We’ve been losing things over the Bermuda Triangle for over 100 years, but one of the strangest occurrences took place 75 years ago today, on December 5, 1945. Five torpedo bombers up and disappeared during a three-hour training mission out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. All 14 airmen were lost—alongside an additional 13 members of the search crew.
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At 2:10 p.m. on December 5, 1945, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers took off to tackle a three-hour exercise called Navigation Problem Number One. Their flight plan was set to look like a triangle, requiring Flight 19 to head east to conduct a bombing run, then turn north over the Bahamas, before turning southwest and flying back to base. Most everyone on that run was a skilled pilot, having logged 300 hours of air time.
That first leg went by without problem. Then things got weird. Flight leader Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor became convinced that his compass was malfunctioning and that he was leading his crew in the wrong direction. Things weren’t helped when a gusty storm swept through, further disorienting everyone.
“I don’t know where we are,” one of the pilots said over the radio. “We must have got lost after that last turn.”
Things got even weirder. From History:
Lieutenant Robert F. Cox, another Navy flight instructor who was flying near the Florida coast, was the first to overhear the patrol’s radio communications. He immediately informed the Air Station of the situation and then contacted the Avengers to ask if they needed assistance. “Both my compasses are out and I’m trying to find Ft. Lauderdale, Florida,” Taylor said, his voice sounding anxious. “I’m over land, but it’s broken. I’m sure I’m in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down.”
Taylor’s claim didn’t seem to make sense. He’d made his scheduled pass over Hens and Chicken Shoals in the Bahamas less than an hour earlier, but he now believed his planes had somehow drifted hundreds of miles off course and ended up in the Florida Keys.
Under normal circumstances, pilots were supposed to fly toward the setting sun, but Taylor decided to fly farther out to sea. By the time he got things righted, the planes were getting dangerously close to running out of fuel.
Just after 6pm, radio communications were lost.
Around 7:30, the Navy sent out a pair of PBM Mariner flying boats to hunt for the lost planes. Before 8pm, one of the boats fell off the radar.
Starting the next day, search parties went out in search of both Flight 19 and the missing Mariner. Despite hundreds of planes on the search, the planes were never recovered.
There are a lot of different explanations for why this particular area of the Atlantic Ocean tends to swallow up crafts that pass through. If you like a more mystical flavor, you can blame the sunken city of Atlantis or UFOs. If you’re interested in a more natural, scientific explanation, there are plenty to choose from: changing compasses due to odd magnetic forces, the Gulf Stream, bad weather, methane seeping out of continental shelves, or just plain old human error. My mom watches enough alien mystery shows that I’ll let y’all choose whichever answer you like.
In this particular case, the Mariner flying boats were known to explode, and that’s very likely what happened to the rescue boat that went missing. As far as Lieutenant Taylor’s confusion goes, he had just transferred from Fort Lauderdale from Miami, so some people have hypothesized that he confused the Bahamas with the Florida Keys. As far as the planes themselves, they’re likely somewhere out in the ocean. But it’s still one of those weird unsolved mysteries that haunts people to this day.