At about 2:10 p.m. on the afternoon of 5 December 1945, Flight 19, consisting of five TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers (manufactured by the Eastern Aircraft under license from Grumman) 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.
The Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command, holds a copy of the report from the Board of Investigation convened at NAS Miami to inquire into the loss of the 5 TBM Avengers in Flight 19 and the PBM aircraft. The copy is on microfilm reel, NRS 1983-37. The original document is held by the National Archives.
Additional Information: Kusche, Larry. The Disappearance of Flight 19. New York: Harper & Row, 1980.