Monday, 24 November 2014

Flight 19: The Lost Squadron - Part Two

At 4:26pm , Taylor radioed Port Everglades, stating that he had turned on his emergency IFF.  He asked if anyone in the area had a radar screen that could pick up the flight.  Two minutes later, Port Everglades suggested that another plane with a good compass should take over the lead, hoping that they might be able to guide the lost flight back to the mainland.  In later testimony, Port Everglades stated, 'We were able to pick up particles of messages between Flight Leader and other planes in the flight concerning their estimated position and compasses, however as best we could tell, due to poor reception, no other plane assumed the lead.'
Port Everglades in 1945

The military radio logs show that a tense atmosphere was already developing between the pilots after twenty-two minutes of flying northeast.  They expected to see the Florida coast by now, but land remained elusive.  This is proof that Flight 19 were nowhere near Florida Bay, let alone over it.  Taylor made the decision to turn his flight, taking a heading of 2° east, commenting, 'We are going too damn far north instead of east.  If there is anything we wouldn't see it!'  It appears Taylor assumed he was in the Gulf of Mexico.  At 4:30pm, the duty officer was notified of the difficulties that Flight 19 were facing.  He later said: 'I immediately went into operations and learned that the flight leader thought he was along the Florida Keys.  I then learned that the leader could not possibly have gone on more than one leg of his navigation problem and still gotten back to the Keys by 1600...  I notified ASBTU-4 to instruct FT-28 to fly 270° [west] and also fly towards sun.'  This was standard procedure for lost planes in the area and was drummed into the students from the beginning, as demonstrated by another pilots, presumed to be Powers, who commented: 'Dammit, if we would just head west we would get home!'
Note the location of the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys

At 4:31pm, Taylor radioed Port Everglades to tell them that, 'One of the other pilots in the flight thinks if we went 270° we could hit land.'  This recorded message demonstrates that other pilots within Flight 19 knew that west was the best direction for them to go, but later recorded conversations make it obvious that Taylor continued to question not only himself, but the rest of his squadron.

At 4:39pm, Port Everglades messaged Fort Lauderdale, stating, 'In as much as FT-74 (Cox) has run out of communications with FT-28 by proceeding south.  I think that this flight is lost somewhere over Bahama Bank and suggest that the Lauderdale Ready Plane be dispatched guarding 4805 Kcs on course 075° (east-northeast) and try to establish communication with FT-28.  And if the Ready Plane can pick up FT-28 better as he proceeds on this course we will be sure that the flight is lost over the Bahamas.  Ready Plane could also act as a relay on the frequency as it is becoming more difficult to pick up FT-28.'  This comment was a very sensible suggestion on Port Everglades part and if this action had been taken perhaps Flight 19 would have made it back safely. However, it appears no such action was taken, at least not in good time of the comment being made.

At 4:45pm Taylor radioed Port Everglades, telling them that the flight was now travelling 030° [north-northeast] for 45 minutes.  He then planned to fly north to make sure they were not over the Gulf of Mexico.  Meanwhile, Port Everglades asked Dinner Key, a seaplane base, whether they had been able to get a bearing on FT-28, with Dinner Key responding that they hadn't yet managed to get a fix on Flight 19 and advising that Taylor send continuously on 4805Kc as they were unable to pick up his IFF.  In his testimony Lieutenant Donald J. Poole, a flight officer at Fort Lauderdale, stated: Port Everglades had contact with FT-28, Lieutenant Taylor, at this time, 4:45pm, so I immediately notified them to instruct FT-28 to fly 270°, also to fly toward the sun.  I know this was transmitted because I listened over Operations radio.  I do not know that it was ever acknowledged.  Port Everglades also instructed FT-28 to change to 3000 kilocycles, Channel 1 (reserved for emergencies) but this was never done by FT-28.  I had a pilot in the ready plane warming up, but was hesitant about sending it out until I had some information as to where to send it.  Between 4:50pm and 5pm both Fort Lauderdale and Port Everglades tried desperately to get Taylor, or indeed anyone in the flight to turn on their ZBX, but there was no response.

Lieutenant Charles Taylor
At 5:07pm, Taylor turned his flight east, intending to stay on that course for ten minutes.  At 5:11pm a disagreement developed between Taylor and Powers, who had apparently decided to turn the flight without consulting Taylor, with Taylor protesting, 'You didn't get far enough east.  How long have we been going east?'  Minutes later, either Taylor or Powers were heard saying that they were now heading 270°, indicating that Powers had won the argument over which heading the flight should take.  At 5:16pm, Taylor confirmed, 'We will head 270° until we hit the beach or run out of gas.'

Fort Lauderdale phoned Port Everglades at 5:36pm, telling them that the ready plane would not be going out due to the prospect of bad weather and the encouraging information that FT-28 was going to 'fly west until they hit the beach.'  Cox, who had been planning to fly the ready plane, was disappointed and, to this day, is convinced that he knew where the flight had to be.  He was, however, denied the opportunity to test his theory for reasons of safety.  It was believed that a single-engine, single-piloted plane could not be risked on a flight into darkness over rough seas and into potential stormy weather.

Having changed their course, tension at Fort Lauderdale eased considerably as they assumed Flight 19 was in the Atlantic where a heading of 270° would bring them back to the coast.  However, despite the flight presumably heading closer to shore, the radio reception didn't seem to improve enough for the tower to determine what problems the flight was suffering.  At 5:20pm, Port Everglades attempted to radio Taylor, 'If you can change to Yellow Band (3000 Kc) please do so and give us a call.'  This message was attempted three times, with no response.  The inter-plane communication could be heard by Fort Lauderdale, although it was, at times, faint.

Left: Flight 19 crewman Bert Edward Baluk. Middle: Lt. Robert F. Cox, NASFL Senior Flight Instructor, who was on air communicating with Flight 19 until signal got weaker. Right: Flight 19 crewman Bob Harmon aka George Devlin, circa 1944
At 5:22pm Taylor was overheard telling his flight to take close formation.  'When first man gets down to 10 gallons of gas, we will all land in the water together.  Does everyone understand that?'  While this came over the radio clearly, attempts to direct the flight were hampered by exasperating blackouts.  Calls from the tower telling Taylor to change his frequency were responded to as, 'Say again?'; 'I can hear you very faintly.'; 'My transmission is getting weaker,' and so on.  In the testimony of Lieutenant Samuel M. Hines, the operations and tower operator at Fort Lauderdale: There was very much static on 4805 kilocycles from 4:10 and 5:30 at which time, in addition to the static, music from Cuban broadcasting stations interfered with reception.  The lost planes from 4:10 until 7:04pm alternately came in loud and clear and faded beyond audibility.  The receiver at Port Everglades was able to receive transmissions which Operations Radio did not hear and vice versa... Operations Radio [Fort Lauderdale] was unable to get a Roger on any message sent to the planes.  After half an hour of repeated calls for Taylor to switch to emergency frequency, he finally refused at 5:54pm: 'I cannot change frequency.  I must keep my planes intact.'  By this time it was completely dark.