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Flight 19 was the designation of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared on December 5, 1945, during a United States Navy-authorized overwater navigation training flight from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, Floridamarker. The assignment was called "Navigation problem No. 1", a combination of bombing and navigation, which other flights had or were scheduled to undertake that day. Trouble of an unknown nature plagued the senior aviator designated to observe Flight 19 during this assignment; firstly with a late arrival requesting to be relieved, then later with complete confusion and irrational fears which further worsened the students' situation by mistakenly leading them away from land. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost, as well as 13 crew members of a PBM Mariner flying boat, which exploded in midair while searching for the flight. Navy investigators concluded that Flight 19 became disoriented and ditched in rough seas when the aircraft ran out of fuel, while the PBM was a victim of mechanical failure. Some have questioned the Navy's version in the years since Flight 19 disappeared. Argosy magazine, Charles Berlitz, and Richard Winer among others used elements first described in American Legion Magazine as well as their own research to publish accounts discussing the Bermuda Trianglemarker.

A fictionalized version of Flight 19 is featured in the 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Authorized overwater navigation training flight

Flight 19 undertook a routine exercise to evaluate the men's navigation and combat operations training in VTB-type aircraft. The flight leader, Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor, had about 2,500 flying hours, most in aircraft of this type, while his trainee students had 300 total, and 60 flight hours in the Avenger. Taylor had recently transferred in from NAS Miami where he had also been a VTB instructor. The students had recently completed other training missions in the area where the flight was to take place. Each aircraft was fully fueled, and in the process of being pre-flighted, when it was discovered they were all missing clocks. Navigation of the route was intended to teach dead reckoning principles, which involved calculating among other things elapsed time. The apparent lack of timekeeping equipment was not a cause for concern as it was assumed each man had his own watch. Takeoff was scheduled for 13:45 local time, but the late arrival of Taylor delayed actual departure until 14:10. Weather at NAS Fort Lauderdale was described as "... favorable, sea state moderate to rough." On this assignment Taylor was supervising, rather than leading the students in the conduct of the mission unless he believed they had made an error. With a trainee pilot in the role of leader out front, the exercise was called “Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, navigation problem No. 1," and it involved the Avengers negotiating a triangular course from and returning to Fort Lauderdale. After take off they would fly almost due east for until reaching Hens and Chickens Shoals where bombing practice was planned. The flight was then supposed to continue east another before turning onto a course of 346 for , in the process over-flying Grand Bahamamarker Island. Finally, Flight 19's last turn was a course of 241 degrees for , bringing it back to NAS Ft. Lauderdale.

Radio conversations between the pilots were detectable by base and other aircraft in the area. It is known that the practice bombing operation was completed successfully; around 15:00, an exchange where a pilot requested and was given permission to drop his last bomb indicated they were proceeding on to their first turn. Forty minutes later another flight instructor, Lieutenant Robert F. Fox in FT-74, forming up with his group of students for the same mission 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."

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. Base operations then asked if the flight leader's aircraft was equipped with a standard YG (IFF transmitter), which could be used to triangulate the flight's position, but the message was not acknowledged by FT-28. (Later he would indicate that his transmitter was activated.) Instead, at 16:45, FT-28 radioed: "We are heading 030 degrees for 45 minutes, then we will fly north to make sure we are not over the Gulf of Mexico." During this time no bearings could be made on the flight, and IFF could not be picked up. Taylor was told to broadcast on 4805 kilocycles. This order was not acknowledged so he was asked to switch to 3,000 kilocycles, the search and rescue frequency. Taylor replied – "I cannot switch frequencies. I must keep my planes intact."

At 16:56, Taylor was sent another request to turn on his transmitter for YG if he had one, with no acknowledgment. A few minutes later he was heard calling to his flight "Change course to 090 degrees (due east) for 10 minutes." At about the same time, two others in the flight were heard to say "Dammit, if we could just fly west we would get home; head west, dammit." Later this difference of opinion would lead to questions about why the students didn't simply head west on their own. It has been explained that this can be attributed to military discipline.

