Flight 19, a US naval group of five Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers, disappeared on December 5, 1945, and in the process started the modern legend of the Bermuda Triangle.


Flight 19 left the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station in Florida, for a navigation training exercise. The five planes carried a total of 14 crew members, led by Lieutenant Charles Taylor, a very experienced pilot with over 2,500 hours (mostly in Avengers).

The 5 planes were fully fuelled, but had no clocks fitted. As the navigation exercise was to teach dead reckoning, which needed time measurements, this was odd, but all the men had watches. The weather was favourable, with the sea moderate to rough.

The planes took off at 14.10, with the first of what should have been four legs. The first leg was a 104km flight due east to the Hen and Chickens Shoals for a low-level practice bombing run. The planned flight then continued for another 124km eastwards, before heading virtually north for 135km (including flying over Grand Bahama Island). Then the flight was due to turn to a heading of 241o for 220km before heading back to Fort Lauderdale.


Radio conversations between the 5 planes were overheard by the naval base and other planes. From radio signals, it was clear that the practice bombing run at Hen and Chickens Shoal, happened at about 15.00. Forty minutes later, a second training flight, led by plane FT-74, due to follow the same route as Flight 19, received a garbled transmission from Flight 19:

One of the students asked Powers for his compass reading. Powers replied, “I don’t know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn.” Flight 74 then radioed them, asking them to confirm their identity so that they could be helped. Powers then asked the other planes in Flight 19 for any suggestions. Taylor told FT-74 that, “Both of my compasses are out, and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land but it is 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.”

Taylor was behaving oddly, as a commander should not be showing any panic or lack of confidence.

FT-74 passed on to Fort Lauderdale that Flight 19 was lost, then contacted Taylor again to tell him to put the sun on his port wing (ie pointing north) then fly up the coast of Florida. Taylor didn’t reply, but later, at 16.48, transmitted to say, “We are heading 030 degrees (NNE) for 45 minutes, then we will fly north to make sure we are not over the Gulf of Mexico.”

Then about 10 minutes later, Taylor was heard telling the flight “Change course to 090 degrees (ie east) for 10 minutes.” Why he decided to fly east instead of the northerly direction he had been instructed is unknown. But one of the other Flight 19 pilots were concerned too, as he was heard saying they should fly west to get home.

The weather deteriorated and radio signals became more difficult to understand. By now, the flight was believed to be 370km east of Florida, well off-shore. At 17.24, Taylor was heard saying they should fly west until they struck land or ran out of fuel.

Then at 18.04, Taylor was heard saying they should turn round and fly east again (apparently assuming they were over the Gulf of Mexico, on completely the other side of Florida. This doesn’t make sense as to get to the Gulf, they would have had to fly over the width of Florida, which they would surely have noticed).

There was one more message at 18.20, saying, “All planes close up tight… we’ll have to ditch unless landfall… when the first plane drops below 10 gallons, we all go down together.”


When the flight was known to be lost, a large search operation started. A Catalina flying boat left its base just after 18.00 to search for the flight in the area the Navy believed it would have been. Two more flying boat, Martin PBM Mariners, were diverted to search in the area, and one of them, PBM-5, left the Banana River Naval Base at 19.27. It called in 3 minutes later to confirm its take-off, but was never heard from again.

AT 21.15, the tanker SS Gaines Mills said it had seen flames from an explosion out at sea. The flames were at least 30 metres high and burned for 10 minutes. The ship searched for survivors amongst a pool of oil and kerosene, but found no-one.


There was an official Naval investigation, and its conclusion was that Lt Taylor, commanding Flight 19, has become confused about their location, thinking that the islands they were flying over were the Florida Keys and not the Bahamas.

This would have meant the Flight was south and west of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. So Taylor flew the flight east, taking it further and further out into the Atlantic, until the planes ran out of fuel.

The report also suggested the compasses had stopped working.

But as often with later incidents in the Bermuda Triangle, the explanation is difficult to believe. Taylor was a very experienced pilot, and also knew the area he was flying in. If the flight compasses were not working, why not? As with many other reports from the Triangle, compasses seem to stop working or change orientation suddenly. Is there some sort of magnetic anomaly in the Triangle?

And even if the compasses had failed or were pointing in the wrong directions, the suggestion that Taylor thought he was over the Florida Keys does not make sense. That would have meant he thought they had flown south and west, instead of east as planned. Any pilot, even without a compass, would know from the position of the Sun where east and west were.

Something clearly made Taylor disoriented, and he got his directions confused. And the pilots of the other 4 planes must have been confused too, because none of them queried Taylor’s orders, even though the direction of the Sun would have been as obvious to them. So all five pilots seem to have been disoriented.

There is something in the Triangle that causes problems with compasses not working, but also that makes sailors and pilots not use the direction of the Sun as a guide.

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