Seventy-three years ago, today, the infamous Flight 19 disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle in what was supposed to be a routine, three-hour exercise of combat training and navigation. Four TBM-1Cs and one TBM-3 Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers took off from NAS Fort Lauderdale at 14:10pm. Twenty-seven year old Navy Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor was the flight leader and pilot of FT-28, the TBM-3.
From The History Channel:
“Two hours after the flight began, the leader of the squadron, who had been flying in the area for more than six months, reported that his compass and back-up compass had failed and, that his position was unknown. The other planes experienced similar instrument malfunctions. Radio facilities on land were contacted to find the location of the lost squadron but, none were successful. After two more hours of confused messages from the fliers, a distorted radio transmission from the squadron leader was heard at 18:20pm, apparently calling for his men to prepare to ditch their aircraft simultaneously because of lack of fuel.”
“Radio conversations between the pilots were overheard by base and other aircraft in the area. The practice bombing operation is known to have been carried out because at about 15:00pm, a pilot requested and was given permission to drop his last bomb. Forty minutes later, another flight instructor, Lieutenant Robert F. Cox in FT-74, forming up with his group of students for the same mission, received an unidentified transmission.
An unidentified crew member asked Powers (Marine Corps Captain Edward Joseph Powers, Jr., pilot of FT-36), for his compass reading. Powers replied: “I don’t know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn.” Cox then transmitted: “This is FT-74, plane or boat calling ‘Powers’ please identify yourself so someone can help you.” The response after a few moments was a request from the others in the flight for suggestions. FT-74 tried again and a man identified as FT-28 (Lt. Taylor) came on. “FT-28, this is FT-74, what is your trouble?” “Both of my compasses are out”, Taylor replied, “and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land but it’s broken. 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 the NAS that aircraft were lost, then advised Taylor to put the sun on his port wing and fly north up the coast to Fort Lauderdale. […] no bearings could be made on the flight and the IFF (transmitter) could not be picked up. Taylor was told to broadcast on 4805 kHz. This order was not acknowledged so he was asked to switch to 3000 kHz, the search and rescue frequency. Taylor replied: “I cannot switch frequencies. I must keep my planes intact.”
As the weather deteriorated, radio contact became intermittent and it was believed that the five aircraft were actually, by that time, more than 200 nmi (230 mi; 370 km) out to sea east of the Florida peninsula. Taylor radioed “We’ll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas” and requested a weather check at 17:24pm. By 17:50pm, several land-based radio stations had triangulated Flight 19’s position as […] north of the Bahamas and well off the coast of central Florida.”
There is some question as to the exact time of Taylor’s last transmission (18:20pm or 19:04pm) but, he was heard saying “All planes close up tight…we’ll have to ditch unless landfall…when the first plane drops below 10 gallons, we all go down together.” By that time, the sun had set and the weather was much worse.
From the Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum:
“Two PBM Mariner flying boats were dispatched from NAS Banana River in Melbourne, Florida (now Patrick Air Force Base), carrying rescue equipment. Less than a half hour after take-off (at approximately 19:27), one of the PBM’s (Trainer 49/BuNo 59225) radioed the tower that they were nearing Flight 19’s last assumed position. The rescue plane with a crew of 13 men was never heard from again.”
“At 21:15pm, the tanker SS Gaines Mills reported it had observed flames from an apparent explosion leaping 100 ft (30 m) high and burning for 10 minutes. Captain Shonna Stanley reported unsuccessfully searching for survivors through a pool of oil and aviation gasoline. The escort carrier USS Solomons also reported losing radar contact with an aircraft at the same position and time.”
A 500 page Navy investigation was published a few months later. Initially, blame was placed upon Lt. Taylor for mistaking the Bahamas for the Florida Keys and not listening to his subordinate officers. The report was amended to ’cause unknown’ when Taylor’s mother stated that the Navy had no evidence for their conclusions…no planes and no bodies. Lt. Taylor was listed as ‘not at fault’ as his compasses were not working. The disappearance of PBM-5 Trainer 49 was attributed to a mid-air explosion.
Flight 19 has never been found.
For more interesting information, visit: Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum.
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This entry was posted in History, Military and tagged 1945, bahamas, bermuda triangle, charles carroll taylor, december 5, edward joseph powers jr, flight 19, florida keys, FT-28, FT-36, FT-74, grumman avenger, mariner flying boat, NAS Banana River, NAS Fort Lauderdale, Patrick AFB, PBM-5, robert f. cox, shonna stanley, ss gaines mills, TBM-1C, TBM-3, torpedo bombers, trainer 49, uss solomons.