Seventy-five years after the disappearance of five aircraft and their entire crews over the notorious Bermuda Triangle, an Australian researcher has thrown new light on the mystery.
On December 5, 1945, five US Navy torpedo bombers, known as Flight 19, took off from their Florida base on a routine training mission.
But within hours all the 14 crew members and their aircraft vanished after entering the Bermuda Triangle – an area of water spanning up to 4 million square kilometres and bordered by the US southeast coast, Bermuda and Puerto Rico.
A rescue plane sent to find them also disappeared with the loss of 13 men.
Some of the pilots reported their compasses not working and navigation near impossible as stormy weather rolled in.
In one of the last radio messages received, Lieutenant Charles Taylor, the flight commander, reported: “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.”
The mystery of Flight 19, or the “Lost Patrol” as it became known, and subsequent unexplained disappearances of planes and ships over the same body of water propelled the Bermuda Triangle into popular culture.
Some of the crew members of the US Navy aviation unit Flight 19 who went missing in December 1945. (Getty images)
“These stories captivated the public. Some people gave extraordinary explanations, claiming there was something paranormal or supernatural going on,” Australian researcher Shane Satterley told Nine.com.au.
Some of the wild speculation about the cause of the planes’ disappearance included UFOs and even an underwater city.
Conspiracy theorists over the following years were also fuelled by the official US Navy report that put the incident down to “cause unknown”.
But Mr Satterley, of Griffiths University in Queensland, said a level of critical thinking is needed to try and piece together what really happened to Flight 19.
“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.”
Mr Satterley said other factors are worth considering in looking for answers.
“The investigation found that as it got dark outside and the weather changed, Taylor had navigated the planes to the wrong location.
“Taylor also had a history of getting lost while flying. He had twice needed to be rescued in the Pacific Ocean.”
The Grumman Avenger torpedo bomber aircraft flown by Flight 19 were notorious for sinking in less than a minute when they were forced to make a sea landing.
“And once aircraft sink in the vast ocean, they are often never found again. This is true even today. For example, only a small amount of debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight, which disappeared in 2014, has been found.”
Another key factor was the inexperience of many of the pilots of Flight 19.
“Most of the pilots involved in the incident were trainees. This means they weren’t properly taught how to use all the aircraft instruments when flying at night, or in bad weather.”
Research has also shown that the number of ships and aircraft reported missing in the Bermuda Triangle is not much larger, proportionally speaking, than in any other part of the ocean, Mr Satterley said.
“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,” he said.