Bison Dele, once known as Brian Williams, left the NBA behind to explore the world. His quest carried him to a mysterious end near Tahiti. More than a decade later, his spirit sails on. ... It has been 11 years since the NBA player’s catamaran went missing off the coast of Tahiti and the FBI descended upon this small island in the middle of the Pacific, flanked by journalists, asking questions about murder and love and fame. Eleven years since the TV reenactments and the breathless tabloid reports. Eleven years, and the mystery remains unsolved. ... Many on the island have forgotten. Others prefer not to speak about what occurred. “It has been so long,” they say, averting their eyes. “That has nothing to do with us.” Tahiti relies on tourism, on its reputation as a paradise on earth; why talk about death? ... Dig deeper, though, and you can find those who remember. Not just what happened, but what came before.
On New Year's Day in 1985, Eastern Air Lines Flight 980 was carrying 29 passengers and a hell of a lot of contraband when it crashed into the side of a 21,112-foot mountain in Bolivia. For decades conspiracy theories abounded as the wreckage remained inaccessible, the bodies unrecovered, the black box missing. Then two friends from Boston organized an expedition that would blow the case wide open. ... Mount Illimani, a 21,122-foot mass of rocks and glaciers rising from the eastern edge of Bolivia’s Altiplano region, towers over La Paz. The Andean mountain is so textured by ridgelines, high peaks, and shadows that, viewed from the city, it seems to move and change shape throughout the day. ... In all, at least five expeditions have climbed Illimani in search of the wreckage over the past 30 years. None of them found any bodies or flight recorders, nor could anybody establish what brought down the plane. Officially, it was designated a “controlled flight into terrain,” which means it couldn’t be blamed on a bird strike or an engine malfunction or hijackers. The NTSB ultimately filed its own report to supplement the Bolivian one, but it came to the same flat conclusion: the plane was destroyed because it ran into a mountain. ... As time passed, however, details emerged that invited speculation among South American journalists, the families of the victims, and anyone else still following the story. ... Where were the flight recorders? Where were the bodies? ... So here’s another question worth asking: What sort of foolhardy seeker suddenly takes an interest in a 30-year-old plane crash?
In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. A few have even claimed to have seen the ship, its wooden remains poking through the sand like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast. ... The legend does seem, prima facie, bonkers: a craft loaded with untold riches, sailed by early-European explorers into a vast lake that once stretched over much of inland Southern California, then run aground, abandoned by its crew and covered over by centuries of sand and rock and creosote bush as that lake dried out…and now it lies a few feet below the surface, in sight of the chicken-wire fence at the back of the Desert Dunes motel, $58 a night and HBO in most rooms. ... there are believers who insist that, using recent advances in archaeology, the ship can be found.