Flight 19 was the designation of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers which disappeared on December 5, 1945 during a United States Navy-authorized overwater navigation training flight from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The assignment was called "Navigation problem No. 1", a combination of bombing and navigation, which other flights had or were scheduled to undertake that day.
Trouble of an unknown nature plagued the senior aviator designated to observe Flight 19 during this assignment; firstly with a late arrival requesting to be relieved, then later with complete confusion and irrational fears which further worsened the students' situation by mistakenly leading them away from land. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost, as well as 13 crew members of a PBM Mariner flying boat, which exploded in midair while searching for the flight. Navy investigators concluded that Flight 19 became disoriented and ditched in rough seas when the aircraft ran out of fuel, while the PBM was a victim of mechanical failure. Some have questioned the Navy's version in the years since Flight 19 disappeared. Argosy magazine, Charles Berlitz, and Richard Winer among others used elements first described in American Legion Magazine as well as their own research to publish accounts discussing the Bermuda Triangle.
A fictionalized version of Flight 19 is featured in the 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Radio conversations between the pilots were detectable by base and other aircraft in the area. It is known that the practice bombing operation was completed successfully; around 15:00, an exchange where a pilot requested and was given permission to drop his last bomb indicated they were proceeding on to their first turn. Forty minutes later another flight instructor, Lieutenant Robert F. Fox in FT-74, forming up with his group of students for the same mission received an unidentified transmission. A male voice had asked Powers [one of the students] what his compass read, the recorded reply being "I don't know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn." Fox then transmitted; "This is FT-74, plane or boat calling 'Powers' please identify yourself so someone can help you." The response after a few moments was a request from the others in the flight for suggestions. FT-74 tried again and a man identified as FT-28 (Taylor) came on. "FT-28, this is FT-74, what is your trouble?" "Both of my compasses are out", Taylor replied, "and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land but it's broken. I am sure I'm in the Keys but I don't know how far down and I don't know how to get to Fort Lauderdale."
FT-74 informed the NAS that aircraft were lost, then advised Taylor to put the sun on his port wing and fly north up the coast to Fort Lauderdale. Base operations then asked if the flight leader's aircraft was equipped with a standard YG (IFF transmitter), which could be used to triangulate the flight's position, but the message was not acknowledged by FT-28. (Later he would indicate that his transmitter was activated.) Instead, at 16:45, FT-28 radioed: "We are heading 030 degrees for 45 minutes, then we will fly north to make sure we are not over the Gulf of Mexico." During this time no bearings could be made on the flight, and IFF could not be picked up. Taylor was told to broadcast on 4805 kilocycles. This order was not acknowledged so he was asked to switch to 3,000 kilocycles, the search and rescue frequency. Taylor replied – "I cannot switch frequencies. I must keep my planes intact."
At 16:56, Taylor was sent another request to turn on his transmitter for YG if he had one, with no acknowledgment. A few minutes later he was heard calling to his flight "Change course to 090 degrees (due east) for 10 minutes." At about the same time, two others in the flight were heard to say "Dammit, if we could just fly west we would get home; head west, dammit." Later this difference of opinion would lead to questions about why the students didn't simply head west on their own. It has been explained that this can be attributed to military discipline.
As the weather worsened, radio contact became intermittent, and it was believed that the five aircraft were actually by that time more than out to sea east of the Florida peninsula. Taylor radioed "We'll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas" and requested a weather check at 17:24. By 17:50 several land based radio stations had triangulated Flight 19's position as being within an electronic radius of ; Flight 19 was north of the Bahamas and well off the coast of central Florida, but nobody thought to transmit this information on an open, repetitive basis. At 18:04 Taylor radioed to his flight "Holding 270, we didn't fly far enough east, we may as well just turn around and fly east again". By that time, the weather had deteriorated even more and the sun had since set. Around 18:20, Taylor's last message was received. He was heard saying "All planes close up tight ... we'll have to ditch unless landfall ... when the first plane drops below 10 gallons, we all go down together." At the same time, in the same area, SS Viscount Empire, a merchant ship, radioed that she was in heavy seas and high winds northeast of the Bahamas, where Flight 19 was about to ditch.
Earlier, as it became obvious the flight was indeed lost, several air bases, aircraft and merchant ships were alerted. A PBY Catalina left after 18:00 to search for Flight 19 and guide them back if they could be located. After dark, two PBM Mariner seaplanes originally scheduled for their own training flights were diverted to perform square pattern searches in the area west of . PBM-5 BuNo 59225 took off at 19:27 from Banana River Naval Air Station (now Patrick Air Force Base), called in a routine radio message at 19:30 and was never heard from again.
At 19:50 the tanker SS Gaines Mills reported seeing a mid-air explosion, then flames leaping high and burning on the sea for 10 minutes. The position was . Captain Shonna Stanley, reported searching an oily sea for survivors, but found none. The escort carrier USS Solomons also reported losing radar contact with an aircraft in the same position and time.
