On the 75th anniversary of perhaps the most famous Bermuda Triangle disappearance, an Australian researcher debunks the myths and explains his own theory on why five US Navy torpedo bombers and a rescue plane disappeared in the triangle without a trace. Case closed or will we still be debating the Bermuda Triangle on the 100th anniversary?
"We should ask ourselves: if we don't know what caused something, or if something appears entirely mysterious, should we look for the answer in the paranormal."
Oh, boy. If you want to start a controversy, there’s a good place to start. Shane Satterley of Griffiths University in Queensland opened with that statement in his interview with 9 News about the 75th anniversary of the December 5, 1945, disappearance of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers collectively known as ‘Flight 19’ which took off from a Naval Air Station in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on a three-hour exercise (hum ‘Gilligan’s Island’ theme here) following an ironically triangular flight plan. The mission was led by Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor, an experienced pilot and WWII veteran.
“Both my compasses are out and I’m trying to find Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I’m over land, but it’s broken. I’m sure I’m in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down.”
Based on previous reports, the planes were not over land but still far out to sea. Non-mission pilots who picked up Taylor’s and other pilots’ broadcasts said later that he sounded confused and anxious. A PBM Mariner flying boat from a Ft. Lauderdale air station was sent to find them but vanished off of radar 20 minutes later and neither the plane nor the 13 crew members were ever found. Search parties of over 300 boats combed the Atlantic east of Florida but found no remains of Flight 19 either. The official government explanation said the disappearance was “cause unknown” and it became known as the Lost Patrol.
“However, when we take the time to learn more about these events and not jump to conclusions, they start to look much more ordinary.”
In the interview and an earlier article in The Conversation, Satterley lays out the critical thinking process that led him to an ordinary cause for the disappearances. On the disappearance of the search plane, Satterley points out that these were nicknamed “flying gas tanks” for their tendency to go down in flames, and that is what a passing merchant ship witnessed, along with the resulting oil slick. On the other hand, TBM Avengers were known to sink about 45 seconds after a water landing – which resulted in an ocean bottom landing that made finding them nearly impossible.
Then there was the coverup.
“Beyond the reported drinking, other rumors have surfaced about Taylor's behavior that day. One story holds that he was anxious to get home from the mission to go on a hot date, possibly with Jinx Falkenberg, a well-known actress of the day. Another rumor was that he had recently broken up with a girlfriend. He received a letter that same day with some kind of disturbing news.”
Besides the possibility that Taylor made a mistake and may have panicked, there were rumors of his drinking problems and women problems. All of this upset Katherine Taylor, his mother. Upset that her son was being blamed by both the Navy and the media (some things never change), she petitioned the Navy, which capitulated a year after its initial report and changed the reason for the disappearance to "for causes unknown." In a minor defense, Satterley points out that the other planes had inexperienced trainee crews who were little help in flying by instruments in that day’s bad weather.
"But if 1000 aircraft fly through the Bermuda Triangle and we can explain what happened to 990 of them, should we say the other 10 were supernatural cases? I don't think we should. All we can say is we don't know what happened for sure – and we should try to learn more."
Is the Bermuda Triangle supernatural or natural to logical thinkers like Shane Satterley but not to those with super imaginations? Can the same be said of other paranormal phenomena?
For now, on the 75th anniversary of the disappearance of Flight 19 in the Bermuda Triangle, Shane Satterley has opened a triangular can of worms.