The mystery of the "Lost Squadron" that vanished 45 years ago in the Bermuda Triangle may be close to being solved with the discovery last week of five Navy planes sunk in the ocean 10 miles off Fort Lauderdale.
The salvors, Scientific Search Project, went to federal court Thursday to stake their claim on the wrecks of the five TBM Avengers.Graham Hawkes was surveying the coastline for sunken Spanish galleons aboard the high-tech vessel Deep See when the first plane showed up in about 750 feet of water.
Using sonar and submersible camera equipment, the salvors discovered the other planes over the course of 24 hours a week ago, he said.
"By the third one we kind of looked at each other and started wondering what was going on," said Hawkes. "People stopped taking their rest periods and crowded around. No one was getting any rest - it was pretty intense."
No human remains were seen in the planes, though further examination is needed.
Navy spokesmen in Washington had no immediate comment on the find. The Navy usually goes to court to enforce its salvage rights in such cases.
The salvors' priority is to send submersible robots to the site to determine if the planes are in fact Flight 19, the so-called Lost Squadron, that vanished Dec. 5, 1945, on a training flight from the naval air base in Fort Lauderdale.
No trace of planes or pilots was ever found. Their disappearance helped build the myth of the Bermuda Triangle, an area bounded by Bermuda, Miami and Puerto Rico, where ships and planes were said to mysteriously disappear.
The search team archaeologist, Ted Darcy, of the Kailua, Hawaii-based aircraft recovery company Wreckfinders, warned that he couldn't yet confirm the planes' identities. The Navy lost more than 100 TBM Avengers off Florida, he said.
But one of the sunken planes bears the number 28. That was the same number on Flight 19's lead plane, Darcy said. And the letters FT are visible on some of the aircraft, designating they were based at Fort Lauderdale.
Additionally, no other ditching of five Avengers was ever reported by the Navy, Darcy said.
Flight 19 ran into trouble after the first leg of its flight when the leader's compass failed and hazy weather disoriented the pilots. According to their final radio transmissions, they spotted islands they thought were the Florida Keys and believed they were flying over the Gulf of Mexico, Darcy said.
Robert Cervoni, managing director of Scientific Search Proj-ect, said the Deep See and the submersibles are enough to establish the planes' identities but salvaging them would require a barge and cranes, along with special chemicals and equipment to preserve the aircraft.