five avengers lost on December 5th, 1945 are sometimes known
as "The Lost Squadron." (Copyright
Lee Krystek, 2011)
The Bermuda Triangle (sometimes also referred to
as the Devil's Triangle) is a stretch of the Atlantic Ocean bordered
by a line from Florida to the islands of Bermuda, to Puerto Rico
and then back to Florida. It is one of the biggest mysteries of
our time - that perhaps isn't really a mystery.
The term "Bermuda Triangle" was first used in an
article written by Vincent H. Gaddis for Argosy magazine
in 1964. In the article, Gaddis claimed that in this strange sea
a number of ships and planes had disappeared without explanation.
Gaddis wasn't the first one to come to this conclusion, either.
As early as 1952, George X. Sands, in a report in Fate magazine,
noted what seemed like an unusually large number of strange accidents
in that region.
In 1969 John Wallace Spencer wrote a book called
Limbo of the Lost specifically about the Triangle and,
two years later, a feature documentary on the subject, The
Devil's Triangle, was released. These, along with the bestseller
The Bermuda Triangle, published in 1974, permanently registered
the legend of the "Hoodoo Sea" within popular culture.
Why do ships and planes seem to go missing in the
region? Some authors suggested it may be due to a strange magnetic
anomaly that affects compass readings (in fact they claim Columbus
noted this when he sailed through the area in 1492). Others theorize
that methane eruptions from the ocean floor may suddenly be turning
the sea into a froth that can't support a ship's weight so it
sinks (though there is no evidence of this type of thing happening
in the Triangle for the past 15,000 years). Several books have
gone as far as conjecturing that the disappearances are due to
an intelligent, technologically advanced race living in space
or under the sea.
In 1975 Larry Kusche, a librarian at Arizona State
University, reached a totally different conclusion. Kusche decided
to investigate the claims made by these articles and books. What
he found he published in his own book entitled The Bermuda
Triangle Mystery-Solved. Kusche had carefully dug into records
other writers had neglected. He found that many of the strange
accidents were not so strange after all. Often a Triangle writer
had noted a ship or plane had disappeared in "calms seas" when
the record showed a raging storm had been in progress. Others
said ships had "mysteriously vanished" when their remains had
actually been found and the cause of their sinking explained.
In one case a ship listed missing in the Triangle actually had
disappeared in the Pacific Ocean some 3,000 miles away! The author
had confused the name of the Pacific port the ship had left with
a city of the same name on the Atlantic coast.
More significantly, a check of Lloyd's of London's
accident records by the editor of Fate in 1975 showed that the
Trianglewas no more dangerous than any other part of the ocean.
U.S. Coast Guard records confirmed this and since that time no
good arguments have ever been made to refute those statistics.
So many argue that the Bermuda Triangle mystery has disappeared,
in the same way many of its supposed victims vanished.
Even though the Bermuda Triangle isn't a true mystery,
this region of the sea certainly has had its share of marine tragedy.
This region is one of the heaviest traveled areas of ocean in
the world. Both small boats and commercial ships ply its waters
along with airliners, military aircraft and private planes as
they come to and from both the islands and more distant ports
in Europe, South America and Africa. The weather in this region
can make traveling hazardous also. The summer brings hurricanes
while the warm waters of the Gulf Stream promote sudden storms.
With this much activity in a relatively small region it isn't
surprising that a large number of accidents occur. Some of the
ones commonly connected to the Triangle story are:
The USS Cyclops Sinking
One of the first stories connected to the Triangle
legend and the most famous ship lost in the region was the USS
Cyclops which disappeared in 1918. The 542 foot long Cyclops
was launched in 1910 and served as a collier ( a ship that carries
coal) for the U.S. Navy during World War I. The vessel was on
its way from Bahia, Salvador, to Baltimore, Maryland, but never
arrived. After it had made an unscheduled stop at Barbados on
March 3rd and 4th to take on additional supplies, it disappeared
without a trace. No wreckage from the ship was ever found and
no distress signal was received. The deaths of the 306 crew and
passengers of the USS Cyclops remains the single largest
loss of life in U.S. Naval history not directly involving combat.
USS Cyclops in a 1911 photograph. (USN
While the sinking of the Cyclops remains
a mystery, the incident could have happened anywhere between Barbados
and Baltimore, not necessarily in the Bermuda Triangle. Proponents
of the Bermuda Triangle theory point to the lack of a distress
call as evidence of a paranormal end for the vessel, but the truth
is that wireless communications in 1918 were unreliable and it
would not have been unusual for a rapidly-sinking vessel to not
have had a chance to send a successful distress call before going
SS Marine Sulphur Queen Vanishes
The SS Marine Sulphur Queen, a tanker ship
carrying molten sulphur, disappeared off the southern coast of
Florida in 1963. The crew of 39 was all lost and no wreckage from
the tanker was ever found. While the disappearance of the ship
is mentioned in several books about the Triangle, authors don't
always include that the Coast Guard concluded that the vessel
was in deplorable shape and should have never gone to sea at all.
Fires erupted with regularity on the ship. Also, this class of
vessel was known to have a "weak back", which means the keel would
split when weakened by corrosion causing the ship to break in
two. The ship's structure had been further compromised by a conversion
from its original mission as an oil tanker to carrying molten
sulphur. The conversion had left the vessel with an extremely
high center of gravity, increasing the chance that it would capsize.
