The Bermuda Triangle and the Mystery of Flight 19

MYSTERIOUS FLIGHT 19.

Of all the “mysterious disappearances” associated with the Bermuda Triangle, by far the most famous is the case of Flight 19. However, as with almost all mystery triangle stories, many of the facts reported by researchers are not confirmed.

…At 2:10 p.m. on December 5, 1945, five Avenger bomber planes took off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Base, Florida, and headed east. The crew of Flight 19 consisted of 14 men, all of whom were student trainees except for the commander, Lieutenant Charles Taylor. The five pilots had only recently been transferred to this base from the Miami Naval Base. Taylor knew the reefs and shoals of Florida well, which was not the case in the Bahamas, where the plane was headed.

The purpose of the flight was to test bombard Hens and Chiken Shoals, 56 miles from the base. The planes were then to fly further east for another 67 miles and then turn north for another 73 miles. They were then to head southwest and, after flying the remaining 120 miles, return to base. Thus, they were to circle a triangle over the mysterious place called the “Bermuda Triangle.

At 3:40 p.m. one of the pilots, Lieutenant Robert Cox, who was about to land at Fort Lauderdale, happened to hear a message over the radio addressed to a Powers. Powers replied, “I don’t know where we are. We must have gone off course after the last turn.” Fort Lauderdale tried to contact Powers (it was Navy Captain Edward Powers Jr.), but to no avail. A few minutes later, Cox got in touch with Lieutenant Taylor — he was the one who had just spoken to Powers. Taylor reported that his compasses were out of order, but, he said, “I’m sure we’re in the Florida Shoals area, but … I don’t know how to get to Fort Lauderdale.” Cox insisted that the lieutenant fly north to Miami, “if you’re really over the Florida Shoals. But Taylor was not over the Florida Shoals, but around the Bahamas, and as he headed north, he flew farther out to sea. Attempts by Cox and others to locate the aircraft were unsuccessful because of very poor communications with the pilots. At one point Taylor was ordered to hand over flight control to one of the trainees, but he did not comply; a fragment of his conversation with another pilot, overheard by base staff, indicated that there were arguments and disagreements between Taylor and the other pilots. At about 4:30 a.m., Taylor asked the Everglades (that’s the air-sea rescue branch near Fort Lauderdale) over the radio: “Do you agree with my trainee’s opinion that we should fly west?” The port staff, not knowing where the planes were, simply confirmed that they accepted the message. Had the planes headed west at the time, the tragedy would not have occurred.

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At 4:45 Taylor announced that the planes would head northeast, then directly north, “to make sure we weren’t over the Gulf of Mexico. By that time, the people watching the flight were worried: they realized that Taylor was not just temporarily off course, as many pilots are, but was truly lost and had no idea where he was. Twilight was falling, and the atmospheric interference, already a great hindrance to conversation, began to intensify. Through the noise on the air, the voices of the trainees could be heard lamenting, “If we had just flown west, we would soon be home. Nevertheless, the planes headed north, veering slightly east for a few minutes. At 5:15 Taylor reported to Port Everglades, “We are now flying west.” Taylor also contacted the pilots of the other planes, asking them to follow the same course – for as soon as one of the planes ran out of fuel, all had to land.

The sun set at 5.29. There was bad weather coming from the north, which made the situation even more serious. In addition, no one on the ground knew where the planes were. Around 6 p.m. communications improved for a while. Taylor was ordered to switch to a frequency of 3000 kilohertz, as is usually done in emergency situations, but he refused to do so for fear of losing communication with the other planes. Unfortunately, the Cuban radio stations were causing a lot of interference and the other shore services could no longer decipher the weak signal from the Fort Lauderdale base. Because of this, the planes of Flight 19 virtually lost all communication with the outside world.

A few minutes earlier, at 5:50, the Naval Frontier Center seemed to have pinpointed the approximate location of the planes: east of the coast of New Smyrna, Florida, well north of the Bahamas. At 6:04 a.m., people watching the flight heard Taylor order others to “turn around and fly east again.” Two minutes later he repeated the order, explaining: “I think it would be better if we were spotted. Apparently, he was still sure he was over the Gulf of Mexico.

