Flight 19: Mysterious Disappearance Occurred 70 Years Ago Today

On December 5, 1945, five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and 14 airmen took off from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, Florida on a training mission. The planes and the airmen were never seen again, giving birth to the legend of the mysterious disappearance of Flight 19.

Flight 19 was led by Commander Charles Taylor. The other members in the flight were all trainees. At 2:10 p.m., all five planes left the Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale and headed out to sea on a routine training mission. The proposed flight path consisted of the flight heading East for 123 miles, North for 73 miles and then return directly to the Naval Air Station. Flight 19 was to make the shape of a triangle with their flight path.

An hour and a half after Flight 19 embarked on their training mission, Commander Taylor sent a radio message that his compass was not functioning properly. Taylor also messaged that he was over the Florida Keys, believing that Flight 19 went South instead of East due to the malfunctioning compass in his plane. An order was given to Taylor to turn north and fly toward Miami, but only of the commander was positive that he and his flight were over the Florida Keys. Taylor was sure and Flight 19 headed north from their location. It is believed that Taylor was wrong and that Flight 19 actually did fly East as planned and was not over the Florida Keys. When Taylor and the flight turned north, they were flying out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Fifteen minutes after Flight 19 turned north, Commander Taylor sent another message. It is claimed that Taylor sounded confused and concerned. Taylor said, “Cannot see land, we seem to be off course.” One of the other pilots of Flight 19 also sent a radio message that said, “If we would just fly west, we would get home.” Being trainees, they could not deviate their flight path on their own. They had to continue to follow their commander.

This was not the first time that Commander Taylor had problems with getting lost in the air. During World War II, Taylor got lost three times, two of those times he was forced to ditch his plane in the water and be rescued. Taylor also was not very familiar with the area that Flight 19 was planning on taking on December 5.

At 4:45 p.m., Commander Taylor was told to allow one of the students to take over leading Flight 19 in the hopes that one of the students would get them back to Florida safely. Taylor refused, leading the doomed flight further out over the Atlantic Ocean.

The last communication from Flight 19 came at 7:04 p.m. By this time, they had been flying for almost five hours and dangerously low on fuel. At 7:27 p.m., a search and rescue team was sent out to find Flight 19. The search and rescue team consisted of two flying boats. The search for Flight 19 lasted all night and through the following day. No sign could be found of Flight 19. Oddly, one of the flying boats vanished without a trace while searching for Flight 19.

A few months after Flight 19 vanished, a naval investigation report was finalized. In the report, it was stated that Commander Taylor was mistaken about being over the Florida Keys but was actually over the Bahamas. When he began heading north he began to head out over the Atlantic Ocean as opposed to heading back toward Florida. Taylor was cleared of any wrongdoing based on the fact that he claimed the compass in his plane was not working properly. The cause of the disappearance was eventually listed as “cause unknown.”

What do you think happened to Flight 19?

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