Flight 19

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Flight 19
Artist's depiction of the five TBM Avengers that disappeared.
Occurrence summary
Date December 5, 1945
Summary Disappearance
Site Off the east coast of Florida
Crew 14
Fatalities 14 (assumed)
Survivors none known
Aircraft type TBM Avenger
Operator  United States Navy
Destination NAS Fort Lauderdale

Flight 19 was the designation of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle on December 5, 1945 during a United States Navy overwater navigation training flight from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, Florida. All 14 airmen on the flight were lost, as were all 13 crew members of a PBM Mariner flying boat assumed by professional investigators to have exploded in mid-air while searching for the flight. Navy investigators could not determine the cause of the loss of Flight 19 but said the airmen may have become disoriented and ditched in rough seas after running out of fuel.

PBM-5 (BuNo 59225)[edit]

PBM-5 (BuNo 59225)
PBM-5 Mariner VP-50 Blue Dragons (BuNo 59256) in April 1956-similar to BuNo 59225. (Note: "BuNo" stands for Bureau Number.[1])
Occurrence summary
Date December 5, 1945
Summary Presumed mid-air explosion
Site 28°35′N 80°15′W / 28.59°N 80.25°W / 28.59; -80.25
Crew 13
Fatalities 13 (assumed)
Survivors none known
Aircraft type PBM-5 Mariner
Operator  United States Navy
Flight origin NAS Banana River
Destination NAS Banana River

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 29°N 79°W / 29°N 79°W / 29; -79. PBM-5 BuNo 59225 took off at 19:27 from Banana River Naval Air Station (now Patrick Air Force Base), called in a routine radio message at 19:30 and was never heard from again.[2]

At 21.15, 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, at position 28°35′N 80°15′W / 28.59°N 80.25°W / 28.59; -80.25. Captain Shonna Stanley reported unsuccessfully searching for survivors through a pool of oil. The escort carrier USS Solomons also reported losing radar contact with an aircraft at the same position and time.[2]


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.[citation needed] It was twice during such times that he had to ditch his plane in the Pacific and be rescued. But this time he would be confused about what happened to him.
  • Taylor was not to fault because the compasses stopped working.
  • The loss of PBM-5 BuNo 59225 was attributed to an explosion.[3]

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.[citation needed]

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 farther 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° 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,[4] meant that there was little hope of rescue, even if they had managed to stay afloat.

It is possible that Taylor overshot Castaway Cay and instead reached another land mass in southern Abaco Island. He then proceeded northwest as planned. He fully expected to find the Grand Bahama Island lying in front of him as planned. Instead, he eventually saw a land mass to his right side, the northern part of Abaco Island. Believing that this landmass to his right was the Grand Bahama Island and his compass was malfunctioning, he set a course to what he thought was southwest to head straight back to Fort Lauderdale. However, in reality this changed his course farther northwest, toward open ocean.

To further add to his confusion, he encountered a series of islands north of Abaco Island, which looks very similar to the Key West Islands, but he was still over the ocean instead of over Fort Lauderdale. The control tower then suggested that Taylor's team should fly west, which would have taken them to the landmass of Florida eventually. Taylor headed for what he thought was west, but in reality was northwest, almost parallel to Florida.

After trying that for a while and no land in sight, Taylor decided that it was impossible for them to fly so far west and not reach Florida. He believed that he might have been near the Key West Islands. What followed was a series of serious confusions between Taylor, his team and the control tower. Taylor was not sure whether he was near Bahama or Key West, and he was not sure which direction was which due to compass malfunction. The control tower informed Taylor that he could not be in Key West since the wind that day did not blow that way. Some of his teammates believed that their compass was working. Taylor then set a course northeast according to their compass, which should take them to Florida if they were in Key West. When that failed, Taylor set a course west according to their compass, which should take them to Florida if they were in Bahama. If Taylor stayed this course he would have reached land before running out of fuel. However, at some point Taylor decided that he had tried going west enough. He then once again set a course northeast, thinking they were near Key West after all. Finally, his flight ran out of fuel and may have crashed into the ocean somewhere north of Abaco Island and east of Florida.[5]

