Ships have disappeared at sea for centuries. However, there seems to have been a higher than normal number of disappearances in an area labeled as The Bermuda Triangle. The term Bermuda Triangle refers to a loosely defined area that extends from Miami, Florida to Bermuda, south to San Juan, Puerto Rico back to Miami.
On this day, December 5, 1945, five US torpedo bombers of Flight 19, took off from the US Naval Base at Ft Lauderdale, Florida on a practice flight over the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean. They were supposed to fly a couple hundred miles out and then return to the base. Their training flight that day consisted of:
- Leave NAS Fort Lauderdale 14:10 on heading 091°, drop bombs at Hen and Chickens shoals (B) until about 15:00 then continue on heading 091° for 73 nautical miles (140 km)
- Turn left to heading 346° and fly 73 nautical miles (140 km).
- Turn left to heading 241° for 120 nautical miles (220 km) to end exercise north of NAS Fort Lauderdale.
- 17:50 radio triangulation establishes flight’s position to within 50 nautical miles (93 km) of 29°N 79°W and their last reported course, 270°.
- PBM Mariner leaves NAS Banana River 19:27. 6. 19:50 Mariner explodes near 28°N 80°W.
Flight 19 was led by an experienced instructor with over 2,500 hours of flying time. The other 13 members of the training mission averaged between 350-400 hours of flying time. Although they weren’t novice pilots, none of the remaining 13 were very experienced.
The weather was slightly windy and the water choppy when Flight 19 departed on their training flight. However, the weather grew worse and stormy as nightfall arrived. Radio communications seemed to indicate that Flight 19 lost their bearings. There was radio communication that suggested that at two of the planes were experiencing compass malfunctions.
Some reports claim that the training instructor believed that the flight had traveled into the Gulf of Mexico, but most the other pilots believed they were still out over the Atlantic Ocean. Course changes were made in attempts to find land, but they apparently failed.
The last radio communication took place around 6:20pm. The planes only had enough fuel to keep them airborne until about 8:00pm. When Flight 19 failed to return to the base at Ft. Lauderdale, search and rescue planes were sent out to locate them. However, no sign of Flight 19 was ever found. To add to the mystery of the disappearance of Flight 19, one of the planes sent out to locate them also vanished. A ship in the area did report an explosion followed by an oil slick and it is believed that it was the search plane that exploded, killing the pilot and crew.
On May 8, 1991, a research ship known as the Deep Sea, was searching the waters about 10 miles off the coast of Ft. Lauderdale when they made a surprising discovery. The Deep Sea was searching for sunken galleons and anything else that could be salvaged from the sea floor when their sonar detected the outline of an airplane. They lowered an underwater camera and located what appeared to be a Navy Avenger torpedo bomber lying on the sea floor 750 feet down. Further searching revealed a second plane, then a third, fourth and finally a fifth plane all within a mile radius of each other.
Once news of the discovery of the five planes spread, everyone immediately assumed that the five planes were those of Flight 19. Then the Navy began to look into filing a lawsuit against the owners of the Deep Sea, the Scientific Search Project of New York, to prevent them from salvaging the five planes. Retired Navy Captain Bob Rasmussen, Director of the National Museum of Naval Aviation reported:
“The Navy has never relinquished ownership of these airplanes. They are federal property.”
The crew of the Deep Sea continued to explore and photograph the five planes which at first everyone believed to be the Lost Squadron of Flight 19. However, the numbers and markings on the five discovered planes were not the same as those of Flight 19. Graham Hawkes, captain of the Deep Sea, commented:
“We are in the unenviable position of telling you that we`re now quite certain that the five aircraft we found are not those of Flight 19, but in fact are five other aircraft.”
The bottom line is that Flight 19 is still missing and still remains one of the most famous mysteries tied to the legendary Bermuda Triangle.
Sources for the above includes: Dec 5 1945: Flight 19 Lost Over Bermuda Triangle; The Disappearance of Flight 19; Flight 19 Disappearance in Bermuda Triangle; Aircraft Squadron Lost in the Bermuda Triangle; The Sea Yields Its Lost Squadron; Missing `45 Planes Still A Mystery; Navy to Sue Salvors Who Found Lost Squadron; Experts say planes off Fla. aren’t the Lost Squadron