On Dec. 5, 1945, five U.S. Navy bombers collectively known as Flight 19 took off from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. for what should have been a routine training exercise. The planes involved in the exercise were each helmed by two or three experienced military personnel.
The Training Mission
They took off a little after 2 p.m. and headed east over the “Hens and Chickens Shoals,” where they were meant to drop their simulated payloads. Then they’d turn north over Grand Bahamas Island, and finally fly northwest to return to base in Florida, completing a triangle-shaped route.
The first leg of the exercise over Hens and Chickens Shoals went according to plan, but shortly after, something odd began happening.
Flight 19 exercise was led by Lt. Charles C. Taylor, a veteran of the Pacific theater of World War II who had flown far more harrowing missions than a practice flight over the Bahamas. A little after 2:30 p.m., Taylor radioed base to report, “Both my compasses are out and I’m trying to find Ft. Lauderdale, Florida… I’m sure I’m in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down.”
Taylor was far from the first person to have strange equipment malfunctions in that particular section of ocean. About 450 years earlier, Christopher Columbus had been sailing through the same area and recorded that his crew was experiencing “erratic” compass readings.
Flight 19 Disappears
Back at Fort Lauderdale, U.S. Navy personnel were confusedly trying to locate Taylor and his crew. It didn’t make sense that they had somehow flown hundreds of miles off course in under an hour to find themselves over the keys. In the days before GPS, pilots had only their compasses and the sun to guide them. With his equipment malfunctioning, Taylor led Flight 19 in several different directions over the next four hours hoping to find Florida. As fuel ran dangerously low, Taylor radioed to his crew.
“We’ll have to ditch unless… landfall when the first plane drops below ten gallons, we all go down together.”
Then suddenly, the radio operators were picking up nothing but static.
A Navy Avenger of the type Taylor and his crew were piloting when they vanished
The Mysterious Bermuda Triangle
The Navy sent out two flying boats immediately to try and track Flight 19, one of which also quickly went off the radar and was never seen again. Over the next five days more than 300 Navy boats and aircraft tried to track down the lost planes, but Taylor and his men were never seen nor heard from again.
The name “Bermuda Triangle” was not actually coined until 1964 when Vincent Gaddis used it in a magazine called Argosy where he penned an article about Flight 19’s disappearance. The author laid out the mysterious area in which the planes had disappeared for his readers. “Draw a line from Florida to Bermuda,” he instructed, “another from Bermuda to Puerto Rico, and a third line back to Florida through the Bahamas.” Gaddis said that Taylor and his crew were far from the first people to have vanished in the triangle, claiming that in just 20 years the Bermuda Triangle had claimed over 1,000 lives.
There are hundreds of theories that try to explain the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle
Gaddis’ article about Flight 19 propelled the Bermuda Triangle legend to public attention. Hundreds of theories have since been proposed to explain the strange disappearance, the most outlandish ranging from alien abductions to a dangerous sea monster. Of course, many more mundane theories have also been proposed.
There has been a lot of air and sea traffic in the area since Columbus first sailed through it, which means there are far greater chances of accidents. One naval historian put it this way: “To say quite a few ships and airplanes have gone down there is like saying there are an awful lot of car accidents on the New Jersey Turnpike. Surprise, surprise.”
As for Flight 19, it has been speculated that the planes simply got lost and ran out of fuel. Although experienced, Taylor had just transferred to Fort Lauderdale and was therefore unfamiliar with the geography. It’s been theorized he mistook the Bahamas for the Florida Keys.
However, this theory, as well as the idea that more traffic naturally results in more mishaps, does not account for the bizarre element shared between Flight 19 and the other disappearances that Gaddis noted in his article. Whether downed by collision or clash, planes will leave behind some debris, but no trace of any of the vanished flights was ever found.