Friday, December 25, 2009

The "Lost Patrol"

Each December I'm reminded of Flight 19, the so-called "Lost Patrol"—five Avenger torpedo bombers tbat vanished while on a training flight, 5 December 1945. The group took off from the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station at mid-afternoon with a two-hour flight plan. It called for a low-level practice bombing run over a target near the Bahamas, then a northward maneuver, then a southwesterly return to base.

They didn't return. A PBM Mariner seaplane was sent out to investigate at dusk—and likewise disappeared. The mystery later became the linchpin of the "Bermuda Triangle" frenzy, blown into legend by the success of several best-selling books in the early 1970s.

Transmission logs reveal the airmen became disoriented during the flight, at least in part because of the flight leader's failed compasses. Most pragmatic researchers have concluded they wandered hither and yon over the choppy seas until they ran out of fuel, arguing whether they were over the Atlantic Ocean (and thus should fly westward to return to Fort Lauderdale) or the Gulf of Mexico (and should fly eastward). As for the Mariner, it's assumed a spark, perhaps from a cigarette (although the crew certainly knew better) set off a midair explosion.

Include me among the pragmatists—except that I've never understood how the flight leader, Lt. Charles Taylor, could have imagined they'd been blown down through the Florida Keys and into the gulf. On a generally northwesterly route, this 180-degree reversal would have been a fluke that shifty winds and murky skies couldn't have accounted for. Moreover, reading and rereading the Board of Inquiry account (from which naysayers draw their deductions) raises as many questions as it answers, to me.

If you aren't familiar with it, start by reading Michael McDonell's study in the June 1973 issue of Naval Aviation News ( Then check out some of the sensational volumes of the time as well as Lawrence David Kusche' The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved. Tell me what you think.

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