The Disappearance of Flight 19

The mysterious disappearance of MH370 and the almost total disappearance of the El Faro has reminded us how big this world is and how relatively small planes and ships are. The world has never really shrunk. We have just enlarged our ideas of how we have conquered travel. In truth, this is pure fancy on our parts. We have not conquered travel. We have enlarged our surveillance. But what does this surveillance really amount to? Large parts of the Earth are still only guarded by “pings.” The rest outside of our view is guarded by radar. Even a mile off our coasts our vision is only a dark radar scope, a sweeping green hand and a blurry green dot.

This is the anniversary today of one of the, if not the greatest aviation mystery in history. News stories are coming out. Tim Binnall has written this reminder on Coast to Coast referring to the event.

Seventy years ago this very day, on December 5, 1945, when Flight 19 vanished the eyes were less sophisticated, but essentially they were enough: radar scopes, IFF signals, homing beacons, and radio. None helped bring Flight 19 back to the Florida east coast. Radio only gave us clues.

Although these factors contributed to the mystery of the disappearance of Flight 19, none have any bearing on the lack of debris. Five large warplanes vanished that night 70 years ago today, 14 men along with them, and not a shred of evidence has been found.

My own theory now dominates discussions on the fate of Flight 19.  They Flew into Oblivion has been accorded exceptional honors. I am flattered, but let’s reiterate some imponderables that helped establish Flight 19 as the cornerstone disappearance that began The Bermuda Triangle concept.

In my book I go into detail on the flight and believe that I explained how Flight 19 got lost, and not only lost but how they got out of the Bahamas without seeing land– no small feat considering their training triangle was within an island crowded area. But why they got lost and why they never returned to shore are two different things. Contrary to debunking, the flight had more than enough time to get to the shore. And, indeed, I believe they did. Not only that I believe that more than once they were observed. So why did they never get back to a base?

Solomons

The USS Solomons definitely picked up an unexplained group of aircraft that matched Flight 19’s probable location off Flagler Beach.

So many ironies and coincidences surround Flight 19 that night it pushes credulity to the limit. But then we must understand that 5 aircraft are not going to disappear for some single routine or more than a single routine reason. The ironies and coincidences are no greater than the end product– the greatest mystery in the annals of aviation.

It was the first mystery that I was essentially credited as coming close to cracking or having the most believable theory. Those who thought I was just going to compile mysteries in the Triangle were surprised. I asserted in They Flew into Oblivion that Flight 19 stands separate from the Triangle’s litany of victims; perhaps not for the reason why it got lost, but the way in which it ultimately vanished.

Charlie2

It is possible that something unusual did happen to their compasses. Lt. Charles Taylor was the flight leader. His compasses went haywire, but the only implication we have that all of their compasses went crazy is the fact that a discussion on compasses and directions was overheard, and this apparently did not lead to a consensus of opinion amongst the 5 pilots.

If so, then an element of the Triangle played a fateful hand. In 2004 Simon Ludgate overflew the same route for Discovery Channel. He was in a TBM Avenger, just like those that day/night so long ago. At one point their compass malfunctioned. At the precise time the chase plane filming them also suffered a problem with its compass. It didn’t last more than a few minutes. But it did happen.

CIMG0869

Simon gave me this pic of the Avenger they flew in 2004. I was invited to come along, but I said I’d done it before. I guess I should have gone.

When Charles Taylor led his flight off course, he thought he was actually bringing them back to their right course, believing that the student for that leg of the flight had made a mistake. But when they did not overfly their landmark he realized their was a problem. This began the saga of Flight 19.

But the mystery is why didn’t the other 4 pilots correct him right away and say they were not off course? Did their compasses each read something different? Did they not speak up for this reason and simply followed the leader? Presupposing this is what happened, we can understand that when the compasses started working again, some may not have been sure where they were. We know only that a bit later (about 5 p.m.) Captain Ed Powers, one of the Marine pilots, was sure they were east of Florida and that they had to head west. “Dammit, if we would head west we would get home!” This they eventually did under Powers’ direction. Still they vanished.

Berry-Islands-Bahamas-660x440

Shortly after the flight turned northwest near the Berry Islands C.C. Taylor took them off course, believing that he was leading them back on course.

In some sense it has also been 70 years since the beginning of The Bermuda Triangle concept. Though that moniker would not be given the area for 19 years, worldwide attention was drawn to the theory that planes and ships mysteriously vanish in a specific section of the North Atlantic. It wasn’t just this event. Soon it would be followed by the disappearance of three mainline airliners– the equivalent today of 3 MH370 type jumbo jets vanishing in a year’s time.

It is not surprising that the world remained fascinated by the idea that there was something “different” about the area itself. Authors soon catalogued many more disappearances. On top of this, survivors of strange events spoke of electromagnetic aberrations and even “electronic fog.” The 1970s was the era of Triangle fever. The books declared that perhaps as many as 100 craft had vanished since World War II.

Then the subject fell into a deep freeze. There were claims of it having been mere exaggeration and that many of those ships and planes missing had vanished in foul weather. No one believed in the Triangle anymore . . . though the missing still remained missing.

Then after 9 years of research I innocently put up the first website in 1999 that objectively examined the subject. Not only had I presented for the first time over 75 disappearances that had happened since the last books were written in the 1970s, I presented just as many that had vanished between 1945-1979 and yet had remained obscure during the height of Triangle popularity. (The original authors apparently never knew of National Transportation Safety Board database searches).  In essence for every ship or plane that might have been removed from the list of missing because it was later suspected to have gone down in a storm, I added dozens more to the list of mystery, and potentially there is much more. The Triangle was reborn, and with far more impressive data than had ever fueled the fever in the 1970s. I became typecast with it. I sadly became typecast as a researcher, but not as an analyst.

O-club

The O-Club at Fort Lauderdale NAS. A couple of the pilots were in attendance at a party the night before.

But my research into Flight 19 changed my image for the better. It showed I investigated and was after facts. Surprisingly, this caused those who followed The Bermuda Triangle to take all the more serious the cases and the stats I compiled.

And one thing cannot be denied. Flight 19’s disappearance remains a phenomenon, and the sensational nature of 5 large aircraft disappearing in unison rightly drew our attention to a pattern that remains to this day. Close to 200 aircraft have vanished since WWII, and I am not counting those in foul weather, and there is probably many more. There is equally far more yachts and pleasure boats that can be numbered.

The sea has not swallowed then. A specific area has. From our point of view they were taken by mystery. But from theirs, they were taken by something unexpected.

*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.

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