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The Western Union telegram came late in the day of July 11, 1945, to Mr. and Mrs. O.E. Garner of Rural Route 1, Vandalia.
Dispatched by the Commanding Officer at Naval Air Station, Banana River, Fla., the standard tersely written telegram read: "Regret to inform you that your son Thomas Arthur Garner AMM3C missing since about 0215 July 10, 1945, while on a routine training flight search being conducted will keep you promptly advised.”
A photo of this telegram, along with Thomas’ Navy photo, are included in a book recently acquired by Evans Public Library, “Into the Bermuda Triangle – Pursuing the Truth Behind the World’s Greatest Mystery,” by Gian J. Quasar. Tom’s brother, Don Garner, is credited with loaning the telegram and photo for publication.
Like many, I have read a little about the Bermuda Triangle and, in fact, flew through this mysterious area, also called the Devil’s Triangle, in 1973 on my way to Puerto Rico. In fact, thousands of ships and planes traverse this 440,000-square-mile area on a regular basis with no problem.
It is the 120 vessels that have disappeared since they started keeping track that add mystery and interest to this area formed by an imaginary line from a point near Melbourne, Fla. to Bermuda to Puerto Rico and back to Florida.
I was not aware until recently of a Vandalia connection.
My neighbor, Ellen Doyle, directed me to this book, one that she had read with great interest. “Did you know," she asked, “that a Vandalia High School graduate was one of the missing crewmen on a routine training flight into the Triangle in 1945?”
The cryptic telegram does not give much information, so I turned to the old Vandalia newspapers on microfilm. The July 26, 1945, issue of The Vandalia Leader carried Thomas Garner’s Navy photo, along with information that his parents had received in another telegram from the Navy, informing them that an exhaustive search had proven futile.
Thomas was an aviation machinist’s mate third class, and was one of a 12-man crew that disappeared, along with the PBM Mariner flying boat. The aircraft was due back at the base at 2:15 a.m., and had been in radio communication. It was last sighted over New Providence Islands, going north, apparently headed into a rain squall.
The disappearance on July 10, 1945, of the PBM Mariner didn’t make as big a splash as the disappearance of Flight 19 on Dec. 5 of the same year. Five Navy torpedo bombers, all with veteran crew, vanished on a routine training flight off Florida.
The flight leader radioed that both of his compasses were no longer working. The bombers had the latest navigational devices and sea survival equipment on board. Radio communication with Flight 19 was maintained for some time, and it was apparent that they were lost, although the pilots they were in communication with could not ascertain their location.
The flight leader thought they were possibly in the Gulf of Mexico. There was also chatter between the five bombers about dwindling fuel and all five planes setting down together in the ocean so that they could be located more easily.
A PBM Mariner, the same type of aircraft Tom Garner was in when he disappeared, was sent to search for wreckage or oil slicks of Flight 19, and it, too, vanished after being airborne only 20 minutes. Thirteen crewmen were lost.
On Dec. 7, 1945, a board of investigation was convened at the Naval Air Advanced Training Command in Jacksonville, Fla., to look into the disappearance of Flight 19 and the PBM Mariner lost while searching for the squadron.
The fact that has stumped the Navy is that the ocean floor around Bimini and within the Bermuda Triangle has been checked with sonar. They expected to find the bottom littered with wreckage, but nothing has been found.
The author of the 294-page soft cover book, published in 2004, writes that 120 craft have disappeared to date. His compiled lists of the vanished ships and aircraft include the 504-foot tanker Marie Sulphur Queen and 520-foot tanker Poet. The Syliva L. Ossa was 590 feet long.
Some of these ships were equipped with an ELT (Emergency Locator Transmitter), which activates when jettisoned on impact with the fuselage, and EPIRB (Emergency Posit-Indicating Radio Beacon), which activates when it floats free from a sinking ship. There is no indication that these activated.
The first recorded disappearance of a ship within this area was in 1854. In 1928, Charles Lindbergh experienced a haze and magnetic abnormalities leaving Havana, Cuba.
The author discusses these reports, along with UFO and USO sightings in the book.
The question of what happened to Tom Garner and the 11-man crew of the PBM Mariner flying boat on July 10, 1945, has never been answered.