It was a clear day at the Naval Air Station, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on December 5th, 1945. Five Grumman Avenger TBMs(Torpedo Bombers) were ready for take off on a training mission. These group of five planes were given the designation “Flight 19”. Flight 19 was eventually called the “Lost Patrol”. The Avengers first entered service in 1942 and saw action in the Battle of Midway. It was the heaviest single engine aircraft of WWII. It could carry a payload of 2000 lbs of bombing munitions with a range of 1000 miles. Flight 19 was led by Lieutenant Charles Taylor who had 2500 hours of flying experience. Taylor had 13 trainees with him on that training mission each with around 300 hours of flying experience.
The mission plan was simple. Head out east into the sea up to Hens & Chicken Shoals to practice a bombing run. Then proceed further east on to the Bahamas and turn North and fly about 73 miles. After that turn back and head straight to the Naval Air Station in Florida. At 2:10 p.m. the flight took off on the designated flight path. The weather was cooperating well with the flight plans. At 3:30 pm, Taylor radioed the control tower saying that his compass was malfunctioning and reported seeing a chain of islands which he thought was Florida Keys. Florida keys are located down south from the Naval Air Station from where the Flight 19 took off. He believed that they had flown South due to the malfunctioning compass instead of east.
The control tower instructed him to fly north towards Miami only if he was sure he was over the Florida Keys. He complied and turned north. It was not clear as to what made Taylor think he was over the Keys. He had actually started off correctly towards the east but now he had turned north and headed out further into the sea. At 3:45 p.m. Taylor contacted the control tower again, this time sounding worried. He could not see any land mass and was confused about his bearing. At the same time, another transmission picked up a trainee pilot saying that if they headed west, they would reach home. But the flight commander apparently did not agree.
Those were the days when GPS was not yet invented. The pilots then had the starting point, time, speed and the compass to calculate the location and navigate.There is another interesting piece of trivia here. Though Lieutenant Taylor was an experienced pilot, he had a history of getting lost. During the WWII he was lost thrice out of which twice he had to ditch the plane to be rescued. At about 4:45 pm, it was evident to the personnel at the Naval base that Flight 19 was lost and Taylor was instructed to hand over the command to one of the trainees but apparently he refused.
At 5:50 p.m. the communications center did manage to trace the Flight 19 on radar. Apparently, they were east of the Smyrna Beach, Florida. However, by now the radio communications had almost broken down and the weather too was getting heavy. The Avengers were now running low on fuel and if they did not locate land soon, they would have to ditch in sea. All contact was now lost with Flight 19 and the authorities at the Naval Station dispatched two Martin Mariner planes in search at 7:27 p.m. Search operations continued throughout the night and the next day but none of the Avengers could be located. To complete the double whammy, both the Martin Mariners too were lost and never found!
The next 5 days the Navy used more than 300 boats and aircraft to search for the missing Flight 19 aircraft and the rescue aircraft but failed to find any oil leaks, broken parts or any wreckage. In fact, to this day none of the Flight 19 Avengers or even the rescue planes could be found! A Navy board set up for investigation too could not arrive at any conclusion and attributed to loss to “causes or reasons unknown”. Incidentally, a major part of the Flight 19’s planned flight path falls within the Bermuda Triangle and in the absence of any plausible explanations, many theories about parallel dimensions, alien abductions and magnetic and gravity anomalies are being floated.
Along with the disappearance of Flight 19 itself, there are other strange questions that remain unanswered. Witnesses claim that Lieutenant Taylor arrived several minutes late for the pre-exercise briefing and requested to be excused from leading the mission and trying to get out of that flight. Another unexplained fact is why none of the members of Flight 19 made use of the rescue radio frequency or their planes’ ZBX receivers, which could have helped lead them toward Navy radio towers on land. The pilots were told to switch the devices on, but they either didn’t hear the message or didn’t acknowledge it. Whatever happened that evening has cemented the Bermuda Triangle’s reputation which continues to intrigue us even today.