One afternoon in December 1945, a team of five TBM Avengers — prop-driven torpedo bombers — took off from a naval base in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on the first leg of a routine two-hour training exercise that was supposed to take the planes no more than 150 miles (241 kilometers) away from the airstrip.
About an hour-and-a-half after takeoff, the control tower in Fort Lauderdale received a strange message from the team's flight leader, who sounded confused and worried: "Both my compasses are out and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Fla." More discussion followed between the tower, the lead pilot and the student pilots of the other planes as he tried to determine where they were.
When the planes didn't return, a PBM Mariner aircraft with a 13-man crew was dispatched to search for them. That plane never came back, either. The U.S. military then launched one of the largest searches in history, with hundreds of ships and aircraft scrutinizing more than 200,000 square miles (517,998 square kilometers) of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, but no trace of the planes was ever found.
Since then, the mystery of Flight 19 remains one of the most puzzling mysteries in the history of aviation, providing more fodder for paranormal enthusiasts who believe in the Bermuda Triangle. The reality is simpler, if more tragic. The instructor-pilot thought he was over the Florida Keys, when he was in fact over the Bahamas. He changed course several times, and the planes ran out of fuel and crashed [source: McDonell].