Seventy years before Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 became the biggest, most sophisticated plane to ever disappear, a plane carrying bandleader Glenn Miller vanished during World War II.
Miller was one of the most popular musicians of the 1930s and '40s, with songs such as In the Mood and Moonlight Serenade. His single-engine Noorduyn Norseman disappeared in bad weather, presumably going down in the English Channel, while heading to a Christmas Day concert for troops in Paris in 1944.
But the plane and its three occupants were never found. Questions lingering through the decades include whether the plane suffered mechanical problems or was shot down by friendly fire. Books have also speculated Miller was a spy against the Germans or died under scandalous circumstances.
The PBS program History Detectives Special Investigations: The Disappearance of Glenn Miller will explore the mystery Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET.
"This was a celebrity story about a guy who was in essence a rock star of his time — he was every bit as big as the Beatles or the Rolling Stones," said Wes Cowan, one of the program's hosts. "He joins the Army Air Force to be a patriot and poof, he vanishes."
The beloved and bespectacled Miller was more famous than anyone aboard the Malaysia flight, which took off March 8 with 239 people aboard, but his flight attracted much less attention immediately.
Miller had joined the Army in 1942 at the age of 38 and performed with his Army Air Force Band to boost troop morale. With a friend, he hitched a ride Dec. 15 on a UC-64 Norseman that left a Royal Air Force field called Twinwood Farm.
Foggy, freezing weather should have prevented the flight, just as a snowstorm should have grounded musician Buddy Holly before his fatal crash in Iowa 14 years later. But Miller was eager to reach Paris for a concert celebrating the troops who had arrived since D-Day months earlier.
"They never should have been flying that day," Cowan said. "They had no permission to fly."
About the same time Miller's plane was heading to France, a bombing mission was returning from Germany with its payload because the weather was too stormy to spot targets. But those Lancaster bombers dropped their explosives over the channel before landing, leading to speculation they might have inadvertently hit Miller's plane.
The program has taped interviews with a British accident investigator, who reviewed the case in the 1980s, and a possible witness to explore this option.
Co-hosts Tukufu Zuberi and Kaiama Glover help narrow down what might have happened.
But one of the frustrations of the case is that a detailed investigation came long after the disappearance. The flight occurred on the eve of a German offensive now known as the Battle of the Bulge, which began the next day and raged for more than a month.
A revelation came in January 2012, when the journal of an amateur plane-spotter was unearthed and offered new information about the plane's path.
And the show explores speculation that has developed over the decades, including the fact that Miller made German-language music recordings during the war that some have suggested could have conveyed hidden spy messages. Miller also worked with David Niven, the British actor who served as a commando during the war and coordinated with American forces.
The show offers a little something for big-band fans, aviation enthusiasts and those who love a mystery.
"I think it's an interesting story about a guy who was at the top of his game and wanted to do something for his country," Cowan said. "They paid the ultimate price for hubris."