On December 5, 1945, at 2:10 p.m. five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo-bombers comprising Flight 19 took off from Ft. Lauderdale Naval Air Station on a routine training mission and headed into an area of the Atlantic Ocean known as the Bermuda Triangle. Flight 19 was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. They were never seen again.
Later on the evening of the 5th, a search party was dispatched, which included the twin-engine Martin Mariner (Martin PBM-5 Mariner, Bureau No. 59225, Squadron Training No. 49), with its crew of 13 men (3 aviators aboard and a crew of 10), that many claim disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle along with Flight 19. At 1627, this Mariner aircraft search and rescue crew was sent out in search of the bombers. The PBM Mariner was specifically designed as a rescue plane with the ability to remain aloft for 24 hours. At 1930, the aircraft radioed an "out" report to its home base and was not heard from again.
There is evidence to explain the disappearance of the Mariner flying boat- sometimes referred to as the "flying gas can". Some twenty-three minutes after the Mariner left the Banana River NAS, observers aboard the tanker SS Gaines Mills reported seeing a plane on fire. It crashed into the sea with a hellish explosion. The captain radioed the following report:
"Observed a burst of flames, apparently an explosion, leaping flames 100 feet high and burning for ten minutes. At present, passing through a big pool of oil. Stopped, circled area using searchlights, looking for survivors. None found."
The USS Solomons, which was in the area at the time, sent a report confirming the tanker's observations. "Our air search radar showed a plane after takeoff from Banana River last night joining with another plane, then separating and proceeding on course 045 degrees at the exact time SS Gaines Mills sighted flames and in exact spot the above plane disappeared from the radar screen and never reappeared."
When the ship investigated, it found a patch of oil and debris where the flying boat must have crashed. No wreckage was sighted and according to witnesses there was little likelihood that any could have been recovered due to a very rough sea. The next day, water samples, taken in the area, developed an oily film. The area was not buoyed due to the heavy seas nor were diving or salvage operations ever conducted. The depth of the water was 78 feet and the site was close to the Gulf Stream. During the Board's examination of the disappearance of the PBM, several witnesses were questioned concerning gas fumes and smoking regulations, which were reportedly well posted and rigidly enforced aboard all PBMs. Although the Board's report is not a verbatim record and no accusations were made, there seems to be enough inference present to cause one to suspect that the Board was aware of the PBM's nickname.