BSAA) would be 60 next month, just before its one-time counterpart Cathay Pacific. A distant ancestor of British Airways, this short-lived carrier may be long gone but it is at the centre of what remains one of the most debated incidents in commercial aviation history. The first airline to operate out of Heathrow, BSAA was for a time the most dangerous airline in the western world. Its larger counterpart, British Overseas Airways Corp (BOAC), lost one of every 18,900 passengers who flew between January 1946 and August 1947. In the same period, BSAA lost one in 385 of its passengers. In the three-and-a-half years the airline was in business, it lost at least 10 aircraft; two in the Bermuda Triangle and several in Africa. But the airline's most famous loss is one of the world's most enduring aviation mysteries. In August 1947, Star Dust, a BSAA Lancastrian (a converted Lancaster bomber) carrying 11 passengers and crew, disappeared in the Andes mountains, a few minutes short of its destination, Santiago. There were rumours of gold aboard, sabotage and UFOs, and the meaning of the radio operator's final message - 'Stendec' - has yet to be deciphered. An Argentinian mountain guide found Star Dust in 1998 and the wreck was examined in 2000. The story of the crash, and of BSAA, is the subject of Star Dust Falling, by Jay Rayner, regarded as one of the most absorbing books written about air travel. For amateur detectives, a website dedicated to the mystery can be found at www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vanished.

New route

Dragonair will begin a service to the northeastern mainland city of Shenyang on March 30. Departing every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, flights will be routed via Dalian. The capital of Liaoning province, Shenyang is best known as an industrial centre, although it has some places of historical interest, including Mukden Palace - a Unesco World Heritage site - and one of the largest statues of Mao Zedong in the country.

Alternative arrangements

English Heritage, the government advisory body that looks after some of England's more attractive historic sites, is soon to branch out into self-catering accommodation and will be offering a handful of the country's finest buildings for short-term holiday lease. One of the most unusual is London's Marble Arch, which, surprisingly, contains accommodation suitable for paying guests.

Unbeknown even to many Londoners, the monument was Britain's smallest police station before reverting to its current uninhabited state in 1950. Elsewhere in the country, says English Heritage, visitors can choose from 'the elegant four-storey former residence of the Battery Sergeant-Major of Dover Castle, or Pavilion Cottage in the grounds of Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, which was used as a cricket pavilion by the Royal Naval College'. Several dozen buildings of more general interest, each kitted out to five-star standards, will be added to the list in the coming months. For more information, visit www.english-heritage.org.uk.

Just looking

Web host David Levine's site, travelbrochuregraphics.com, features hundreds of pictures of travel-related ephemera from the 1920s and 30s. These include travel brochures, airline timetables, ocean-liner timetables, road maps, luggage labels and general advertising materials from around the world. The site makes for interesting and, in some cases, inspiring, browsing, and although none of the items on display is for sale, there are links to several dealers of similar artwork.

Island life

Anyone considering venturing to the Northern Marianas can find information on the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota on a new website (www.saipanagogo.com), which is packed with tips and videos. As well as clips relating to outdoor activities, shopping, spas and dining, the site also features short videos of most of Saipan's better hotels. More comprehensive information, including a useful virtual tour of Saipan, is also available at www.cnmi-guide.com.

Deal of the week

Westminster Travel is selling a three-night package to Melbourne, which, if you choose to stay at the historic Victoria Hotel (www.victoriahotel.com.au), becomes a four-night package for $4,990. Several other hotels are available, but the Victoria, which celebrated its 125th anniversary last year, is the only one offering a free bonus night. The drawback is that, while this package is valid until March 31, there is a blackout period for the Victoria from March 15 to 26. Round-trip, economy-class flights are with Cathay Pacific and breakfast is included. For further details and reservations, call Westminster Travel on 2313 9800, or e-mail itravel@hkwtl.com, quoting reference number 3639.