Friday, December 15

The Disappearance of Flight 19

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The Bermuda Triangle is known for some creepy stories, and the disappearance of flight 19 is one of them.  However, whether or not the disappearance of the five planes in Flight 19 was actually caused by the Bermuda Triangle is a mystery.

 Flight 19 took off on Dec. 5, 1945 as part of a routine navigation and combat training exercise.  The flight leader was Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor who had about 2,500 flying hours, but was known for flying “by the seat of his pants” and not using his compass, most of his flying hours where in the VB-type of aircraft that they were in that day.  The trainee pilots only had a total of 300 hours flight time and only 60 hours of flight time in the Avenger, which is what they were flying.  While the students had recently completed other training missions in the area, Taylor had only recently arrived from NAS Miami where he had also been a VTB instructor.

 Before they took off, each aircraft was fully fueled.  During the pre-flight checks, it was noted that the aircrafts were all missing clocks.  Since the point of the mission was to teach dead reckoning principles, including calculating elapsed time, this was not a cause for concern and it was assumed that each man would have his own watch.  The take off was scheduled for 13:45 local time, but, because Taylor arrived late, the departure was delayed until 14:10.  The weather at NAS Fort Lauderdale was described as “favorable, sea state moderate to rough.”

 Even though Taylor was supervising the mission, a trainee pilot had the role of leader and was out front.  The mission was called “Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, navigation problem No. 1.”  There were three different legs of the exercise, but they actually flew four.  After take off, they were to fly on a heading of 091 degrees (almost due east) for 561 nmi (64 mi.), when they reached Hen and Chickens Shoals, they did some low level bombing.  Once that was finished, they stayed on that heading for another 67 nmi (77mi.), then turn onto a course of 346 degrees for 73 nmi (84 mi), which would have them fly over Grand Bahama Island before turning to a heading of 241 degrees to fly 120 nmi (140 mi) before turning left and returning to NAS Fort Lauderdale.

 Radio conversations between the pilots were overheard by both the base and other aircraft in the area.  At 15:00, the bombing practice was carried out and a pilot requested, and was given, permission to drop his last bomb.

 Forty minutes alter, Lieutenant Robert F. Fox, another flight instructor in a FT-74 who was forming up his group of students for the same mission, received an unidentified transmission.  A male voice asked Powers, one of the students, for his compass reading.  Powers replied, “I don’t know where we are.  We must have gotten lost after that last run.”

 Fox then transmitted, “This is FT-74, plane or boat calling itself ‘Powers’ please identify yourself so someone can help you.”  The response came after a few minutes and was a request from the others in the flight asking for suggestions.  When FT-74 tried again, a man identified as FT-28 (Taylor) came on, “FT-28, this is FT-74, what is your trouble?”

 Taylor replied, “Both of my compasses are out and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  I am over land, but it is broke.  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 NAS that aircraft were lost before advising 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 YGCIFF-transmitter.  These transmitters can be used to guide the flight position.  The message was not acknowledged by FT-28.  He would latter indicate that his transmitter was activated.

 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.”  Between the two interactions, no bearings could be made on the flight and IFF could not be picked up.  Taylor was then told to broadcast on 4805 kilocycles.  When this order was not acknowledged, Taylor was asked to switch to 3,000 kilocycles, the search and rescue frequency.  He replied, “I cannot switch frequencies, I must keep my planes intact.”

 At 16:56, Taylor was again requested to turn on is transmitter for YG, if he had one, there was again no reply.  A few minutes later, he was heard calling to his flight, “Change course to 090 degrees (due east) for 10 minutes.”  About the same time two others in the flight were heard to say,”Dammit, if we could just fly west we could get some; head west dammit.”  This would eventually lead to questions of why the students simply didn’t head west but was attributed to military discipline.

 Radio contact became intermittent as the weather became worse.  It is believed that the five aircraft were more than 220 nmi (230 mi) east of the Florida Peninsula.  Taylor radioed, “We’ll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas.”  He requested a weather check at 17:24 and by 17:50 several radio stations had triangulated Flight 19’s position as being within 100nmi (120 mi) radios, of 29 degrees north, 79 degrees west, North of the Bahamas and well off the coast of Florida.  Unfortunately, nobody thought to transmit this information on an open, repetitive basis.

 At 18:04, Taylor radioed, “Holding 270, we didn’t fly far enough east, we may as well just turn around and fly east again.”  By then, the weather had gotten worse and the sun had set.  At 18:20, more than four hours after they had taken off, Taylor’s last message was received, “All planes close up tight…we’ll have to ditch unless landfall…when the first plane drops below ten gallons, we all go down together.”  At the same time, in the same area; the SS Empire Viscount, a British flagged tanker, radioed that she was in heavy seas and high winds north east of The Bahamas, where Flight 19 was about to ditch.  Earlier, when it had become obvious that Flight 19 was lost, several airbases, aircraft and merchant ships where alerted.

 After 18:00, a PBY Catalina left to search for Flight 19 and guide them back if they could be located.  Two PBM Mariner sea planes that were originally scheduled for their own training flights were diverted after dark to perform square pattern searches in the area west of 20 degrees north, 79 degrees west.  They took off from Banana River Naval air Station (what is now Patrick Air Force Base).  They called in a routine radio message at 19:30 and were never heard from again.  At 19:50, the tanker SS Gaines reported a mid-air explosion with flames leaping 100 ft high and burning on the sea for 10 minutes.  They were at 28.59 degrees north 80.25 degrees west.  Captain Shonna Stanley reported searching for survivors through a pool of oil, but found none.  The escort carrier USS Slomons also reported loosing radar contact with an aircraft in the same position.

 The report from the Navy board of investigations was 500 pages long and made several observations.  Taylor had mistakenly believed that the small islands he passed over were the Florida Keys, so his flight was over the Gulf of Mexico and heading northeast over the Atlantic.  The report noted that he some subordinate officers did likely know their approximate position as indicated by radio transmissions stating that flying west would result in reaching the mainland.

 Also, Taylor, though an excellent combat pilot and officer with the Navy, had a tendency to “fly by the seat of his pants,” getting lost several times in the process.  Twice he had to ditch his plane in the Pacific and be rescued.  Taylor was blamed for the loss of Flight 19.  The two planes lost during the search were blamed on a mid-air explosion.  After the report was released, Taylor’s mother contended that the Navy was unfairly treating her son for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men when the Navy had neither the bodies nor the airplanes as evidence.  The Navy changed the report to “cause unknown.”

 The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Flight 10 are very questionable and there are many questions left unanswered.  Unfortunately, most of them will have to remain unanswered until the aircraft are found.

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