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The Disappearance of Flight 19

Airplanes disappearing are a dime a dozen. It seems that keeping track of these big metal birds is actually quite tough. At least, it has been in the past. Modern planes rarely go missing.

1945 was a busy year for the Earth. WWII had only just ended on 2 September. Life was far from returning to normal. Navy pilots should have been safer than ever. Their planes had been tested in the gauntlet of war, and there were no more battles to be had.

Unfortunately for the pilots of Flight 19, they were about to take part in their final training exercise. Five pilots, and 8 marines participated in the exercise. The specifics of what happened to the 14 aviators remain a mystery to this day, despite them being in near-constant radio contact with their base.

They have become some of the most famous victims of what some people refer to as the Bermuda Triangle.

Navigation Problem Number 1

Pilots are always practicing, studying, and thinking about flying. Military pilots have to remain sharp in order to survive combat. So in times of peace, they are tasked with training exercises.

The 14 crewmen of Flight 19 were briefed on Navigation Problem No1, early on the morning of 5 December 1945. Their flight path would take them on a triangular route over the Bahamas:

“(1) depart 26 degrees 03 minutes north and 80 degrees 07 minutes west and fly 091 degrees (T) distance 56 miles to Hen and Chickens Shoals to conduct low level bombing, after bombing continue on course 091 degrees (T) for 67 miles, (2) fly course 346 degrees (T) distance 73 miles and (3) fly course 241 degrees (T) distance 120 miles, then returning to U. S. Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

The weather was set to be clear, great for flying. Scattered showers and normal winds were expected for this type of exercise. Everything seemed to be going perfectly, they dropped their last bomb at 15:00.

The next part of their journey is where things start going wrong, strangely so.

This Compass is Wrong

Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor, the leader of flight 19, was no newcomer to the sky. He had completed 2,500 flight hours, most of which he did in the TBF Avenger.

His fellow pilots were still in training, and had only around 300 flight hours between them. They were in good hands though, Taylor had flown in the war, and was a certified flight instructor.

That all makes it so much stranger that he, potentially, caused the disappearance of Flight 19. Shortly after undertaking the second part of the training exercise, he became convinced that his compass wasn't working.

Some of their radio communication was recorded. One of the pilots asked another for a compass heading, to which the pilot replied:

“I don’t know where we are. We must have gotten lost after that last turn.”

Lieutenant Taylor was heard saying:

“Both my compasses are out, and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land, but it’s broken. I am sure I’m in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down and I don’t know how to get to Fort Lauderdale.”

Like a man possessed, Taylor kept ordering his pilots to turn around, or fly in the wrong direction. He refused to listen to the advice of his subordinates, one of which was recorded as saying:

“Dammit, if we could just fly west we would get home; head west, dammit.”

Lieutenant Taylor ordered them to fly East in response. He was convinced that east was west, and vice versa. Something had gone very wrong with Taylor, and with the sun setting, visual navigation soon became impossible.

Flight 19 stuck together despite the obvious dissent in the ranks. They were out of contact with the mainland until, at 17:24, Taylor came back on:

"We'll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas"

Nearly half an hour later, several radio stations on land were able to triangulate Flight 19's signal. They were roughly 100 miles out to sea at this point. They tried to communicate this fact to Taylor, but he didn't respond.

After another 14 minutes, it seems Taylor had had enough of flying west:

"Holding 270. We didn't fly far enough east; we may as well just turn around and fly east again"

Flight 19's final message came at 18:20:

"All planes close up tight ... we'll have to ditch unless landfall ... when the first plane drops below 10 gallons [38 liters], we all go down together."

There is no doubt that they were forced to crash at sea. Whatever madness overtook Taylor, he dragged his entire crew down with him. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of it.

Missing Rescue Flight

The Navy scrambled several flights to search for the missing aviators. Nearby boats were also alerted, and soon a massive search was afoot. Among the planes searching for Flight 19, was a PBM Mariner flying boat.

Aboard the Mariner, 13 soldiers set off with hearts filled with hope. They could potentially rescue survivors, if any were to be found. It wasn't to be. Shortly after takeoff, the base lost contact with the Mariner.

Their disappearance is both more and less mysterious than that of Flight 19. No radio contact was made with the Mariner. They just disappeared into thin air. Looking at the history of the PBM Mariner, it isn't difficult to imagine why they went missing.

The Mariner was nicknamed "The Flying Gas Tank". They had the annoying habit of exploding in the air, which is likely what this one did shortly after takeoff.

Hundreds of boats and planes spent the next five days combing the waters around the Bahamas, searching for the Mariner, and Flight 19. No evidence for either disappearance was ever found. Their whereabouts remain a mystery to this day, aside from the bottom of the ocean somewhere.


Without knowing exactly what happened, any explanation is pure speculation. The Navy thought that Lieutenant Taylor may have confused the Bahamas for the Florida Keys, leading him to search for land to the east.

YouTuber, Simon Whistler, proposed that Taylor's plane had become depressurized. This could have led him to experience hypoxia, which could explain his disorientation and inability to use his navigational equipment.

The film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, used the disappearance of Flight 19 as one of the key events of the film. In this, fictional, retelling, the planes are discovered intact in the desert. Later on, the crew returns to Earth aboard an alien mothership.

Obviously, the idea that aliens took them has been floated online. The main issue with this theory is that we have Taylor's radio communication transcripts, pointing towards a far more mundane, if still tragic, fate.

Another theory, is that the Bermuda Triangle is littered with natural wormholes. These are theoretical points at which spacetime becomes entangled. Essentially they are portals.

Search efforts continue to this day for the missing Flight 19.



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