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By then, rescue planes still hadn’t flown out to help, because the location of Flight 19 still couldn’t be determined-even Taylor and the other crew members didn’t know about it. But eventually the Dumbo flew out of Dinner Key Naval Base, Miami, at 6:20 and headed northeast, hoping to at least casually make contact with the lost planes. But she soon lost contact with shore herself. For a time it was feared that she, too, had gone off course, but it turned out that communication had been broken by icing on the antenna, and the boat continued her search, which, unfortunately, yielded no results.

An hour later another plane joined the search, as well as two training planes (No. 32 and No. 49) – the second of which departed from Banana River Marine Base at 7:27 p.m. This plane was to catch up with the first, which had headed for the New Smyrna coast 20 minutes earlier. Lieutenant Gerald Bummerlin, pilot of aircraft No. 32, later told search staff: “When we reached where Flight 19 was at 8:15 at 5:50, the cloud cover was about 800 to 1200 feet. It was raining somewhere. A west-southwest wind was blowing, with a speed of 25-30 knots. There was a lot of interference in the atmosphere and the sea was very rough. We were flying through the night with white crests of waves below.

Meanwhile, airplane #49 failed to rendezvous with #32 and did not make contact. At 7:50 the crew of the steamer Games Mill saw a huge burst of light in the sky caused by the explosion of the plane. A few minutes later the ship passed through a large oil slick on the surface of the water. People tried to see in the waves who had miraculously survived, or at least the bodies of the unfortunates, but to no avail. Nevertheless, the sailors saw the wreckage of the plane, but did not even try to fish it out, because the sea was very rough. The weather was rapidly deteriorating.

Flight 19 had run out of fuel by then and had to land. The last message from Taylor was received at 7:04 a.m. The search continued through the night, though atmospheric disturbances and ocean swell hampered the search. The next day, hundreds of planes and ships searched the stormy sea in vain for the missing Avenger aircraft, as well as the missing Martin Mariner training plane.

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On April 3, 1946, as the intensive search for traces of the notorious air disaster was winding down, Navy officials stated that “the flight commander erred in thinking the planes were over the Florida Shoals – he was sure of this when he saw the islands on the horizon, and this tragically affected his subsequent decisions and confused him … he ordered the planes to head east … when, no doubt, they were just east of Florida at the time.” When Taylor’s mother and aunt refused to accept the verdict, Navy brass established a review board to review the report. In August, the board members said they believed the original conclusion about the cause of the tragedy was correct. The angry women hired a lawyer. On Nov. 19, the conflict board declared the original verdict wrong and officially announced that the crash was “due to unknown causes.”

The reasons for the disappearance of the training plane seemed quite clear. Mariner type planes at the time were called “flying gas bombs” – they could even explode from a lit cigarette or an electric spark. As for the Avenger planes, no one who investigated the case doubted that the 50-foot ocean waves swept them in and within minutes the remains of the planes were at the bottom.

The mysterious story of Flight 19 reappeared in the newspapers in the spring of 1991, when the crew of the research vessel Deep Sea, which was searching for the remains of sunken Spanish galleons, discovered the nearly undamaged remains of five Avenger aircraft lying 10 miles northeast of Fort Lauderdale at a depth of 600 feet on the ocean floor. One of the planes had the number 28 on it – like Taylor’s plane. But on June 4, Graham Hawks, who led the research, concluded that the planes were not from Flight 19! The numbers on the other planes did not match those on the missing ones from Flight 19. They were also older Avenger models.

In 1985, Willard Stoll, who was in charge of Flight 18, which began just half an hour before Taylor’s departure, recalled, “What the hell happened to Charlie? Surely these planes were not nicknamed “iron birds” for nothing. After all, each plane weighed 14,000 pounds – that’s just the hull alone. So when they hit the water, they sank very quickly. But after all, the Titanic was eventually found, and maybe one day they will find Taylor and all the others. Wherever they are, they are together.”

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