Unrelated Avenger wreckage[edit]

In 1986, the wreckage of an Avenger was found off the Florida coast during the search for the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger.[citation needed] Aviation archaeologist Jon Myhre raised this wreck from the ocean floor in 1990. He mistakenly believed it was one of the missing planes.[6]

In 1991, a treasure-hunting expedition led by Graham Hawkes announced that the wreckage of five Avengers had been discovered off the coast of Florida, but that tail numbers revealed they were not Flight 19.[7][8] In 2004 a BBC documentary showed Hawkes returning with a new submersible 12 years later and identifying one of the planes by its bureau number (a clearly readable 23990[9]) as a flight lost at sea on 9 October 1943, over two years before Flight 19 (its crew all survived[10]), but he was unable to definitively identify the other planes; the documentary concluded that "Despite the odds,[11][12] they are just a random collection of accidents that came to rest in the same place 12 miles from home."[13][9] But in March 2012 Hawkes was reported as stating that it had suited both him (and indirectly his investors) and the Pentagon to make the story go away because it was an expensive and time-consuming distraction, and that, while admitting he had found no conclusive evidence, he now thought he had in fact found Flight 19.[8]

Records showed training accidents between 1942 and 1945 accounted for the loss of 95 aviation personnel from NAS Fort Lauderdale[14] In 1992, another expedition located scattered debris on the ocean floor, but nothing could be identified. In the last decade,[when?] searchers have been expanding their area to include farther east, into the Atlantic Ocean, but the remains of Flight 19 have still never been confirmed found.

Crews of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225[edit]

Charles Carroll Taylor[edit]

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

The men of Flight 19 and PBM-5 BuNo 59225[3]
Pilot Crew Series Nr.
FT-28 Charles C. Taylor, Lieutenant, USNR George Devlin, AOM3c, USNR
Walter R. Parpart, ARM3c, USNR
FT-36 E. J. Powers, Captain, USMC 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-87* Forrest 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 because he had had a strong premonition of danger.[15]