The SS Marine Sulphur Queen was all-in-all a disaster waiting
to happen and it seems unfair to blame its demise on the Bermuda
Douglas DC-3 airliner of the same type as NC16002 (Wikipedia
The Disappearance of NC16002
NC16002 was a DC-3 passenger plane that vanished
on the night of December 28, 1948, during a flight from San Juan,
Puerto Rico, to Miami, Florida. The weather was fine with high
visibility and the flight was, according to the pilot, within
50 miles of Miami when it disappeared with its three crew members
and twenty-nine passengers. Though no probable cause for the loss
was determined by the official investigation, it is known that
the plane's batteries were not fully charged on takeoff and this
may have interfered with communications during the flight. A message
from Miami to the plane that the direction of the wind had changed
may have not been received by the pilot, causing him to fly up
to fifty miles off course.
The Fate of Flight 19
The tale of Flight 19 started on December 5th,
1945. Five Avenger torpedo bombers lifted into the air from the
Naval Air Station at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 2:10 in the
afternoon. It was a routine practice mission and the flight was
composed of all students except for the Commander, a Lt. Charles
The mission called for Taylor and his group of 13
men to fly due east 56 miles to Hens and Chicken Shoals to conduct
practice bombing runs. When they had completed that objective,
the flight plan called for them to fly an additional 67 miles
east, and then turn north for 73 miles and finally straight back
to base, a distance of 120 miles. This course would take them
on a triangular path over the sea.
The Fate of Flight 19
About an hour and a half after the flight had left,
Lt. Robert Cox at the base picked up a radio transmission from
Taylor. Taylor indicated that his compasses were not working,
but he believed himself to be somewhere over the Florida Keys
(the Keys are a long chain of islands south of the Florida mainland).
Cox urged him to fly north toward Miami; if Taylor was sure the
flight was over the Keys.
Planes today have a number of ways that they can
check their current position including listening to a set of GPS
(Global Positioning Satellites) in orbit around the earth. It
is almost impossible for a pilot to get lost if he has the right
equipment and uses it properly. In 1945, though, planes flying
over water had to depend on knowing their starting point, how
long and fast they had flown, and in what direction. If a pilot
made a mistake with any of these figures, he was lost. Over the
ocean there were no landmarks to set him right.
Apparently Taylor had become confused at some point
in the flight. He was an experienced pilot, but hadn't spent a
lot of time flying east toward the Bahamas which was where he
was going on that day. For some reason Taylor apparently thought
the flight had started out in the wrong direction and had headed
south toward the Keys, instead of east. This thought was to color
his decisions throughout the rest of the flight with deadly results.
The more Taylor took his flight north to try to
get out of the Keys, the further out to sea the Avengers actually
traveled. As time went on, snatches of transmissions were picked
up on the mainland indicating the other Flight 19 pilots were
trying to get Taylor to change course. "If we would just fly west,"
one student told another, "we would get home." He was right
By 4:45 P.M. it was obvious to the people on the
ground that Taylor was hopelessly lost. He was urged to turn control
of the flight over to one of his students, but apparently he didn't.
As it grew dark, communications deteriorated. From the few words
that did get through it was apparent Taylor was still flying north
and east, the wrong direction.
At 5:50 P.M. the ComGulf Sea Frontier Evaluation
Center managed get a fix on Flight 19's weakening signals. It
was apparently east of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. By then communications
were so poor that this information could not be passed to the
At 6:20 a Dumbo flying boat was dispatched to try
and find Flight 19 and guide it back. Within the hour two more
planes, Martin Mariners, joined the search. Hope was rapidly fading
for Flight 19 by then. The weather was getting rough and the Avengers
were very low on fuel.
Two Martin Mariners were supposed to rendezvous
at the search zone. The second one, designated Training 49, never
showed up, joining the 5 Avengers as "missing."
The last transmission from Flight 19 was heard
at 7:04 P.M. Planes searched the area through the night and the
next day. There was no sign of the Avengers.
Nor did the authorities really expect to find much.
The Avengers, crashing when their fuel was exhausted, would have
been sent to the bottom in seconds by the 50 foot waves of the
storm. As one of Taylor's colleagues noted, "...they didn't call
those planes 'Iron Birds' for nothing. They weighed 14,000 pounds
empty. So when they ditched, they went down pretty fast."
Mariner similar to Training 49 (USN Photo)
What happened to the missing Martin Mariner? Well,
the crew of the SS Gaines Mill observed an explosion over
the water shortly after the Mariner had taken off. They headed
toward the site and there they saw what looked like oil and airplane
debris floating on the surface. None of it was recovered because
of the bad weather, but there seems little doubt this was the
remains of the Mariner. The plane had a reputation as being a
"flying bomb" which would burst into flame from even a single,
small spark. Speculation is that one of 22 men on board, unaware
that the unpressurized cabin contained gas fumes, lit a cigarette,
causing the explosion.
Missing Avengers become the Triangle's "Lost
So how did this tragedy turn into a Bermuda Triangle
mystery? The Navy's original investigation concluded the accident
had been caused by Taylor's navigational confusion. According
to those that knew him he was a good pilot, but often navigated
"flying by the seat of his pants" and had gotten lost in the past.
Taylor's mother refused to accept that and finally got the Navy
to change the report to read that the disaster was for "causes
or reasons unknown." This may have spared the woman's feelings,
but blurred the actual facts.
The saga of Flight 19 is probably the most repeated
story about the Bermuda Triangle. Vincent Gaddis put the tale
into the same Argosy magazine article where he coined the
term "Bermuda Triangle" in 1964 and thetwo have been connected
ever since. The planes and their pilots even found their way into
the science fiction film classic, Close Encounters of the Third
Where is Flight 19 now? Well, in 1991 five Avengers
were found in 750 feet of water off the coast of Florida by the
salvage ship Deep Sea. Examination of the plane's ID numbers,
however, showed that they were not from Flight 19 (as many as
139 Avengers were thought to have gone into the water off the
coast of Florida during the war). It seems the final resting place
of the lost squadron and their crews is still a real Bermuda Triangle
sister tanker to SS Marine Sulphur Queen which
suffered a failure of the keel and split in two.