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FLIGHT 19 FROM FORT
LAUDERDALE

 

                          
Even though the Bermuda Triangle isn’t a true
mystery, this region of the sea certainly has had its share of marine tragedy.
Perhaps the best known one was the story of Flight 19.

Here is a
brief summary of U.S Navy’s Official version About the Original Incident:



 “The tale of Flight 19 started on December 5th, 1945.
Five Avenger torpedo bombers lifted into the air from the Navel Air Station at
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 2:10 in the afternoon. It was a routine practice
mission and the flight was composed of all students except for the Commander, a
Lt. Charles Taylor.


  The mission called for Taylor and his group of 13
men to fly due east 56 miles to Hens and Chicken Shoals to

conduct practice bombing runs. When they had completed that objective, the
flight plan called for them to fly an additional 67 miles east, then turn north
for 73 miles and finally straight back to base, a distance of 120 miles. This
course would take them on a triangular path over the sea.

About an hour and a half after the flight had
left, a Lt. Robert Cox picked up a radio transmission from Taylor. Taylor
indicated that his compasses were not working, but he believed himself to be
somewhere over the Florida Keys (the Keys are a long chain of islands south of
the Florida mainland). Cox urged him to fly north, toward Miami, if Taylor was
sure the flight was over the Keys.


 
Planes today have a number of ways that they can
check their current position including listening to a set of GPS (Global
Positioning Satellites) in orbit around the Earth. It is almost impossible for a
pilot to get lost if he has the right equipment and uses it properly. In 1945,
though, planes flying over water had to depend on knowing their starting point,
how long and fast they had flown, and in what direction. If a pilot made a
mistake with any of these figures, he was lost. Over the ocean there were no
landmarks to set him right.


 
Apparently Taylor had become confused at some
point in the flight. He was an experienced pilot, but hadn’t spent a lot of time
flying east toward the Bahamas which was where he was going on that day. For
some reason Taylor apparently thought the flight had started out in the wrong
direction and had headed south toward the Keys, instead of east. This thought
was to color his decisions throughout the rest of the flight with deadly
results.


 
The more Taylor took his flight north to try to
get out of the Keys, the further out to sea the Avengers actually traveled. As
time went on, snatches of transmissions were picked up on the mainland
indicating the other Flight 19 pilots were trying to get Taylor to change
course. “If we would just fly west,” one student told another,
“we would get home.” He was right.






A Mariner similar to Training 49 (USN Photo)


 
By 4:45 P.M. it was obvious to the people on the
ground that Taylor was hopelessly lost. He was urged to turn control of the
flight over to one of his students, but apparently he didn’t. As it grew dark,
communications deteriorated. From the few words that did get through it was
apparent Taylor was still flying north and east, the wrong directions.


 
At 5:50 P.M. the ComGulf Sea Frontier Evaluation
Center managed get a fix on Flight 19’s weakening signals. It was apparently
east of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. By then communications were so poor that this
information could not be passed to the lost planes.


 
At 6:20 a Dumbo Flying Boat was dispatched to try
and find Flight 19 and guide it back. Within the hour two more planes, Martin
Mariners, joined the search. Hope was rapidly fading for Flight 19 by then. The
weather was getting rough and the Avengers were very low on fuel.

 
The two Martin Mariners were supposed to
rendezvous at the search zone. The second one, designated Training 49, never
showed up.


 
The last transmission from Flight 19 was heard at
7:04 P.M. Planes searched the area through the night and the next day. There was
no sign of the Avengers.


 
Nor did the authorities really expect to find
much. The Avengers, crashing when their fuel was exhausted, would have been sent
to the bottom in seconds by the 50 foot waves of the storm. As one of Taylor’s
colleagues noted, “…they didn’t call those planes ‘Iron Birds’ for
nothing. They weighed 14,000 pounds empty. So when they ditched, they went down
pretty fast.”


 
What happened to the missing Martin Mariner? Well,
the crew of the SS Gaines Mill observed an explosion over the water
shortly after the Mariner had taken off. They headed toward the site and there
they saw what looked like oil and airplane debris floating on the surface. None
of it was recovered because of the bad weather, but there seems little doubt
this was the remains of the Mariner. The plane had a reputation as being a
“flying bomb” which would burst into flame from even a single, small
spark. Speculation is that one of 22 men on board, unaware that the
unpressurized cabin contained gas fumes, lit a cigarette, causing the explosion.


 
So how did this tragedy turn into a Bermuda
Triangle mystery? The Navy’s original investigation concluded the accident had
been caused by Taylor’s confusion. Taylor’s mother refused to accept that and
finally got the Navy to change the report to read that the disaster was for
“causes or reasons unknown.” This may have spared the woman’s
feelings, but blurred the actual facts.



The
saga of Flight 19 is probably the most repeated story about the Bermuda
Triangle. The planes, and their pilots, even found their way into the science
fiction film classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.


Where is Flight 19 now? Well, in 1991 five
Avengers were found in 600 feet of water off the coast of Florida by the salvage
ship Deep Sea. Examination of the planes showed that they were not Flight
19;however. So the final resting place of the planes,and their crews
can still be thought to be Bermuda Triangle’s secret.

 

 


   Based Upon Excerpts Taken From The Operational Archives Branch,
Naval Historical Center
        



Images Copyright
© US Navy

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