The riddle of Flight 19: They vanished without a trace

In December 1945, a group of five Avenger torpedo bombers called 'Flight 19' vanished with all thier 14 crew members over the Bermuda Triangle. What exactly happened on that fateful day?

In the final months of World War II, the US Navy began training a new class of airmen known as “flyers.” These men and women were destined to become pilots in compact, single-engine aircraft known as “torpedo bombers” or “TBF Avengers.” The TBF Avenger was an important part of the war effort; it was a plane built specifically to hunt down and destroy submarines and other ships.

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TBF/TBM Avengers and SB2Cs dropping bombs on Hakodate, Japan. Dated 1945.© Wikimedia Commons

With so much at stake, these trainees needed to be thoroughly prepared before taking on such responsibility. As such, they underwent intensive drills and training missions in waters off the coast of Florida with their instructors from the New York Naval Air Station. On one particular day in December 1944, there was no end date to their training – which is what led to their ultimate fate.

The mysterious disappearance of Flight 19

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The disappearance of Flight 19. © Wikimedia Commons

In time of war, it’s almost a given that something will go wrong. Whether it’s the fog of war or some other unforeseen circumstance, there are always going to be unfortunate accidents and mishaps. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the famous disappearance of Flight 19.

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Flight 19 was the designation of a group of five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle on December 5, 1945. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost. Flight 19 consisted of FT-28, FT-36, FT-3, FT-117 and FT-81. © Wikimedia Commons

On December 5, 1945, a group of five Avenger torpedo bombers called ‘Flight 19’ vanished with all thier 14 crew members over the Bermuda Triangle under some mysterious circumstances. Before losing radio contact off the coast of southern Florida, the flight commander was reportedly heard saying: “Everything looks strange, even the ocean… We are entering white water, nothing seems right.” To make things even stranger, ‘PBM Mariner BuNo 59225’ had also lost with its 13 airmen on the same day while searching for ‘Flight 19’, and the incidents remain on of the greatest unsolved mysteries to date.

Events unfolded as follows: On December 5, 1945, a group of five Avengers received the training task of flying east from the air force base of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to bombing near Bimini Island, and then flying some distance to the north and come back.

The flight took off at 2:10 PM, the pilots had two hours to complete the task, during which duration they had to fly about 500 kilometres. At 4:00 PM, when the Avengers were supposed to be back at the base, the controllers intercepted the disturbing conversations between the commander of Flight 19, Lieutenant Charles Taylor and another pilot — it seems that the pilots lost their orientation.

Later, Lieutenant Charles Taylor contacted the base and reported that compasses and watches were moving out of order on all of their aircraft. And this is very strange, because all these aircraft were equipped with quite a hi-tech series of equipment at that time, such as: Gyrocompasses, AN/ARR-2 Radio Command Sets and etc.

Nevertheless, Commander Taylor said that he was not able to determine where the west and the ocean looked unusual. And further conversations did not lead to anything. It was 5.50 PM when the airbase was able to detect a weak signal of one of the Flight 19 aircraft. They were located east of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and were far away from the mainland.

Somewhere around 8:00 PM, the torpedo bombers ran out of fuel, and they were forced to splashdown, the further fate of the Avengers and their pilots is unknown.

The second disappearance
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PBM-5 BuNo 59225 took off at 7:27 PM from Naval Air Station Banana River (now Patrick Air Force Base), and it lost aroun 9:00 PM with its all 13 search crew. © Wikimedia Commons

At the same time, the Martin PBM-5 Mariner plane (BuNo 59225), which was sent in search of the missing Flight 19, had also vanished. However, the crew of the freighter ship SS Gains Mill from the search area reported that they saw a huge ball of fire dropping into the ocean at a distance and then a big explosion, around 9:15 PM. It burned for 10 minutes, at position 28.59°N 80.25°W.

After this, many had suggested that it was perhaps the unfortunate PBM-5 Mariner. However, the mariner was in the best of conditions and thoroughly checked by both technicians as well as the captain before taking off. So any engine failures or such were ruled out.

Some speculated that a cigarette lighting inside the cabin had blown up the plane. That theory was ruled out too. Since the mariners carried a huge amount of gas, smoking was strictly prohibited in flight and no one should have lit a cigarette. In fact, the Martin Mariner pilots nicknamed this flight the “Flying Gas Tank.”

Furthermore, they didn’t saw any fire there and nor any debris floating on the sea. Water sample was taken from that alleged crash area, but it didn’t show any trace of oil suggesting any explosion.

The new leads remain an enigma

Later in 2010, the Deep Sea search vessel discovered four Avengers lying on seabed at a depth of 250 meters, located 20 kilometres northeast of Fort Lauderdale. And the fifth torpedo bomber was found two kilometres away from the crash site. The side panel numbers of two of them were FT-241 and FT-87, and another two managed to make out only the numbers 120 and 28, the designation of the fifth could not be identified.

After researchers scrolled up the archives, it turned out that the five ‘Avengers’ called “Flight 19” did really disappear on 5th December of 1945, but the identification numbers of the recovered aircraft and that Flight 19 did not match, except for one, FT-28 ― it was the plane of commander Lieutenant Charles Taylor. That’s the strangest thing of this discovery, the remaining planes were never listed among the missing!

After learning about the unexplained disappearance of Flight 19, read about all the mysterious events that took place in the Bermuda Triangle.