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Rafterman

The Riddle of Flight 19

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This week's Skeptoid focuses in on the disappearance of US Navy Flight 19 off the east coast of Florida in 1945. The story has long been viewed with fascination by both the UFO and Bermuda Triangle communities.

As seems to be the case in a lot of supernatural stories, much of the "evidence" that is commonly accepted as part of the narrative is dubious if not outright fictitious. In the case of flight 19, much of what we think we know about the case comes from Charles Berlitz's 1980 book The Bermuda Triangle. As a subsequent author discovered, however, a good deal of the more supernatural aspects of the story were simply made up by Berlitz. These would be the reports of unexplained equipment failures and strange weather anomalies often pointed to as evidence of alien or supernatural forces at work.

When it comes right down to it, it seems like a pretty straight forward case of navigational and pilot error on the part of Lt. Taylor. As Mr. Dunning concludes in his podcast:

But more importantly, Kusche looked into who Charles Taylor was. He was an experienced but not particularly talented pilot, only 28 years old, with a history of irresponsible blunders. During combat in the Pacific, Taylor had gotten lost twice before, and had to ditch planes both times. On this particular day, he didn't show up to the base until 25 minutes after they were supposed to take off, giving no explanation, and then asked if someone else could take his place. The request was denied. Kusche also determined that Taylor had not even brought a watch or basic navigational equipment such as a plotting board with him on Flight 19. Taylor was unprepared, unprofessional, and had a history of getting lost and ditching planes at sea.

Such a career as his finally caught up with him. He may have survived the Japanese bullets in the Pacific, but he ultimately did not survive his own tendency toward human error. Flight 19 was not a warning about UFOs or mysterious underwater forces, but simply a reminder of our own human fallibility.

The 12 minute podcast and transcript is available at the following link:

http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4417

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Posted (edited)

what about static electricity in the air? lightning storms?

Edited by Yes_Man

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I've only read about and seen TV shows about this case, so I suppose that doesn't realistically qualify me as an expert. My main conclusion about the whole matter is how incredibly sad and ironic it was. Other than this, I can't make any kind of intelligent connection between Flight 19's disappearance and UFOs or the Bermuda Triangle. I base this on the lengthy radio contact between the flight and the base, which indicates that the flight were simply but hopelessly lost.

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That business about seeing islands and assuming they were the Florida Keys is a classic mistake when navigating visually: the rule is, you go from the map to the ground, not the ground to the map, because whatever you see on the ground you'll find something like it on the map - and it will probably be far from your true location. Whereas, if you go from the map to the ground ("If we're here, then there should be an island shaped like a duck over there") you're a lot less likely to get lost.

I was, incidentally, a USAF navigator back in the day. For a guy with 2500 hours total time, the pilot in command was shockingly inept.

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The story sure is fun but there is nothing remarkable about flight 19 or the area(s) called the Bermuda Triangle. Pilots trained for that particular aircraft (Gruman TBM Avenger) in that location and many planes were lost in the process. Searches for the planes from flight 19 have turned up several others of the same type in that general area so losses were certainly not unheard of.

As for the triangle itself, there is no agreement as to the boundaries of the area. It varies wildly from author to author. The most important thing to know about it is, it is one of the busiest transportation routes in the world. Every commercial flight to Bermuda, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico passes through some version of the triangle. This happens many times every day. OK, then there are the ships. Thousands of vessels traverse the area every day. Pleasure craft, cruise ships, naval ships, and freighters use those waters routinely. Commercial ships carry specialized insurance policies that cover the ship, crew, cargo, and liability for all. The loss of a commercial vessel is a big deal and anything that would increase the risk of loss is of great concern to the insurance carriers. Insurance companies have armies of actuaries who study statistics. Their work helps the company better tune risk management. If there was any statistically significant additional risk to traversing that area, it would certainly be known to them. Vessels would either be insured specifically for that route or would be required to route around it.

The fact of the matter is, there is no greater risk of loss in that area than any other area of open sea in the world.

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what about static electricity in the air? lightning storms?

Neither of which should be a problem to a plane in flight as there's no way for the electricity to "ground" - planes get struck by lightning all the time and are fine.

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Posted (edited)

what about static electricity in the air? lightning storms?

There is nearly always some static electricity in the air. When it builds up to sufficient levels it discharges as lightning. In any event, planes are designed to operate in charged conditions.

Edited by sinewave

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I've seen theories that they ended up over the swamps in Georga and went down there. This seems the most logical to me, it would explane the lack of wrecage.

Tim in Marion

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This would not be the first time that I have read about little faith in Taylors abilities, and him being the most likely cause.

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Pilot in command error, and the rest of the flight followed suit it would appear. These things happen with aircraft, and ships as well.

1982 Thunderbirds crash involving 4 aircraft http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1982_Thunderbirds_Indian_Springs_Diamond_Crash

1923 Honda point tragedy involving 7 US Navy Destroyers http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/ev-1920s/ev-1923/hondapt.htm

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