Odd Emerald

Odd news for the wicked world

Flight 19

Bermuda Triangle bermuda-triangle

Fort Lauderdale, Florida

– December 5, 1945, at about 2:10pm Eastern Standard Time. A warm day with billowing clouds soaring overhead in the current of a gusting southwest trade wind. The temperature was 67 degrees. The general weather conditions were considered average for training flights of this nature except within showers.

It was supposed to be a routine navigation exercise and mock bombing run of a concrete shipwreck just south of Bimini. Five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers carrying 14 men, were to fly to the Hens and Chickens shoals in the Bahamas to practice and then return to the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station. But 90 minutes after takeoff, squadron commander Lt. Charles C. Taylor reported that he was lost.
The weather and sea conditions got worse as the evening wore on.

Over the next three hours, he mistakenly led Flight 19 far out to sea, where the planes apparently ran out of fuel and crashed.
That was on December 5, 1945, several months after the end of World War II.  A search was launched for 5 lost planes, with units of the Navy, Army and Coast Guard, to scour the sea for the lost NAS Aircraft. Flight 19 remains one of the great aviation mysteries.


FT – 28: piloted by the Flight Leader, Navy Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor. TBM-3 – BuNo 23307.
Crew: AOM 3rd class George F. Devlin was gunner and Walter R. Parpart RMC3c was radioman.

FT – 36: piloted by Marine Captain Edward Joseph Powers. It was a TBM-1E – BuNo 46094.
Crew: Sergeant Howell O. Thompson was gunner and Sergeant George R. Paonessa was radioman.

FT – 81: piloted by Marine 2nd Lieutenant Forrest J. Gerber. It was a TBM-1C. BuNo 46325.
Crew: Only one, Pfc. William Lightfoot. That day, Corporal Allan Kosnar had asked to be excused from the exercise.

FT- 3: piloted by Navy Ensign Joseph T. Bossi. It was a TBM-1C. BuNo 45714.
Crew: S1c Herman A. Thelander was gunner and S1c Burt E. Baluk was radioman.

FT- 117: piloted by Captain George W. Stivers. BuNo 73209.
Crew: Sgt. Robert F. Gallivan was gunner and Pvt. Robert F. Gruebel was radioman.

A Brief Sequence of Events:

At about 15:45 the Fort Lauderdale tower received a call
but instead of requesting landing instructions,
the flight leader sounded confused and worried:

“Cannot see land, we seem to be off course.”  —he informed the tower.

“What is your position?” —the tower asked. There were several moments of silence.

“We cannot be sure where we are,” —the flight leader announced. “Repeat: Cannot see land.”

Contact was lost with the flight for about 10 minutes
and then it was resumed. But it wasn’t the voice of the flight leader.
Instead, voices from the crew were heard:

“We can’t find west. Everything is wrong. We can’t be sure of any direction. Everything looks strange, even the ocean.”

Another delay, and then to the surprise of the tower operator,
the leader handed over his command to another pilot for no apparent reason.
Twenty minutes later the new leader called the tower, his voice bordering on hysteria:

“We can’t tell where we are… everything is… can’t make out anything. We think we may be about 225 miles northeast of base…”

For a few moments the pilot rambled nervously.

There was another radio conversation that took place between flight leader Taylor and a fellow Navy pilot Lt. Robert F. Cox, a Senior Flight Instructor who was in the air but not part of Flight 19. This last conversation was uncovered in the Board of Investigation records. The last transmission from Flight 19 took place at 19:04. Lt. Cox was on air communicating with Flight 19 until their signal got weaker. He wanted to search for the Squadron at this point, but was told not to, by NASFL officials who feared losing another pilot.

One of the largest Air & Sea searches in history:

The pilots’ ultimate fate was never determined, nor was the fate of thirteen other men sent out to search for their lost colleagues. Within minutes of learning of the squadron’s predicament, two PBM Mariner flying boats were dispatched from NAS Banana River in Melbourne carrying rescue equipment. Less than a half hour after take-off (at approximately 7:30 p.m., 5 December), one of the PBM’s radioed the tower that they were nearing Flight 19’s last assumed position. After sending one more position report the rescue plane and its crew of thirteen was never heard from again.  Many naval officers participated in the massive search for the missing planes. Frank Dailey, from Alpharetta, Georgia, a Naval Reserve Captain flew in a PBY-5 seaplane. He recalls that for “three days, six hours a day, they plowed up and down the whole coast of Florida, looking for wreckage but we never saw a thing.”

It was one of the largest air and sea searches in history involving hundreds of ships and planes: search and rescue crews covered more than 200,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, while on land they combed Florida’s interior in the hopes of solving the puzzle of what became known as Flight 19, the Lost Squadron, and the Lost Patrol (it was not a “patrol” squadron, it was a “navigation exercise”). Combined units joined in the search, as authorities pushed efforts to locate the missing planes. Scouring practically  every mile of open water off the coast, were six planes from the Third Air Force, 120 planes from the Navy Air Advanced Training Command and aircraft from the Air Transport Command, the Boca Raton Army Air Field, the Coast Guard and the RAF in Nassau. In addition, dozens of Navy and Coast Guard surface craft joined in the hunt. The search was directed from the Coast Guard Headquarters of the Seventh Naval District in Miami.

Lt. Dave White of Hillsboro Beach, who was a Senior Flight Instructor at NASFL, remembers that fateful day, as he was playing bridge when he heard a knock on the door of his friend’s house: “It was the duty officer, and he said all flight instructors were due at the hangar at 5 am because five planes were missing.”

For the next three days, White, his assistant instructor and 20 of his students flew up and down the Florida coast at low altitudes, but they couldn’t find a trace of the airmen or the wreckage. Today, he’s convinced the planes rammed into rough seas about 60 miles east of Daytona Beach: “I don’t think anybody got out of their planes at all. I don’t think anybody survived.” He likened hitting the ocean at high speed to “hitting a brick wall.” White remains mystified as he has mentioned: “The leader was an experienced combat pilot, these were reliable planes in good condition, and it was a routine training mission. We were alerted to look around the islands and to keep searching the water for debris. They just vanished. We had hundreds of planes out looking, and we searched over land and water for days, and nobody ever found the bodies or any debris.”


Lt. David White, 4th from left to right, top row. Images © NAS Fort Lauderdale Museum

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This entry was posted on November 9, 2013 by in Space & Time and tagged , , .

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