Accidents · Airplanes · Disasters · Florida · Military · Mysteries · Navy

December 5, 1945 – Flight 19 Vanishes While on Routine Training Mission

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TBM Avenger
Image Source: NASFL Museum

I LOVE the Bermuda Triangle and the mysteries that surround the the 500,000 square miles of ocean connecting Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico.

One of the most amazing things about the triangle is that when things disappear in the triangle they leave almost no trace.

On October 1 2015 the container ship El Faro was sailing from Jacksonville, Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was traveling into the path of Hurricane Joaquin and the captain of the vessel had plans to avoid the hurricane. At 7:30 the ship reported that it had lost propulsion and was taking on water. Then communications with the ship ceased and the El Faro vanished. One crewman was found dead in an environmental suit but no sign of the ship.

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El Faro
Image Source: NBCNews.com

On October 31st 2015 the US Navy found the El Faro under 15,000 of water seemingly upright, but the bridge deck had been ripped off the ship. The ship’s data recorder —the black box— was no where to be found. The Navy ceased search and rescue operations on November 16, 2015.

Bermuda Triangle Incidents:

  • USS Pickering – lost with 90 crew – Aug or Sep 1800
  • USS Wasp – lost with 140 crew – Oct. 1814
  • USS Wildcat – lost with 31 on board – October 28, 1824
  • Rosalie – found floating with on one but a Canary – 1840
  • USS Cyclops – lost with 306 crew and passengers – March 4-10, 1918
  • Carroll A. Deering – five masted Schooner found beached – lifeboats, ship log, and navigational equipment gone – food prepped for a meal – January 31, 1921
  • SS Cotopaxi – radioed a a distress call, never seen – December 1, 1925
  • USS Proteus (AC-9) –  sister ship of USS Cyclops – lost with a crew of 58 – November 23, 1941
  • USS Nereus (AC-10) – sister ship of USS Proteus – lost with a crew of 61 – December 10, 1941

On December 5, 1945 a beautiful day for flying a flight of five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers took off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station on a training flight.

The TBM Avenger is a three seater dive bomber. Each plane carries a pilot, bombardier/radio operator, and tail gunner. Paul Newman was a Avenger tail gunner. H had hoped to be a pilot but was color blind.

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Crew of Flight 19
Image Source: history.com

The flight plan had the flight 19 flying east and doing a bombing run at Hens and Chickens Shoals, Bahamas, flying North over Grand Bahama Island, and then back to Fort Lauderdale.

The flight took off at 2:10 pm with complement of 14 men –tail gunner Corporal Alan Kosnar asked not to fly that day– all of which had over 300 hours of experience in the Avenger. Flight leader Lt. Charles Taylor was a combat experienced pilot/instructor.

At 2:30 the flight successfully completed their bombing run of the Hens and Chickens Shoal. Then they were supposed go further east for another 67 miles towards the Bahamas. At 3:30 Lt. Taylor reported that his compass was malfunctioning. He reported that he was over the Florida Keys. WAY Southwest of where they should have been.

He was immediately given instructions to turn North towards Miami. It seems that Lt. Taylor was completely lost and turned around. At 3:45 Lt. Taylor radioed that he was not over land, and sounded frightened. One of the trainees was heard saying “If we just head West, We would get home.”

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Flight 19 possible flight paths
Image Source: Bermuda-Attractions.com

It is hard to think of getting lost in the world we live in now. If I need to get somewhere I just use my phone, tell it where I need to go, and it gets, me there. Pilots today use GPS in their aircraft. In 1945 that was a different story. Pilots new where they took off from, what direction the were heading, and how fast they were going. If any of these three variables changed, it was easy to get lost.

Lt Taylor was an experienced combat pilot and was rumored to have gotten lost three times during the war. Having to ditch his plane in the ocean two of those times.

At 4:45 Lt. Taylor was ordered to turn over flight lead to one of the trainee pilots. This did not happen.

When fuel began to run low, Taylor was heard prepping his men for a potential crash landing in the ocean. “All planes close up tight,” he said. “We’ll have to ditch unless landfall…when the first plane drops below ten gallons, we all go down together.” A few minutes later, the Avengers’ last radio communications were replaced by an eerie buzz of static.

History.com

The last radio transmission from Flight 19 was at 7:04 they thought that they were 75 miles northeast of Cocoa, Florida.

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PBM Mariner
Image Source: Bermuda-Triangle.org

Two PBM Mariner flying boats were dispatched to search for the missing planes. At 7:27 the PBM Mariner –Call sign Trainer 49– reported that is was nearing flight 19’s last assumed position. The plane and all 13 on board were never seen or heard from again.

The crew of the S.S. Gaines Mills reported seeing a “fireball” fall from the sky near New Smyrna beach at 7:50.

So that night six airplanes and 27 sailors and marines vanished.

The search effort was MASSIVE! The US Navy alone launched 248 airplanes, the US Army searched Florida’s coast and inland, the US Air Force had planes in the air –YES, I know it was the Army Air Corp until 1948–, the Royal Air Force from Nassau, and an aircraft carrier all coordinated by the US Coast Guard.

They search over 200,000 square miles of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

The Navy originally blamed Lt. Taylor for the crash. Eight months later they change the crash to “Unknown Reasons.”

Flight 19 Crew:

FT – 28 Flight Leader: NASFL Instructor, Lt. Charles Carroll Taylor, USNR. Aircraft: TBM-3 – BuNo 23307.
Crew: Gunner George F. Devlin, AOM3c, USNR. Radioman: Walter Reed Parpart, Jr. ARM3c, USNR.

FT – 36: Pilot: Capt. Edward Joseph Powers, USMC. Aircraft: TBM-1C – BuNo 46094.
Crew: Gunner Sgt. Howell O. Thompson, USMCR. Radioman: Sgt. George R. Paonessa, USMCR.

FT – 81: Pilot: 2nd Lt. Forrest J. Gerber, USMCR. Aircraft: TBM-1C. BuNo 46325.
Crew: (Only one) Pfc. William Lightfoot, USMCR. That day, Corporal Allan Kosnar had asked to be excused from this exercise.

FT- 3: Pilot: Ensign Joseph T. Bossi, USNR. Aircraft: TBM-1C. BuNo 45714.
Crew: Gunner Herman A. Thelander, S1c, USNR. Radioman: Burt E. Baluk, S1c, USNR.

FT- 117: Pilot: Captain George W. Stivers, USMC. Aircraft: TBM-1C. BuNo 73209.
Crew: Gunner Sgt. Robert F. Gallivan, USMCR. Radioman: Pvt. Robert F. Gruebel, USMCR.

Sources:

Additional Information:

In 2005 to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the missing flight House Resolution 500 was passed.

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