Prepared by the Operational Archives Branch,
Naval Historical Center
At about 2:10 p.m. on the
afternoon of 5 December 1945, Flight 19, consisting of five TBM Avenger
Torpedo Bombers departed from the U. S. Naval Air Station, Fort
Lauderdale, Florida, on an authorized advanced overwater navigational
training flight. They were to execute navigation problem No. 1, which is
as follows: (1) depart 26 degrees 03 minutes north and 80 degrees 07
minutes west and fly 091 degrees (T) distance 56 miles to Hen and
Chickens Shoals to conduct low level bombing, after bombing continue on
course 091 degrees (T) for 67 miles, (2) fly course 346 degrees (T)
distance 73 miles and (3) fly course 241 degrees (T) distance 120 miles,
then returning to U. S. Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In charge of the flight was a senior qualified flight instructor,
piloting one of the planes. The other planes were piloted by qualified
pilots with between 350 and 400 hours flight time of which at least 55
was in TBM type aircraft. The weather over the area covered by the track
of the navigational problem consisted of scattered rain showers with a
ceiling of 2500 feet within the showers and unlimited outside the
showers, visibility of 6-8 miles in the showers, 10-12 otherwise.
Surface winds were 20 knots with gusts to 31 knots. The sea was moderate
to rough. The general weather conditions were considered average for
training flights of this nature except within showers.
A radio message intercepted at about 4 p.m. was the first indication
that Flight 19 was lost. This message, believed to be between the leader
on Flight 19 and another pilot in the same flight, indicated that the
instructor was uncertain of his position and the direction of the
Florida coast. The aircraft also were experiencing malfunction of their
compasses. Attempts to establish communications on the training
frequency were unsatisfactory due to interference from Cuba broadcasting
stations, static, and atmospheric conditions. All radio contact was lost
before the exact nature of the trouble or the location of the flight
could be determined. Indications are that the flight became lost
somewhere east of the Florida peninsula and was unable to determine a
course to return to their base. The flight was never heard from again
and no trace of the planes were ever found. It is assumed that they made
forced landings at sea, in darkness somewhere east of the Florida
peninsula, possibly after running out of gas. It is known that the fuel
carried by the aircraft would have been completely exhausted by 8 p.m.
The sea in that presumed area was rough and unfavorable for a water
landing. It is also possible that some unexpected and unforeseen
development of weather conditions may have intervened although there is
no evidence of freak storms in the area at the time.
All available facilities in the immediate area were used in an effort to
locate the missing aircraft and help them return to base. These efforts
were not successful. No trace of the aircraft was ever found even though
an extensive search operation was conducted until the evening of 10
December 1945, when weather conditions deteriorated to the point where
further efforts became unduly hazardous. Sufficient aircraft and surface
vessels were utilized to satisfactorily cover those areas in which
survivors of Flight 19 could be presumed to be located.
One search aircraft was lost during the operation. A PBM patrol plane
which was launched at approximately 7:30 p.m., 5 December 1945, to
search for the missing TBM's. This aircraft was never seen nor heard
from after take-off. Based upon a report from a merchant ship off Fort
Lauderdale which sighted a "burst of flame, apparently an
explosion, and passed through on oil slick at a time and place which
matched the presumed location of the PBM, it is believed this aircraft
exploded at sea and sank at approximately 28.59 N; 80.25 W. No trace of
the plane or its crew was ever found.
For Additional Information: Kusche, Larry. The Disappearance
of Flight 19. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.
4 March 1998