As the weather worsened, radio contact became intermittent, and it was believed that the five aircraft were actually by that time more than 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 17:24. By 17:50 several land based radio stations had triangulated Flight 19's position as being within an electronic radius of ; Flight 19 was north of the Bahamas and well off the coast of central Florida, but nobody thought to transmit this information on an open, repetitive basis. At 18:04 Taylor radioed to his flight "Holding 270, we didn't fly far enough east, we may as well just turn around and fly east again". By that time, the weather had deteriorated even more and the sun had since set. Around 18:20, Taylor's last message was received. 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." At the same time, in the same area, , a British-flagged tanker, radioed that she was in heavy seas and high winds northeast of the Bahamas, where Flight 19 was about to ditch.

PBM-5 (BuNo 59225)

Earlier, as it became obvious the flight was indeed lost, several air bases, aircraft and merchant ships were alerted. A PBY Catalina left after 18:00 to search for Flight 19 and guide them back if they could be located. After dark, two PBM Mariner seaplanes originally scheduled for their own training flights were diverted to perform square pattern searches in the area west of . PBM-5 BuNo 59225 took off at 19:27 from Banana River Naval Air Station (now Patrick Air Force Basemarker), called in a routine radio message at 19:30 and was never heard from again.

At 19:50 the tanker SS Gaines Mills reported seeing a mid-air explosion, then flames leaping high and burning on the sea for 10 minutes. The position was . Captain Shonna Stanley, reported searching for survivors through a pool of oil, but found none. The escort carrier USS Solomons also reported losing radar contact with an aircraft in the same position and time.


A 500-page Navy board of investigation report published a few months later made several observations.

  • Taylor had mistakenly believed that the small islands he passed over were the Florida Keys, so his flight was over the Gulf of Mexico and heading northeast would take them to Florida. It was determined that Taylor had passed over the Bahamas as scheduled, and he did in fact lead his flight to the northeast over the Atlantic. The report noted that some subordinate officers did likely know their approximate position as indicated by radio transmissions stating that flying west would result in reaching the mainland.

  • Taylor, although an excellent combat pilot and officer with the Navy, had a tendency to "fly by the seat of his pants", getting lost several times in the process. It was twice during such times that he had to ditch his plane in the Pacific and be rescued.

  • Blame for the loss of Flight 19 was placed on Taylor.

  • The loss of PBM-5 BuNo 59225 was attributed to a mid-air explosion.United States Navy, (December 7, 1945) Board of Investigation Into 5 missing TBM airplanes and one PBM airplane convened by Naval Air Advanced Training Command, NAS Jacksonville, Florida, excerpt

    Hosted by Verified 2008-03-08

This report was subsequently amended "cause unknown" by the Navy after Taylor's mother contended that the Navy was unfairly blaming her son for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men, when the Navy had neither the bodies nor the airplanes as evidence.

Had Flight 19 actually been where Taylor believed it to be, landfall with the Florida coastline would have been reached in a matter of 10 to 20 minutes or less, depending on how far down they were. However, a later reconstruction of the incident showed that the islands visible to Taylor were probably the Bahamas, well northeast of the Keys, and that Flight 19 was exactly where it should have been. The board of investigation found that because of his belief that he was on a base course toward Florida, Taylor actually guided the flight further northeast and out to sea. Further, it was general knowledge at NAS Fort Lauderdale that if a pilot ever became lost in the area to fly a heading of 270 degrees west (or in evening hours toward the sunset if the compass had failed). By the time the flight actually turned west, they were likely so far out to sea they had already passed their aircraft's fuel endurance. This factor combined with bad weather, and the ditching characteristics of the Avenger, meant that there was little hope of rescue, even if they had managed to stay afloat.

Avenger wreckage

In 1986, the wreckage of an Avenger was found off the Florida coast during the search for the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Aviation archaeologist Jon Myhre raised this wreck from the ocean floor in 1990. He was convinced it was one of the missing planes, but positive identification could not be made. In 1991, the wreckage of five Avengers was discovered off the coast of Florida, but engine serial numbers revealed they were not Flight 19. They had crashed on five different days "all within a mile and a half [~2.4 km] of each other." Records showed training accidents between 1942 and 1946 accounted for the loss of 94 aviation personnel from NAS Fort Lauderdale (including Flight 19.) Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Historical Association During World War II, 1942 through 1946, ninety-four service members lost their lives while serving at the Naval Air Station. This number includes the 14 lost on December 5, 1945 when 5 TBM Avenger aircraft disappeared as US Navy Flight 19 while on a navigation training mission over the Atlantic Ocean from NAS Fort Lauderdale.

