Thursday, August 28, 2008

MacReady’s Top 5 Disappearances: #1 – Flight 19

The mysteries surrounding Flight 19 have long been a fascination of mine. If you’ve ever heard of the Bermuda Triangle, then you’ve probably heard to Flight 19.

It all began on December 5th, 1945 when Flight 19, a group five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, was on a routine over water navigation training exercise - It became anything but routine. Forty minutes after completing leg three of the exercise “Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, navigation problem No. 1,” Flight 19 was lost.

Lieutenant Robert F. Fox in FT-74 was forming up with his group of students for the same mission when he received an unidentified transmission.

A male voice had asked Powers [one of the students] what his compass read, the recorded reply being "I don't know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn." Fox 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 (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."

Florida Keys? Why would Taylor, Flight 19’s instructor, think they were flying over the Florida Keys? Wouldn’t he remember flying that far off course?

Taylor had been known “fly by the seat of his pants”, which led to him getting lost several times in the past as well as having to ditch at sea.

In the end, Taylor’s attempt of find Fort Lauderdale would inadvertently be the demise of Flight 19. So certain in his location over the Florida keys, Taylor would lead his group northeast in an attempt to find land, in reality he was leading his group deep into the heart of the Atlantic ocean, never to be seen again.

In another strange event, a PBM Mariner flying boat exploded in midair while searching for Flight 19. The Navy would later report this to be a mechanical failure.

The initial 500-page Navy board of investigation report put the blame on Taylor, but was later amending to “Cause Unknown” due to Taylor's mother claims that the Navy was unfairly blaming her son for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men.

So where is Flight 19 now?

In 1991, salvage operator, Graham Hawkes discovered the wreckage of five Avengers off the coast of Florida. This had to be it… but it wasn’t.

The serial numbers did not match. The five Avengers found were indeed lost at sea, but on five separate occasions. Yes you heard right, five Avengers from five different missions on five separate dates - all crashed in the same spot. How is this possible?

As you can imagine, this amazing find did little in providing solid answers, and in return created a number of new questions.

What do you think happened to Flight 19? Did Taylor lead his men aimlessly out to sea? Did the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind abduct them? Did Flight 19 slip into some sort of time warp through the Bermuda Triangle?

Truly, I don’t think there will ever be an answer to the puzzle of Flight 19. For its mysterious nature and my fascination with the Bermuda Triangle, Flight 19 tops my list as the #1 disappearance.

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