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The Biggest Mystery
The Lost Patrol

SEE ALSO: The Loss of Flight 19 & The Lost Patrol

Flight 19. The disappearance of Five Avenger Torpedo bombers.
The Myth.
On a clear day five Navy Avengers of flight 19 took off for a routine mission. The experienced crew had a route that would take them 160 miles east, 40 miles north and the 120 miles straight back to base. The planes were suppose to carry three man crews, but one crew member failed to show. Perhaps it was just coincidence, or was it premonition? The planes had done their required preflight test and every thing checked out in good working order. It was a routine two hour mission but the planes were still fully fueled. The planes had extensive radio equipment to include ten different radio channels and homing devices that would show them the way home. The first message that came from the patrol came in at 15:45: "Control tower this is an emergency. We seem to be off course. We seem to be lost. We can't make out where we are." The tower said "Head due west", but the flight did not know which way West was. "Everything looks wrong, even the ocean looks strange". The tower was puzzled; even if the compasses were not working, the crew should have been able to fly west by following the sun (which was several hours from setting). Finally around 16:25, the flight leader announced "We're not certain where we are. We must be 225 North east of base...it looks like we are..." and then silence. A Martin Mariner flight-boat with a crew of 13 took off to look for Flight 19. The Mariner sent several routine messages back to base before it, too, disappeared in the region where Flight 19 was thought to be. At 19:04, the last message from Flight 19 was received at base. It was only a faint message which repeated the letters "FT FT" , the call letters of Flight 19. The search for the planes continued for weeks, and even today the U.S. Navy has a standing order for crews to keep a look out for Flight 19. The military experts were completely baffled--how could 27 men and six planes just disappear? If the Avengers had run out of fuel, the planes would have floated long enough for the crews to get out and onto their rafts. The men were well-trained in sea survival. The official Navy report stated that the planes had vanished "as if they had flown to Mars"

The Truth:

Fact 1: Only the Patrol Leader, Lt . Charles Taylor was an instructor, and had only recently been transferred to the US Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale. The other pilots, and all but one of the crewmembers were udnergoing advanced training. They had varying degrees of experience flying and some were extremely familiar with the area.

This actually led to the students arguing with Taylor on the probable location of the flight. Taylor was not as sure of the area as some of the students. Fact 2: The patrol was to conduct a low-level bombing mission at Hens and Chickens Shoal, south of the Grand Bahamas. Some sources say Lt. Taylor tried to get out of doing the flight. Some believe he was hung over from a party the night before. No one else in the duty rotation felt like switching with him. This is more myth than fact. Taylor may have tried to get out of the flight, but it is extremely doubtful that he was ill and there is no strong evidence that he tried to get out of the flight.

Fact 3: Soon after taking off, Taylor's compass went out, but he decided to fly by "dead reckoning" and "Pilotage".

Fact 4: Taylor got screwed up because of his dead reckoning flying. It has been assumed he was not wearing a watch (something that has been assumed by many because he was always asking his crew what time it was). After several minutes of flying in circles, he saw a landmark that he thought he recognized. Taylor lived in the Florida Keys, and he mistakenly identified an island of the Bahamas as the island he lived on. He then issued an order for the flight to fly due north until they hit the mainland of Florida. It was getting late and the weather had been getting progressively worse. After about an hour of flying north and not hitting the mainland, Taylor issued an order to fly east. He assumed that they were now over the Gulf of Mexico.

Fact 5: Flight 19 was in continuous contact with Base throughout the flight, up to this time, and the tower was aware that Taylor was flying without a compass. They asked Taylor to switch over to the emergency radio channel, but Taylor refused because one of his planes had a faulty receiver and he was afraid that if he changed frequencies he would lose contact with the plane. The weather was now a major storm; visibility was poor. Taylor started to lose contact with the tower and would continue to be in and out of contact until he was presumed ditched in the sea.

Fact 6: Because of Taylor's refusal to switch to the emergency channel, Fort Lauderdale was picking up a lot of static on the channel. It was also hard for the other radio stations along the coast to get a good fix on Flight 19. If Taylor had switched to the emergency channel, a fix could have been made almost immediately.

Fact 7: It was raining: the weather was not clear and the sun could not aleways be seen.

Fact 8: A fix was made on the planes, which put them around three hundred miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. When Taylor had thought he was lost, he was actually on course. If one were to back-track Taylor's flight plan from the point where he thought he was lost, you will end up just South of the Bahamas, not the Florida Keys.

Fact 9: Several of the crew members were heard informing Taylor that if they headed West, they would hit Florida, however, because of their adherence to military discipline, they followed their leader.

Fact 10: Fort Lauderdale sent several messages to Flight 19. The flight was unable to receive the messages because of their distance from Lauderdale and all the interference from other radio traffic. If Taylor had switched to the emergency channel several other station could have contacted him. The other coastal stations did not have the frequencies necessary to contact Taylor's group.

Fact 11: The Mariner was not the only plane dispatched to search for Flight 19. It was the only one that blew up, almost on take off. The explosion of the Mariner was seen by several people in the area. Afterwards, an oil slick and debris were found. The Mariners was notorious for having fuel leaks and were known as "flying gas tanks"; it was seen exploding 23 minutes after take off, in the exact location where it's plotted course would have taken it.

Fact 12: Avengers may float for up to two minutes, if you're lucky, you make a perfect water landing, and the sea is calm. You might be able to get out of the plane if the sea is calm, you are uninjured from the crash (you don't land an Avenger like you would a sea-plane), and there is light. Ditching in the sea is dangerous even under ideal conditions. Flight 19 was flying in a rainstorm at night, over rough seas, with pilots who had no experience at ditching a plane; The pilots were recent transfers from the Army to the Navy. The planes would have sunk like rocks if they ran out of fuel and had to ditch. It is doubtful from the last few radio messages, that had the planes decided to ditch together, the individual crews would have been close enough to offer support to each other or rescue injured pilots.

Fact 13: It is common practice, upon the termination of any naval search, to conclude by stating that travelers in the area should remain on the alert. This order is never cancelled because it is part of termination orders. The Navy is not expecting to find Flight 19.

Fact 14: The planes had flown far enough out to sea to have placed them off of the Continental Shelf. They were no longer flying over the shallow Caribbean water, but over water thousands instead of hundreds of feet deep. It is difficult to find sunken debris in such deep water.

You decide. Is this a good story to tell around the campfire or this a mystery that remains unsolved?

The Loss of Flight 19
The Lost Patrol

*Note 1, Flight 19
Any comments on the nature of Taylor's Health that morning is pure speculation. Some people claim that if he was indeed sick then he could have simply reported to sick-bay and not flown that day. In almost every tale of tragedy such as this, you will have witnesses saying the victim had tried to get out of the mission because of some dark forboding. Such was the case of Flight 19. There is not definitive information in the official reports clearly saying Taylor had tried to get out of the flight.     Return

Note 2, Flight 19
One could also draw the conclusion that Taylor was doing time checks with other members of the Flight to insure the accuracy of his watch. It is not uncommon for pilots to perform time checks, especially in circumstances where accurate timing could mean life or death. In either case, one can assume that Taylor was making every effort to keep track of time, most likely because of the fuel situation and the mission's flight time. It has also been noted that Avengers did have clocks onboard. In either case, The smart money would be on Taylor performing time checks.     Return

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