Flight 19

The crew and plane of "Flight 19." (Credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Flight 19 crew

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.

Image result for Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station the origin of “Flight 19.”

Grumman Avenger TBMs

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Flight 19 mission path and the probable path it took

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.

Image result for Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station the origin of “Flight 19.”

Ft. Lauderdale Naval Station

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.

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Martin Mariner rescue seaplane

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.

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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.

Tunguska Event

tunguska2Morning time, 07:14 a.m., June 30th, 1908. Location, the stony Tunguska river in eastern Siberia, Russia. The morning calm is shattered by a monstrous explosion, the most powerful natural explosion ever recorded in history. It is said that the explosion was a 1000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The area is sparsely populated and hence human casualties were minimum, one local deer herder reportedly died. However, there was extensive damage to the flora and fauna. The explosion flattened an area of more that 2000 sq.km(770 sq miles). Hundreds of reindeer were reduced to charred carcasses.Some of the eyewitnesses reported seeing the entire sky engulfed in fire followed by deafening explosion and then noise like stones crashing or gunfire. The shock wave was registered by seismic stations across Eurasia measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale. It also caused fluctuations in the atmospheric pressure that were detected in England. Here is an eyewitness account as recorded by Leonid Kulik’s expedition.

“At breakfast time I was sitting by the house at Vanavara Trading Post [65 kilometres/40 miles south of the explosion], facing north. […] I suddenly saw that directly to the north, over Onkoul’s Tunguska Road, the sky split in two and fire appeared high and wide over the forest [as Semenov showed, about 50 degrees up—expedition note]. The split in the sky grew larger, and the entire northern side was covered with fire. At that moment I became so hot that I couldn’t bear it as if my shirt was on fire; from the northern side, where the fire was, came strong heat. I wanted to tear off my shirt and throw it down, but then the sky shut closed, and a strong thump sounded, and I was thrown a few meters. I lost my senses for a moment, but then my wife ran out and led me to the house. After that such noise came, as if rocks were falling or cannons were firing, the earth shook, and when I was on the ground, I pressed my head down, fearing rocks would smash it. When the sky opened up, hot wind raced between the houses, like from cannons, which left traces in the ground like pathways, and it damaged some crops. Later we saw that many windows were shattered, and in the barn, a part of the iron lock snapped.”

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However, there was little immediate interest shown by the Russian Government which could be due to the political strife and the impending Russian revolution. It was only after about 20 years in 1927 that an expedition led by Leonid Kulik visited the spot to investigate. What he found was a large area of flattened trees about 50 km wide in a strange butterfly shape. He surmised that a meteor had exploded above the area but curiously there was no crater at ground zero. Later, to explain this he suggested that the ground was covered in swamps and was too soft to hold the debris. It could have been buried few meters deep. In 1938, he wrote in his conclusions that they would find the substances usually associated with such meteors at a depth of about 25 meters. Russian researchers later said that it could have been a comet. Comets are commonly made up of ice and dust and it could have evaporated while entering the earth’s atmosphere which made sense since no alien substances were found. But an exact convincing explanation still eluded the researchers.

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In the absence of a convincing proof, many interesting theories were put forth. One such theory was that the explosion was caused by matter and anti matter collision. If that happens, particles get destroyed resulting in release of extreme bursts of energy. Another one suggested crash of a huge alien spaceship! In 2008, an Italian team of scientists suggested that lake Cheko, 5 miles north-north-west of the explosion’s epicenter could be the impact crater. Curiously, this lake was not on the maps before the Tunguska event. Luca Gasperini of the University of Bologna, Italy believes that there is no other way to explain the origin of that lake. However, other scientists were quick to dismiss this idea pointing to the well grown and unaffected trees all around the lake. In the event of an impact, the vegetation around the lake would have been completely destroyed. Another interesting theory attributes the explosion to Nikola Tesla! And why not??!! Tesla is known to have done things that amaze us even today. As it turns out, Nikola Tesla was working on his most ambitious project yet, the Wardenclyffe tower. With this, he envisaged worldwide wireless communications, worldwide transmission of free electricity and a defensive directed energy weapon.

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However, funding for this project was stopped by J.P. Morgan who obviously did not want free energy to be distributed throughout the world. It is said that a disillusioned Tesla wanted to demonstrate the power of his directed energy weapon and aimed it at the at the North pole. But a calculation mistake resulted the weapon overshooting the North pole and ultimately Tunguska had the bear the brunt. In the absence of concrete proofs there are numerous theories floating around, some plausible, some bizarre. Since 1908, more than 1000 scholarly papers have been published on the event and the event still continues to be investigated. Whatever it was, the jury is still out as to what exactly happened that morning on 30th June 1908.