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Flashback: The Lost Patrol at 50

This story originally appeared on Dec. 5, 1995.

The whispering about what really happened to the Lost Patrol got its start 50 years ago today, when five Navy training planes disappeared after a routine flight out of Fort Lauderdale's Naval Air Station.

Back then, the speculation was downright unimaginative compared with today's flights of fancy about the Devil's Triangle spiriting away the 14 men on Flight 19.

The search party wondered how flight leader Charles Taylor could have gotten lost despite the radar, homing devices and two kinds of compasses on the bombers, remembers John Evans, a Navy crash photographer at the time.

Was Taylor hung over? Confused because he was new to the route? Thrown off course by strong winds?

The men knew from radio transmissions that Taylor, on his first flight after transferring up from Miami, mistook the Bahamas for the Florida Keys and became so disoriented he ignored his instruments.

"None of us could believe it, " said Evans, now a Fort Lauderdale architect. "We couldn't understand for a moment how you could just get lost."

The tragedy was compounded when a seaplane sent up to search for the crew exploded, killing all 13 men aboard that night.

Today, about 400 men and women who served with the Lost Patrol at the Naval Air Station will be at a reunion and memorial service for Flight 19 and the rest of the 84 men lost at the station during World War II. The annual memorial to the patrol grew out of the Naval Air Station-Fort Lauderdale Historical Association's efforts to save the station buildings on the airport grounds for a museum.

The service starts at 2 p.m. under the tower at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and will feature a short parade and a replica of one of the bombers.

"Our main purpose is to remember all those who didn't make it back, " said association president Allan McElhiney. "That's why we do this. So the history of the place won't get lost."

McElhiney doesn't think there's anything supernatural behind the mystery of the Lost Patrol. He said research shows that Taylor was probably confused when strong winds blew Flight 19 off course.

But facts have never stopped the stories swirling around the episode. Rescuers wondered why they couldn't find a trace of debris despite four days of searching. A rumor went around the base that Taylor had been drunk, but a search of the chits at the officers' club turned up no evidence that he'd even been there the night before, Evans said.

Then, in the late 1960s, the tall tales started getting downright weird in much the same way that conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination kept sprouting up, Evans said.

The disappearance was lumped in with other mysteries in the area to fuel the myth of the Bermuda Triangle and a cottage industry of books and B-movies was born. Theories about everything from UFO abductions to unusual magnetic fields to the interference of the devil and other supernatural forces earned a permanent spot in popular culture.

"All these crazy things just keep coming up because it is a mystery, " said Evans, a sailor who has navigated the triangle many times and scoffs at the stories. "I think they're pretty foolish."


No one can say whether the Lost Squadron disappeared into outer space. But they definitely can be found in cyberspace.

An Internet World Wide Web page dedicated to the myths and legends of the Bermuda Triangle has a lengthy article with facts and fiction about the fate of Flight 19.