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Happy Birthday Bermuda Triangle

Article #68 • Written by Alan Bellows

Sixty years ago today, on December 5, 1945 at 4:00pm Eastern Time, a fragment of a radio transmission was heard from a training flight of five TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers that had departed from Fort Lauderdale earlier that day. The transmission was thought to be from Lt. Charles Taylor-- the senior flight instructor-- to one of the other pilots. The message indicated that the flight group had become lost and disoriented over the ocean east of Florida, and all of their compasses were malfunctioning.

The U.S. Naval Air Station attempted to establish communications on the training frequency, but interference from Cuba broadcasting stations, static, and atmospheric conditions prevented any meaningful contact. Brief snippets of radio transmissions were heard on the mainland, including some which indicated that the students were trying to convince their flight instructor to change the flight's course westward, but he refused. In the early evening, it was determined that Flight 19's position was east of central Florida, but the squadron could not be contacted to inform them. The planes continued on their northeast course, heading further out into the ocean.

When they were unable to contact the flight group for some time, the Navy put all of its available resources into locating the missing pilots and bringing them to safety. Among the aircraft which participated in the initial search, one disappeared. A PBM Patrol plane which took off from Florida at 7:30pm that night was never seen nor heard from again. A merchant ship reported a burst of flame and an oil slick which was presumed to be the downed PBM, but the plane and its crew were never located.

It was known that Flight 19 only carried enough fuel to last until 8:00pm, so when that time came and went without locating the planes, the search became a massive rescue operation. It was presumed that the pilots must have made a forced landing in the rough seas once they ran out of fuel. The area was extensively searched for five days by air and by sea, but on the sixth day the weather deteriorated to the point that further searching was too hazardous.

The flight and its twenty-seven airmen were never heard from again, and no trace of the planes was ever found. The area where they disappeared is the area now known as the Bermuda Triangle, and although they weren't the first to disappear in that area, Flight 19 was the event that truly started the "Bermuda Triangle" legend.

Of course there are a number of non-supernatural explanations for the disappearance of the planes. For instance, the Navy's original investigation concluded that the flight instructor, Lt. Charles Taylor, had become hopelessly lost, and refused to heed the advice of his students to turn west. But Lt. Taylor's mother refused to accept this explanation, and finally convinced the Navy to change the report to indicate that the disaster was for "causes or reasons unknown."

As for the fact that the planes were never seen again, the ocean that evening was experiencing fifty foot waves due to a storm, which would have sunk the 14,000 pound planes like rocks. The debris would likely have been quickly carried away by the fast-moving and turbulent gulf stream, which moves through that part of the ocean.

Interestingly, in 1991, five Avenger aircraft were found 600 feet underwater off the coast of Florida, but after examining the serial numbers on the engine blocks, it was discovered that none of them were part of Flight 19. Although their wreckages were in very close proximity to one another, they had all wrecked there on separate occasions. So far, no confirmed wreckage of any of the Flight 19 planes has ever been located.

Last month, the U.S. Congress honored the 27 Navy airmen lost on Flight 19 with a House resolution, hoping that the gesture would help bring closure for surviving families.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 05 December 2005. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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6 Comments
Arcangel
Posted 05 December 2005 at 01:27 pm

Correct me if I am wrong but didn't the ABC television show 20/20 do a segment on this within the last 10 years where Hugh Downs reported on the finding of one of these planes? I distinctly recall seeing this and that it was indeed confirmed as one of those 5 missing planes from flight 19.


Alan Bellows
Posted 05 December 2005 at 01:39 pm

Possibly... my research indicated that another wreckage had been found whose engine block serial number was partially matched, but a full match could not be made due to corrosion. Everything I've seen so far has said that no 100% confirmed wreckage has been located yet... but maybe there's a more up-to-date reference that I missed.

If you can find a link to that information, do share.


thatsmyname
Posted 07 December 2005 at 01:29 pm

If I'm remembering 20/20 segment correctly the 5 planes found did not match up to the serial numbers of any of the flight 19 craft. As alan said one was a partial match but couldnt be 100% confirmed due to some sort of hinderence.

-L.


My2Cents
Posted 26 September 2007 at 02:59 pm

The article makes it seem that Lt. Taylor could have been to blame but his mother insisted that the records show that he wasn't however when I saw a segment on this on The History Channel there were several people that vouched for Lt. Taylor saying that he was too experienced to make that kind of mistake and therefore the records were changed.


missionamp
Posted 17 June 2008 at 04:38 pm

My2Cents said: "The article makes it seem that Lt. Taylor could have been to blame but his mother insisted that the records show that he wasn't however when I saw a segment on this on The History Channel there were several people that vouched for Lt. Taylor saying that he was too experienced to make that kind of mistake and therefore the records were changed."

Actually, Lt. Taylor had a history of making this "kind of mistake." During his service in the Pacific theater, he became so lost that he was forced to ditch his plane at sea. Twice!! In addition, it is rather amazing that, after departing Ft. Lauderdale and flying due east, he came to the conclusion that the flight was over the Florida Keys.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but:
Posted 14 April 2009 at 02:57 pm

thatsmyname said: "If I'm remembering 20/20 segment correctly the 5 planes found did not match up to the serial numbers of any of the flight 19 craft. As alan said one was a partial match but couldnt be 100% confirmed due to some sort of hinderence.

-L."

hmm but you would think that it would be a prety safe assumption... i mean how many Torpedo Bombers could the navy manage to lose?


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