Friday, September 15, 2006

Disappearing Aircraft - Part 3 The Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle is a place out in the Atlantic that supposedly swallows ships and aircraft with frightening regularity. These aircraft, according to legend, are often in radio contact with some kind of flight following agency, or in sight of land or airfields, and are said to disappear without a trace. The mystery deepens because there is never any wreckage suggesting to many that something supernatural or other worldly had occurred.

Such is the case of a C-119 Flying Boxcar that vanished in June 1965 while on enroute to Grand Turk Island from Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. The crew made a badly garbled radio transmission only minutes out and were never heard from again. It was suggested, by those who write about such things, that some kind of desperate last message had been sent, possibly about UFOs.

The International UFO Bureau, in 1973, took the idea of UFOs even further when they suggested that the UFO allegedly seen by James McDivitt and Ed White on a Gemini space mission was somehow tied into the disappearance of the C-119. McDivitt reported a strange object while over the Carribean and the International UFO Bureau thought that the UFO seen by the astronauts might have "captured" the cargo plane.

The real story, although as tragic, is not as dramatic. According to members of the Air Force Reserve and the 440th Tactical Airlift Wing at Milwaukee’s Billy Mitchell Field, the unit to which the aircraft and crew were assigned, the disappearance wasn’t nearly as total, nor as strange.

"We know," one officer told me, "that everything was fine about thirty minutes before landing. Major Louis Giuntoli [the pilot] had made a position report about 11 p.m."

A search was launched when the aircraft failed to arrive. Nearly 100,000 square miles of ocean were covered by boats and planes. By June 8, the Miami newspapers were calling attention to the Bermuda Triangle, recounting that dozens of planes had disappeared without a trace in the area.

The search was abandoned on June 10 when searchers failed to find any sign of the missing plane. But just two days later debris, stenciled with serial numbers and the tail number of the aircraft, was found. Although none of the wreckage was from the structure of the aircraft, the debris was from inside it.

About a month later, in early July, a wheel chock stenciled with the tail number turned up near Ackins Island. This was in the general area where the rest of the debris had been found.

The intelligence officer of the 928th Tactical Airlift Group, a subordinate unit to the 440th, said that he had talked to a number of officers in the wing and their belief was that the C-119 lost an engine just after the pilot had made his position report. He said, "If there was a corresponding electrical failure, which wouldn’t have been all that uncommon in those circumstances, they would have had no lights and no radio. Since this was at night when a light haze forms that makes it nearly impossible to see the horizon, the deck was stacked against them."

It means, simply, that the sky would have combined with the water surface giving the pilots the look of flying at a wall. With the instruments out because of the electrical failure, the pilots would have had nothing to use to keep the aircraft flying straight and level. The eventual outcome would be they would have flown into the ocean. It is not unlike what happened to JFK Jr. when he, his wife, and their female companion were killed in an aircraft accident.

Given the full story, the interviews with members of the missing aircraft’s unit members, the discovery of debris, and the circumstances, it is not difficult to understand how the aircraft might have crashed. Unlike the chroniclers of the Bermuda Triangle legend claim, wreckage was found, though not very much. The reasons for the crash are understood. It seems that this is one mystery that has been solved.

1 comment:

jimb said...

I was the radio operator on duty at Grand Turk BWI (working for RCA) when the C119 disappeared. I remember taking a position report. A strange coincidence is that the crew was from Milwaukee and so am I.