This report was subsequently amended "cause unknown" by the Navy after Taylor's mother contended that the Navy was unfairly blaming her son for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men, when the Navy had neither the bodies nor the airplanes as evidence.
Had Flight 19 actually been where Taylor believed it to be, landfall with the Florida coastline would have been reached in a matter of 10 to 20 minutes or less, depending on how far down they were. However, a later reconstruction of the incident showed that the islands visible to Taylor were probably the Bahamas, well northeast of the Keys, and that Flight 19 was exactly where it should have been. The board of investigation found that because of his belief that he was on a base course toward Florida, Taylor actually guided the flight further northeast and out to sea. Further, it was general knowledge at NAS Fort Lauderdale that if a pilot ever became lost in the area to fly a heading of 270 degrees west (or in evening hours toward the sunset if the compass had failed). By the time the flight actually turned west, they were likely so far out to sea they had already passed their aircraft's fuel endurance. This factor combined with bad weather, and the ditching characteristics of the Avenger, meant that there was little hope of rescue, even if they had managed to stay afloat.
In 1986, the wreckage of an Avenger was found off the Florida coast during the search for the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Aviation archaeologist Jon Myer raised this wreck from the ocean floor in 1990. He was convinced it was one of the missing planes, but positive identification could not be made. In 1991, the wreckage of five Avengers was discovered off the coast of Florida, but engine serial numbers revealed they were not Flight 19. They had crashed on five different days "all within a mile and a half [~2.4 km] of each other." Records showed training accidents between 1942 and 1946 accounted for the loss of 94 aviation personnel from NAS Fort Lauderdale (including Flight 19.) In 1992, another expedition located scattered debris on the ocean floor, but nothing could be identified. In the last decade, searchers have been expanding their area to include farther east, into the Atlantic Ocean. It has been determined through Navy records that the various discovered aircraft, including the group of five, were declared either unfit for maintenance/repair or obsolete, and simply disposed of at sea.
This version, and its offshoots can be traced to an April 1962 issue of American Legion Magazine, in which author Allen W. Eckert first wrote the "popular" story about Flight 19's disappearance. Among its assertions, that Taylor had been heard saying "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white". It was also said that the Navy board of inquiry stated the planes "flew off to Mars". Eckert's article, "The Lost Patrol", was the first to connect the supernatural with Flight 19, but it would take another author, Vincent Gaddis, writing for Argosy Magazine to put Flight 19 together with other mysterious disappearances and coin a new catchy name in "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle" for a 1964 issue. He would build on that article with a more detailed book (Invisible Horizons) the next year. Others later followed with their own works: John Wallace Spencer (Limbo of the Lost, 1969); Charles Berlitz (The Bermuda Triangle, 1974); Richard Winer (The Devil's Triangle, 1974), and many others, all keeping to some of the same supernatural elements outlined by Eckert. Berlitz, grandson of a distinguished linguist and author of various additional books on anomalous phenomena, attributed the loss of Flight 19 to unexplained forces, despite lack of evidence supporting his claim.
The men of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225
|FT-28||Charles C. Taylor, Lieutenant, USNR|| Robert Francis Harmon, AOM3c, USNR |
Walter R. Parpart, ARM3c, USNR ,
|FT-36||Edward J. Powers, Captain, USMC H.Q.|| Howell O. Thompson, SSgt., USMCR|
George.R. Paonessa, Sgt., USMC
|FT-3||Joseph.T. Bossi, Ensign, USNR|| Herman A. Thelander, S1c, USNR|
Burt E. Baluk, JR., S1c, USNR
|FT-117||George W. Stivers, Captain, USMC|| Robert P. Gruebel, Pvt., USMCR|
Robert F. Gallivan, Sgt., USMC
|FT-81||Robert J. Gerber, 2nd LT, USMCR||William E. Lightfoot, Pfc., USMCR*|
|BuNo 59225||Walter G. Jeffery, Ltjg, USN|| Harrie G. Cone, Ltjg, USN|
Roger M. Allen, Ensign, USN
Lloyd A. Eliason, Ensign, USN
Charles D. Arceneaux, Ensign, USN
Robert C. Cameron, RM3, USN
Wiley D. Cargill, Sr., Seaman 1st, USN
James F. Jordan, ARM3, USN
John T. Menendez, AOM3, USN
Philip B. Neeman, Seaman 1st, USN
James F. Osterheld, AOM3, USN
Donald E. Peterson, AMM1, USN
Alfred J. Zywicki, Seaman 1st, USN
* This particular plane was one crew member short. The airman in question, Marine Corporal Allan Kosnar,
had been given special permission not to fly that day. Triangle enthusiasts cite this as being because he had had a strong premonition of danger.