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Mystery of History: What Happened to the ‘Lost Patrol’ in the Bermuda Triangle 77 Years Ago?

© AP PhotoGeneral Motors Avenger torpedo bombers of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet roar over the Vietnam coast en route to Saigon on Feb. 8, 1945. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy)
General Motors Avenger torpedo bombers of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet roar over the Vietnam coast en route to Saigon on Feb. 8, 1945. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.12.2022
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On December 5, 1945, a group of American strike aircraft on patrol off the Atlantic coast disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The US Navy has never reported evidence of their fate, but that hasn’t stopped a legion of theorists from spinning up tales about what might’ve happened.
The mystery is just one of many to occur in a stretch of Atlantic Ocean reaching from the Florida Coast southeast to Puerto Rico and north to Bermuda, known colloquially as the Bermuda Triangle.
Here’s what we do know about the Lost Patrol:
On December 5, 1945, a group of 5 TBM Avenger torpedo bombers took off from US Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, on the Florida coast, for a drill that would test both their dive-bombing skills and their dead reckoning, or the approximation of one’s position in the absence of timekeeping or other navigational devices.
The weather forecast that day was described as "favorable, sea state moderate to rough."
The group was named “Flight 19,” and was supposed to fly east for about 56 nautical miles, simulate a strike on a group of isolated rocks in the Bahamas, continue to a point further east, then loop north, west, and back to base at NAS Fort Lauderdale. It should have been about a three-hour mission.
The simulated bombing run took place, and the aircraft became lost after their bombs were dropped, according to radio transcripts of the event.

'I Don't Know Where We Are'

However, things didn’t go as planned after that. The flight leader, Lt. Charles C. Taylor, reported that his compass wasn’t working, and he erroneously believed he was over the Florida Keys, a group of islands over 150 miles to the southwest of where the rock targets were located.
Mushrooms of smoke and flame billow out from the giant USS Nevada as the battleship provides artillery support for Allied ground forces in France by hammering enemy installations from her vantage point in the English Channel, June 6, 1944. - Sputnik International, 1920, 12.05.2020
Photos: Wreckage of World War II US Battleship Found Near Pearl Harbor
"I don't know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn,” Taylor told air traffic control at Fort Lauderdale.
"Both of my compasses are out", he said, "and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land but it's 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."
"We are heading 030 degrees for 45 minutes, then we will fly north to make sure we are not over the Gulf of Mexico,” Taylor said. He later ordered his fellow pilots to assume a course heading 090 degrees, or due east.
Over the next two hours, the aircraft went back and forth, east, then west, then east again. Taylor’s last message, transmitted five hours after takeoff, was this: "All planes close up tight ... we'll have to ditch unless landfall ... when the first plane drops below 10 gallons [of fuel in the tank], we all go down together."
© US Coast GuardA U.S. Coast Guard Martin PBM-3G or PBM-5G Mariner taking off from the water
A U.S. Coast Guard Martin PBM-3G or PBM-5G Mariner taking off from the water - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.12.2022
A U.S. Coast Guard Martin PBM-3G or PBM-5G Mariner taking off from the water

Second Disaster

As it became apparent the planes were lost, the Navy organized search patrols from nearby bases, and called in merchant marine ships to help.
However, during the search, a second tragedy struck: one of the PBM Mariner flying boats mysteriously exploded in mid-air just three minutes after takeoff from what was at the time called NAS Banana River, now known as Patrick Space Force Base, due north of Fort Lauderdale.
Unlike the Avengers of Flight 19, the wreckage of the Mariner flying boat was found, in the form of an oil slick. However, like the lost patrol, the crew were all lost, meaning a total of 27 men died in the incident: 14 on board the five Avengers, and 13 on the Mariner flying boat.
US Navy investigations failed to find the cause of the crashes or their wreckage, but concluded that faulty equipment was to blame and not mistakes by Lt. Taylor. Its official reason for being lost is “cause unknown.”

Mysterious Waterway

However, to add to the mystery, the wreckage of several other Avenger bombers have been found off the Florida coast since that time, but none of them bore the tail numbers of the five Flight 19 aircraft.
CC0 / / Bermuda Triangle
Bermuda Triangle - Sputnik International, 1920, 05.12.2022
Bermuda Triangle
Many other ships and aircraft have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle over the years as well, as has evidence of their wrecking, leading to the waterway developing a reputation as a site of paranormal activity.
However, there are a couple of explanations suggested for the disappearances, stemming from perfectly normal causes here on Planet Earth, including that it is common for hurricanes and other storms to traverse the Bermuda Triangle; the Gulf Stream passes through the area; and the western part of the Sargasso Sea, a gyre choked with sargassum seaweed, extends across part of the Triangle, which may have whisked away any wreckage from crashes.
Critics have also pointed out that the number of mysterious losses in the Bermuda Triangle is no higher than any other comparably-sized stretch of sea, and have accused some writers of sensationalizing or even making up stories about disappearances there in an effort to cultivate an unjustified aura of mystery.
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