Experts say planes off Fla. aren't the Lost Squadron


MIAMI -- The Lost Squadron is still lost.

And the Bermuda Triangle, the mythical, offshore twilight zone of UFOs and door to a parallel world, has survived another scientific attempt to prove it doesn't exist.

Five Avenger airplanes discovered in the ocean 10 miles northeast of Fort Lauderdale last month do not belong to Flight 19, the famous Navy squadron that vanished mysteriously off Florida's coast Dec. 5, 1945, deep-sea explorers announced yesterday.

"We are in the unenviable position of telling you that we're now quite certain that the five aircraft we found are not those of Flight 19, but in fact are five other aircraft," said Graham Hawkes, skipper of the exploration vessel Deep See. The numbers and markings on the five aircraft differ from those of the legendary Lost Squadron. The newly discovered planes probably crashed in the early 1940s during low-altitude practice torpedo missions, salvors and archaeologists speculated.

"For those who really want to weave a mystery: Instead of one group of five Avengers down in the Bermuda Triangle, we've now given you two," Mr. Hawkes said, "which can only be a good thing, if you like that sort of stuff."

The irony that they had found the same type of planes of Flight 19 and one of the same aircraft numbers from the flight confounded the explorers.

"It's like a cruel joke," said Robert Cervoni, managing director of Scientific Search Project of New York, which invested about $50,000 in the find.

Using advanced sonar instruments and underwater video cameras, the Deep See stumbled upon the five World War II-era planes May 8 while searching the Atlantic waters for a Spanish galleon.

The discovery of five Avengers clustered within 1.2 miles so close to shore triggered speculation that the salvors might have found Flight 19, a feat that an enormous 1945 rescue mission covering 250,000 square miles failed to accomplish.

The salvors were cautiously optimistic: The Navy had no records of five planes being ditched together in the Atlantic except Flight 19.

However, closer underwater searches last week showed that numbers on the planes' wingspans and fuselages did not match those from the Lost Squadron.

The numbers FT-120 and FT-87 were found on two planes. The number 241 was found on a third plane. None of those numbers matched those of the Lost Squadron.

A squadron tail number, 28, that was clearly visible fueled much of the original optimism. Flight 19's lead pilot's plane was FT-28.

However, at least 139 Avengers were lost off the coast of Florida, and the Navy often reused numbers from lost planes. "It's possible the plane didn't even originate from Fort Lauderdale," Mr. Hawkes said.

For nearly 50 years, Flight 19's disappearance has fascinated aviation sleuths all over the world.

Fourteen men in five Navy Avengers embarked on a routine 2 1/2 -hour training mission Dec. 5, 1945, from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station, now Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The lead pilot became disoriented in bad weather over the Atlantic Ocean. A Mariner rescue plane with 13 men aboard was dispatched but disappeared.

"Without a trace," the myth-makers wrote.

The triangle -- bounded by Puerto Rico, Miami and Bermuda -- is the product of the fertile imaginations of bored newspaper reporters and opportunistic authors.

Because most disappearances could not be explained, the authors concocted fantastic explanations: Supernatural forces jammed radio frequencies. UFOs ferried the planes to a parallel world.

The company had filed a salvage claim in federal court for the planes, but the claim was disputed by the Navy. The dispute has been worked out, according to the company's attorney. But Mr. Hawkes said yesterday that without the Lost Squadron connection, the company may not be interested in further investigation and salvage efforts.

Yesterday's announcement rekindled the theory that the Avengers might have gone down somewhere off Cape Canaveral, the last radio fix would-be rescuers could get on them.

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