Bermuda Triangle: Flight 19 Remembered

December 3, 2010

1flight_19_2The 65th anniversary of the loss of  the US Navy’s Flight 19 will be marked in Florida — the event which spawned the modern Bermuda Triangle myth.

On Sunday (Dec 5), as they have for the past 26 years, military history enthusiasts are gathering at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to commemorate Flight 19 — a squadron of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers — which disappeared after flying out of Florida on December 5, 1945. A Navy PBM Mariner seaplane was diverted from its own training flight to perform a search for the planes after darkness fell and it became clear the flight was lost. After calling in one routine radio message that aircraft was never heard from again, either. A total of 21 US Navy airmen were lost aboard the six missing aircraft. No wreckage from any of the planes has ever been found.

“We need to ensure history is not forgotten,” Izzy Bonilla, deputy director of the Broward County Aviation Department told South Florida’s “Sun-Sentinel” newspaper.  ”We need to look at these men who never came back and remember what they sacrificed for this nation.”

The earliest allegation of unusual disappearances in the Bermuda area began in the years immediately following the loss of Flight 19. In 1953 “Fate” magazine published “Sea Mystery At Our Back Door”,  a short article by George X. Sand highlighted the loss of ships and  aircraft — including Flight 19 – in the now-familiar triangular area bounded by Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico.

A long, speculative piece on Flight 19 later appeared in ”American Legion Magazine”.  It was claimed in this report the flight leader 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 claimed that officials at the Navy board of inquiry stated that the planes “flew off to Mars.” Sand’s article was the first to suggest a supernatural or extra-terrestrial factor in the Flight 19 disappearance. In the February 1964 issue of “Argosy” magazine, freelance writer Vincent Gaddis coined the name “Bermuda Triangle” in an article headlined “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle”. He argued that Flight 19 and other disappearances were part of a longstanding pattern of strange events in the region dating back to Columbus’ first voyage across the Atlantic in 1492.

An article in a 1973 edition of “Naval Aviation News” recounted the key facts of the Flight 19 disappearance. It appears in full below:

Five Avengers are airborne at 1400 on a bright sunny day. The mission is a routine two-hour patrol from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. due east for 150 miles [241 km], north for 40 miles [64 km] and then return to base. All five pilots are highly experienced aviators and all of the aircraft have been carefully checked prior to takeoff. The weather over the route is reported to be excellent, a typical sunny Florida day. The flight proceeds.

At 1545 Fort Lauderdale tower receives a call from the flight but, instead of requesting landing instructions, the flight leader sounds confused and worried. “Cannot see land,” he blurts. “We seem to be off course.” “What is your position?” the tower asks. There are a few moments of silence. The tower personnel squint into the sunlight of the clear Florida afternoon. No sign of the flight.

“We cannot be sure where we are,” the flight leader announces. “Repeat: Cannot see land.”

Contact is lost with the flight for about 10 minutes and then it is resumed. But it is not the voice of the flight leader. Instead, voices of the crews are heard, sounding confused and disoriented, “more like a bunch of boy scouts lost in the woods than experienced airmen flying in clear weather.” “We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean.” Another delay and then the tower operator learns to his surprise that the leader has handed over his command to another pilot for no apparent reason.

Twenty minutes later, the new leader calls the tower, his voice trembling and bordering on hysteria. “We can’t tell where we are … everything is … can’t make out anything. We think we may be about 225 miles [362 km] northeast of base …” For a few moments the pilot rambles incoherently before uttering the last words ever heard from Flight 19: “It looks like we are entering white water … We’re completely lost.”

Within minutes a Mariner flying boat, carrying rescue equipment, is on its way to Flight 19′s last estimated position. Ten minutes after takeoff, the PBM checks in with the tower … and is never heard from again. Coast Guard and Navy ships and aircraft comb the area for the six aircraft. They find a calm sea, clear skies, middling winds of up to 40 miles per hour [64 km/h] and nothing else. For five days almost 250,000 square miles [647,000 km²] of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf are searched. Yet, not a flare is seen, not an oil slick, life raft or telltale piece of wreckage is ever found.

Finally, after an extensive Navy Board of Inquiry investigation is completed, the riddle remains intact. The Board’s report is summed up in one terse statement: “We are not able to even make a good guess as to what happened.”

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  1. labelle says:

    how is it true?
    even an airplane up in the sky sipped by this mistery?
    how sad..
    it seems it brings me a lot of things to
    explore all those things..