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A Flight of Fancy

by Chris Mills

The weather was cool and dry when Lee Harvey Oswald boarded the Liberté off the coast of LeHavre, France.(1) The ship was en-route from New York to Southampton and Oswald had booked passage for what was to be a relatively short trip across the busy water of the English Channel.

It is possible that the ship did not leave the LeHavre harbor until the early hours of October 9, 1959. Although Oswald's passport shows an embarkation date of 8 October, he may well have checked in through customs late on the night of the eighth, but not departed for several hours. This was the beginning of Oswald's so-called defection to the Soviet Union. He had left New Orleans on the SS Marion Lykes bound for LeHavre. From here, he would make his way through France and England to Moscow where he would attempt to renounce his American citizenship.

The great ship chugged its way slowly across the narrow straight separating Britain and France, arriving at "Cowes Roads" (deep water outside the mouth of the harbor) in the mid afternoon of the 9th of October. If a vessel was particularly large with only a few passengers to trans-fer, it was often considered uneconomical to waste valuable time negotiating South-ampton Water to dock at the port itself. Instead, as was the case this day, the ship would anchor offshore in the Cowes Roads and small tugs would be sent out to collect passengers and any small items of freight. Oswald arrived on the British mainland at either 19:50 (the Red Funnel Tug/Tender Calshot) or 20:40 (the Alexandra Towing Company's Tug/Tender Romsey) depending upon which tug he took when he disembarked the Liberté(2) At the port, all passengers passed through customs and most joined a British Railway train to Waterloo Station in London. This is presumably what Oswald did, arriving in Central London late in the evening of October 9th.(3)

From this point on, Lee Oswald's move-ments have been the subject of contro-versy for over30 years. The alleged assassin's passport contains a stamp verifying 10 October 1959 as his depart-ure date from England. The passport is also stamped with the same date for entry into Helsinki Airport in Finland.(4) There was only one flight direct from London Airport (now Heathrow) to Helsinki on that date. This was a FinnAir flight which departed London at 14:20 and arrived in Helsinki at 23:35 local time. It has been established by the Warren Commission that it would have been impossible for Oswald to have cleared customs and arrive at the Hotel Torni in downtown Helsinki before midnight. Herein lies the controversy: the hotel register states that Oswald checked in before midnight on October 10th.(5) Various authors (Marrs, Groden/Livingstone, Melanson, Epstein) have either raised this question or suggested, and in some cases, stated categorically, that Oswald may have had military or intelligence assistance in completing this leg of his journey.

My research into this matter has led me to conclude that it was not only possible to have made the flight in the specified time frame, it was extremely likely. I have been able to find no military flights leaving London Airport on the 10th but there were three commercial routes available to Helsinki on that day (BEA/Finn Air being the only carrier for that destination). As well as the direct route, which even the Warren Commission indicated was hardly feasible, there was a choice of two other flights: one via Copenhagen (08:05 from London) and the other via Stockholm (08:50). Either of these could have been utilized by Oswald, and both would have been offered if he had arrived in the early hours of October 10th trying to book a flight. These flights would have arrived in Helsinki at 17:05 and 17:35 respectively, thus giving Oswald ample time to reach the Hotel Torni before midnight. As we have seen, the hotel register indicated that he did.(6)

Passenger lists for these flights have long since been destroyed, but (and this is a real shame) they would have been readily available to the Commission in 1964 had anyone taken the trouble to look for them.

In conclusion, it would seem that is more likely than not that Oswald took an ordinary commercial flight from London to Helsinki. The real questions that need to be answered seem to be:

a) Why take this route at all?
b) How was this trip financed?
Theories surrounding these questions abound, but as yet no hard proof has emerged to answer them.


1. Author's telephone conversation -- Met office, Bracknell Herts, August 25, 1994.
2. Letter and docking records for October 7-9, 1959 to author from Mr. R.C. Hancock, Marine Administration manager, Associated British ports, Southampton, England. August 30, 1994.
3. Ibid.
4. Warren Commission Exhibit 946, 18 H 160-171
5. Warren Commission Exhibit 2677, 26 H 32
6. Letter and flight timetable for October 1959 to author from Fred Huntley MBE, Consultant Archivist, British Heathrow Airways Archives and Museum Collection, Heathrow Airport, Hounslow, England.

Used by permission. Electronic or other reproduction is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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