Loss of PBM Martin Mariner
In Bermuda Triangle
It was the same night of December 5, 1945 when all the five planes of Flight-19
went missing in the Bermuda Triangle area. Finally the order came from the US Navy to send two Martin Mariner planes to start the search operation.
It was past 7pm and the Navy had given up hope that the Fligh-19 planes were still going to make it. So the two PBM Martin Mariners, that were essentially flying boats that could fly as well as float on water took off at 7.27pm from the Banana River Navy Base Station in Florida.
The Martin Mariners were heavily used by U.S those days to patrol the ocean areas, detect any enemy submarine operations, and rescue pilots and crew who would have crashed into the Atlantic. They had the ability to easily land on ocean water. They used to carry huge amount of fuel so that they could carry out a search operation over long hours if required.
PBM Martin Mariner
Source: Wikimedia Commons
So, the two such Mariners took off, this time to search for the Flight-19 planes. Both the mariners were generally used for training purposes. But this time they were on a special mission. One of them, called the Training-32 headed straight out into the ocean.
The second one, called Training-49 went north bound along the east coast. After the second Mariner took off, the base station never heard from it again. It was around 9pm, when a message came in from a freighter ship SS Gaines Mill that they saw a huge explosion on the ocean at a distance.
Training-32 was still searching for the Flight-19 and was in constant touch with the base station. At about 10pm, the Training-32 mariner moved on and reached the spot reported by the freighter ship. But strangely, they saw no fire there and nor any debris floating.
Water sample brought in from that water area did not show any trace of oil suggesting any explosion. But the crew of the freighter SS Gains Mill reported that they saw a huge ball of fire dropping into the ocean at a distance and then a big explosion.
So what really happened to the Martin Mariner?
The mariner was in the best of conditions and thoroughly checked by both technicians as well as the captain before taking off. So any engine failures or such were ruled out. Some speculated that a cigarette lighting inside the cabin had blown up the plane. That theory was ruled out too. Since the mariners carried huge amount of gas, smoking was strictly prohibited in flight and no one should have lit a cigarette.
Now the interesting twist comes. The Navy board during the investigation reported that there are often greenish lights seen along the coast lines of Florida. This has also been confirmed by the resident locals. This green light would float around for a while, then descend and slowly disappear.
This is often linked with something known as St. Elmo's fire which has a green hue. The fire is caused due to the area's unique climate. It radiates huge amount of electrical charge. And it is also known that airplanes seem to glow green when they come under the charge from such Elmo's fire even though they have anti-static equipment. And in one such occasion, a plane had actually blown up.
From previous several instances, it was known that the Mariners were prone to explosions due to gas leakage from their tanks, particularly when the tanks were fully loaded. It was also by then nicknamed as 'Flying Gas Tanks'.
So was it such electrical charge from Elmo's fire that interfered with the navigational system or caused fire and blew up the mariner? This is a possible theory. But this has not yet been established with facts and evidence. However, following this incident, the US Navy grounded all Martin Mariners.
Unfortunately the investigation of Martin Mariner is still incomplete and remains as a mystery of Bermuda Triangle.