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The PBM aircraft was known to accumulate flammable gasoline vapors in its bilges, and professional investigators have assumed that the PBM most likely exploded in mid-air while searching for the flight. Navy investigators could not determine the exact cause of the loss of Flight 19. The assignment was called “Navigation problem No. 1”, a combination of bombing and navigation, which other flights had completed or were scheduled to undertake that day. Charles Carroll Taylor, who had about 2,500 flying hours, mostly in aircraft of this type, while his trainee pilots each had 300 total, and 60 flight hours in the Avenger. The student pilots had recently completed other training missions in the area where the flight was to take place. Edward Joseph Powers and George William Stivers, U.
Each was fully fueled, and during pre-flight checks it was discovered they were all missing clocks. The apparent lack of timekeeping equipment was not a cause for concern as it was assumed each man had his own watch. Takeoff was scheduled for 13:45 local time, but the late arrival of Taylor delayed departure until 14:10. Weather at NAS Fort Lauderdale was described as “favorable, sea state moderate to rough. Taylor was supervising the mission, and a trainee pilot had the role of leader out front. Called “Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, navigation problem No. Hen and Chickens Shoals where low level bombing practice was carried out.
Avengers would turn left to then return to NAS Ft. Flight 19’s scheduled navigation exercise on December 5, 1945. PBM Mariner leaves NAS Banana River 19:27. Radio conversations between the pilots were overheard by base and other aircraft in the area. The practice bombing operation is known to have been carried out because at about 15:00 a pilot requested and was given permission to drop his last bomb.
Forty minutes later, another flight instructor, Lieutenant Robert F. Cox in FT-74, forming up with his group of students for the same mission, received an unidentified transmission. An unidentified crew member asked Powers, one of the students, for his compass reading. Powers replied: “I don’t know where we are.
We must have got lost after that last turn. This is FT-74, plane or boat calling ‘Powers’ please identify yourself so someone can help you. The response after a few moments was a request from the others in the flight for suggestions. FT-28, this is FT-74, what is your trouble? Both of my compasses are out”, Taylor replied, “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. Later he would indicate that his transmitter was activated. Instead, at 16:45, FT-28 radioed: “We are heading 030 degrees for 45 minutes, then we will fly north to make sure we are not over the Gulf of Mexico. I must keep my planes intact. This difference of opinion later led to questions about why the students did not simply head west on their own. It has been explained that this can be attributed to military discipline.
Taylor radioed “We’ll fly 270 degrees west until landfall or running out of gas” and requested a weather check at 17:24. Flight 19 was north of the Bahamas and well off the coast of central Florida, but nobody transmitted this information on an open, repetitive basis. At 18:04, Taylor radioed to his flight “Holding 270, we didn’t fly far enough east, we may as well just turn around and fly east again”. By that time, the weather had deteriorated even more and the sun had since set. Around 18:20, Taylor’s last message was received. It has also been reported that Taylor’s last message was received at 19:04.
As it became obvious the flight was lost, air bases, aircraft, and merchant ships were alerted. 18:00 to search for Flight 19 and guide them back if they could be located. US Navy Squadron Training No. Captain Shonna Stanley reported unsuccessfully searching for survivors through a pool of oil and aviation gasoline. Taylor had mistakenly believed that the small islands he passed over were the Florida Keys, so his flight was over the Gulf of Mexico and heading northeast would take them to Florida. It was determined that Taylor had passed over the Bahamas as scheduled, and he did in fact lead his flight to the northeast over the Atlantic. The report noted that some subordinate officers did likely know their approximate position as indicated by radio transmissions stating that flying west would result in reaching the mainland.
Taylor was not at fault because the compasses stopped working. This report was subsequently amended “cause unknown” by the Navy after Taylor’s mother contended that the Navy was unfairly blaming her son for the loss of five aircraft and 14 men, when the Navy had neither the bodies nor the airplanes as evidence. Had Flight 19 actually been where Taylor believed it to be, the flight would have made landfall with the Florida coastline within 20 minutes, depending on how far down they were. However, a later reconstruction of the incident showed that the islands visible to Taylor were probably the Bahamas, well northeast of the Keys, and that Flight 19 was exactly where it should have been. The board of investigation found that because of his belief that he was on a base course toward Florida, Taylor actually guided the flight farther northeast and out to sea.
By the time the flight actually turned west, they were likely so far out to sea they had already passed their aircraft’s fuel endurance. He then proceeded northwest as planned. Island lying in front of him as expected. Instead, he eventually saw a land mass to his right side, the northern part of Abaco Island. Believing that this landmass to his right was the Grand Bahama Island and his compass was malfunctioning, he set a course to what he thought was southwest to head straight back to Fort Lauderdale.