Verified 2008-03-10 In 1992, another expedition located scattered debris on the ocean floor, but nothing could be identified. In the last decade, searchers have been expanding their area to include farther east, into the Atlantic Ocean. It has been determined through Navy records that the various discovered aircraft, including the group of five, were declared either unfit for maintenance/repair or obsolete, and simply disposed of at sea.

Bermuda Triangle

An article in the June 1973 edition of Naval Aviation News describes the baseline Flight 19 disappearance story:

This version, and its offshoots can be traced to an April 1962 issue of American Legion Magazine, in which author Allan W. Eckert first wrote the "popular" story about Flight 19's disappearance. Among its assertions, that Taylor had been heard saying "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white". It was also said that the Navy board of inquiry stated the planes "flew off to Mars". Eckert's article, "The Lost Patrol", was the first to connect the supernatural with Flight 19, but it would take another author, Vincent Gaddis, writing for Argosy Magazine to put Flight 19 together with other mysterious disappearances and coin a new catchy name in "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle" for a 1964 issue. He would build on that article with a more detailed book (Invisible Horizons) the next year. Others later followed with their own works: John Wallace Spencer (Limbo of the Lost, 1969); Charles Berlitz (The Bermuda Triangle, 1974); Richard Winer (The Devil's Triangle, 1974), and many others, all keeping to some of the same supernatural elements outlined by Eckert. Berlitz, grandson of a distinguished linguist and author of various additional books on anomalous phenomena, attributed the loss of Flight 19 to unexplained forces, despite lack of evidence supporting his claim.

Men of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225

Charles Carroll Taylor

The flight leader, Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor (born 25 October 1917), graduated from Naval Air Station Corpus Christimarker in February 1942 and became a flight instructor in October of that year.

During World War II he did fly several combat missions, however contrary to claims by Bermuda Triangle enthusiasts that he was a seasoned combat pilot with a vast amount of combat experience, he only saw minor combat zone service in the Pacific theater and had only moderate combat experience. Following the war, on November 21, 1945, he was transferred to Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale. By this time he had about 2,500 flying hours, mostly in aircraft of the type used by Flight 19, while his trainee students had 300 total, and 60 flight hours in the Avenger.
The men of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225

Pilot Crew Series Nr.
FT-28 Charles C. Taylor, Lieutenant, USNR Robert Francis Harmon, AOM3c, USNR

Walter R. Parpart, ARM3c, USNR
FT-36 Riley Caterson, Captain, USMC H.Q. Howell O. Thompson, SSgt., USMCR

George.R. Paonessa, Sgt., USMC
FT-3 Joseph.T. Bossi, Ensign, USNR Herman A. Thelander, S1c, USNR

Burt E. Baluk, JR., S1c, USNR
FT-117 George W. Stivers, Captain, USMC Robert P. Gruebel, Pvt., USMCR

Robert F. Gallivan, Sgt., USMC
FT-81 Robert J. Gerber, 2nd LT, USMCR William E. Lightfoot, Pfc., USMCR* 46325
BuNo 59225 Walter G. Jeffery, Ltjg, USN Harrie G. Cone, Ltjg, USN

Roger M. Allen, Ensign, USN

Lloyd A. Eliason, Ensign, USN

Charles D. Arceneaux, Ensign, USN

Robert C. Cameron, RM3, USN

Wiley D. Cargill, Sr., Seaman 1st, USN

James F. Jordan, ARM3, USN

John T. Menendez, AOM3, USN

Philip B. Neeman, Seaman 1st, USN

James F. Osterheld, AOM3, USN

Donald E. Peterson, AMM1, USN

Alfred J. Zywicki, Seaman 1st, USN
* This particular plane was one crew member short.
The airman in question, Marine Corporal Allan Kosnar, had been given special permission not to fly that day.


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