PAFB to get plaque to mark role in Flight 19 loss that led to legend


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A plaque to commemorate Brevard’s role in the search for Flight 19 is under construction.

Rendering courtesy Franklin Bronze plaques

It’s been a part of today’s lexicon for generations: Travel off the east coast of Florida could result in a disappearance in the mysterious “Bermuda Triangle.” But it is less well known that Brevard County played a key role in the making of that legend, spurred by the disappearance of Flight 19 from Fort Lauderdale, and made all the more mysterious when a search-and-rescue aircraft that flew from what is now Patrick Air Force Base also disappeared.

The legend’s local link will be lore thanks in part to a December feature story in Senior Life marking the 70th anniversary of the multi-aircraft disappearance on Dec. 5, 1945. Writer Mike Gaffey discovered there was no plaque or marker at Patrick as a memorial to the 13 crew members of a Navy flying boat that vanished while searching for the five missing TBM Avenger aircraft. Gaffey then contacted a local legislator about the lack of a local memorial to the lost crew.

“Once it was revealed there was no memorial, everyone was eager to get one established,” Gaffey said.

U.S. District 8 Congressman Bill Posey reached out to the Air Force at the Pentagon to gain its cooperation and worked with PAFB personnel. A plaque is expected to be unveiled at the base in the coming months.

“After all these years, this plaque will serve as a tribute to the service and courage of the brave Naval officers and crew members who were lost in the line of duty,” Congressman Posey said. “I want to thank Michael Gaffey for raising awareness of this issue and reaching out to our office.” 

Pivotal in the plaque’s creation is the longtime researcher who has all but debunked the Bermuda Triangle — or Devil’s Triangle — as a myth. Speculation has run the gamut from strong electromagnetic fields to alien abduction, as depicted in the Steven Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” 

Jon Myhre, a pilot and former Palm Beach International Airport controller, has studied the Flight 19 case for more than 30 years and wrote a 2012 book about the mystery, “Discovery of Flight 19.” He thinks that three of the five TBM Avengers that disappeared crash-landed in the Atlantic Ocean after becoming lost and running out of fuel.

He further surmises that the Martin PBM-5 Mariner seaplane dispatched from PAFB, then known as Naval Air Station Banana River, exploded in flight shortly after takeoff.

Myhre raised funds for the plaque, which he said is being forged this month by Franklin Bronze Plaques in Franklin, Pa. It will be presented by the NAS Fort Lauderdale Historical Association and Museum, which hosts a Flight 19 memorial at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

“We have a really great memorial event to look forward to that will get a lot of interest,” said Rob Medina, Posey’s director of community and military relations. “It’s exciting that Brevard will be remembered as part of one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in history, something that captured the imagination of the world and still endures.”