The Disappearance of Flight 19

On Dec. 5, 1945, a team of five TBF Avenger bombers took off from a naval base in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The flight was the first leg of a routine 2-hour training exercise that was supposed to take the planes no more than 150 miles away from the airstrip. About an hour and a half after takeoff, the control tower in Fort Lauderdale received a strange message from the team’s flight leader, who sounded confused and worried: “Both my compasses are out and I’m trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida.” More discussion followed between the tower, the lead pilot, and the student pilots of the other planes as he tried to determine where they were. When the planes didn’t return, a PBM Mariner twin-engine flying boat and a 13-man crew was dispatched to search for them. That plane never came back either. The U.S. military then launched one of the largest searches in history, with hundreds of ships and aircraft scrutinizing more than 200,000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, but no trace of the planes was ever found. Since then, the mystery of Flight 19 remains one of the most puzzling in the history of aviation, providing even more fodder for those who believe in the Bermuda Triangle. The best theory put forth so far is that instructor-pilot thought he was over the Florida Keys, when he was, in fact, over the Bahamas. He changed course several times, and the planes ran out out fuel and crashed.