  1. ^ "Background on Naval Aircraft Bureau (Serial) Numbers". Naval History & Heritage Command. 2007. 
  2. ^ a b McDonell, Michael (June 1973). "Lost Patrol". Naval Aviation News: 8–16. 
  3. ^ a b Naval Air Advanced Training Command Board of Inquiry (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 7 December 1945 and Related Correspondence (Flight 19) (Report). United States Navy via iBiblio.org. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/rep/Flight19/index.html. Retrieved March 8, 2008.
  4. ^ Mayell, Hillary (December 15, 2003). "Bermuda Triangle: Behind the Intrigue". National Geographic. p. 2. Retrieved March 10, 2008. 
  5. ^ "Bermuda Triangle". Naked Science. Season 1. 2004. National Geographic Channel.
  6. ^ Naval military Library reports this aircraft was not part of Flight 19
  7. ^ Tim Golden (June 5, 1991). "Mystery of Bermuda Triangle Remains One". New York Times. Retrieved 10 September 2014. "The undersea explorers who announced last month that they might have discovered five Navy planes that vanished mysteriously in 1945, laying a foundation for the myth of a craft-swallowing Caribbean twilight zone, said that on closer inspection, the planes they found turned out not to be those of the fabled 'Flight 19.' ... Mr. Hawkes said at a news conference that in four of the five cases, the tail numbers of the planes his team had found did not match those of the lost aircraft." 
  8. ^ a b Adam Higginbotham (March 2012). "Graham Hawkes and the Race to the Bottom of the Sea". Men's Journal. p. 3. Retrieved 10 September 2014. "Hawkes has since changed his story. Now he says both he (because his investors didn't want to waste valuable time on an investigation) and the Pentagon (because they had more important things to worry about) had an interest in making the story go away. He admits that while he didn't find conclusive evidence that the planes were the same group that went missing in 1945, he consulted a statistician to establish the probability that they were not. "He said, 'You've got Flight 19,' " Hawkes says." 
  9. ^ a b "Online Video Extract from 'The Bermuda Triangle: Beneath the Waves'". YouTube. 2004. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  10. ^ Indeed, as documented here in the Military Times Hall Of Valor, the pilot, George Swint, went on to become a decorated war hero flying torpedo bombers from the USS Enterprise (an aircraft carrier that eventually gave its name to the spaceship in Star Trek), receiving the Navy Cross for "extraordinary heroism" in 1944 and the DFC for "extraordinary achievement" in 1945.
  11. ^ It is obviously possible to speculate that various currently unknown or ignored factors might help to lower these odds, such as if all the crashes happened near a much frequented bomber training target, and/or the planes suffered from a design fault that tended to get triggered at roughly the same time after some particular bombing maneuver, and so on... It can be speculated that mid-air collisions in a busy airspace, such as near a bomber training target, might reduce the number of crashes needed to 4 or even 3 - the 2004 BBC documentary states that one of the planes may have lost its tail section in a documented mid-air collision in August 1944.
  12. ^ It is obviously possible to speculate that odds would be lower if the unidentified planes had been declared either unfit for maintenance/repair or obsolete and were simply disposed of at sea in a single operation and/or in a single perhaps recommended location. One might even speculate that the identified plane might also have been dumped there if it originally ditched elsewhere in waters perhaps shallow enough for it to present a shipping or environmental hazard, from where it had eventually been recovered and disposed of in a standard location deemed more suitable for such disposal. Indeed from December 2006 (see here) to September 2014 (see here) earlier versions of this Wikipedia article simply asserted (using wordings that varied slightly over time) that all the planes "were declared either unfit for maintenance/repair or obsolete, and simply disposed of at sea", although this assertion was initially unsourced and then in August 2008 it was incorrectly sourced in a way that made the source contradict itself in the same paragraph (see here) until the contradiction was removed by removing the correctly sourced statement in August 2014 (see here); also some parts of the assertion's wordings at least appeared to conflict with other known facts.
  13. ^ "The Bermuda Triangle: Beneath the Waves". BBC. 2004. Retrieved 10 September 2014. "Graham Hawkes is also able to reveal, by using a state-of-the-art submarine, how five wrecks mysteriously wound up 730 feet down in the heart of the Bermuda Triangle." 
    Broadcasts: First broadcast (BBC1): Sun 14 Mar 2004; BBC4:Sat 28 Dec 2013, Mon 6 Jan 2014, Tue 7 Jan 2014, Thu 6 Mar 2014, Fri 7 Mar 2014, Tue 9 Aug 2014, Wed 10 Aug 2014
    Alternative name (and full credits) at IMDB: Dive to Bermuda Triangle (2004)
    Quotes from a transcript of the text of a shortened version of the program (including advertisements):
    00:24:22 It's much, much more untidy if it isn't flight 19 and we have to find out where they are.
    00:24:30 Graham Hawkes is now going to return to the phantom five, and using a new submersible, he is going to go down there himself and find out, once and for all, who they are.
    00:24:47 Graham has waited 12 years for this moment.
    00:38:36 "Nav 23990-- " on the 9th october, 1943, ft-87, piloted by ensign george swint, was returning to fort lauderdale from a bombing run.
    00:38:53 Onboard were airmen second class sam treese and j. lewulis.
    00:38:59 , the engine suffered a catastrophic loss of fuel and ditched.
    00:39:06 Swint and his crew survived.
    00:39:10 Ft-87-- ..
    00:39:20 Graham now knows how she got here.
    00:39:23 Of the remaining four wrecks, graham could never definitively identify the downed avengers.
    00:39:32 Despite the odds, they are just a random collection of accidents that came to rest in the same place 12 miles from home. ...
  14. ^ "Flight 19 Memorial". Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale Museum. Retrieved December 13, 2010. "A sad but equally historic note is the fact that 95 young Americans lost their lives at the NAS Fort Lauderdale base during 1942-1945— the three most intensive training years of the war." 
  15. ^ Hammond, Peter J. (1980). "The Bermuda Triangle". Sapphire & Steel Annual 1981. World International. ISBN 0723566011. 

External links[edit]