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The Disappearance of Flight 19

A 6th Avenger?

Those who have followed Flight 19’s ever expanding mythos have heard of the “15th man,” the crewman who should have gone on Gerber’s plane but failed to show up, and was thereby spared tragedy and mystery. Who was he? Whoever the 15th man was, at least 15 men claim to be him!

       But have you heard of the 16th man? How about the 17th? No? How about the 18th? Yes, there is a man who claims there was supposed to be a 6th plane in Flight 19’s squadron and he was the pilot! Through an improbable rigamarole, Ensign Joseph Bossi went in his place. After Flight 19 became internationally famous yet again in 1991, his story surfaced. In it he explains how he and his 2 nameless crew averted tragedy and mystery that fateful day.    

     His name is Calvin Shoemaker. His claim isn’t as funny as it seems, since he has contacted the Bossi family and conveyed, apparently, part of his story to Joseph Tipton Bossi’s brother, John. Furthermore, when I inquired at the local historical society that serves Arkansas City, Kansas (The Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum), to obtain a picture of Bossi for both my site, my book, and for the History Channel, I was sent his account as a part of “historical” information about Bossi and Flight 19.

   Quoting from his 3 page letter dated 3 July 1994 to a “Mr. Maars,” I’ll let Shoemaker recount his tale.

       On 5DEC45 six crews (three men in each airplane, except one which carried only one crewman)-- a total of 17 men, briefed for the flight (Flight 19) and proceeded to man the airplanes on the parking ramp. Taxiing from the ramp were; leading Lt. Taylor, USN; wingman Capt. Powers, USMC; wingman Capt. Stivers, USMC; leading second section Ensign Shoemaker, USNR; wingman Lt. Gerber, USMCR; wingman Ensign Bossi, USNR (who was unable to get his engine started.)

     Lt Taylor and I both saw that Joe’s engine would not start and noticed his crewchief removing the engine cowling. Joe and his two crewmen came running across the open field toward my airplane waving their hands over their heads signalling me to stop. Joe knew that I had already completed this mission on a previous flight and that it was not really necessary for me to perform it again.

   I braked my airplane to a stop and throttled the engine back to idle. Joe climbed up on my wing and shouted into my ear asking if he could take my plane and suggested that I could try to get his engine started and follow later to join up with the flight. I relayed Joe’s request and the circumstances to lead Lt. Taylor. Lt. Taylor concurred and I, and my crewmen, got out of the airplane and Joe and his two crew entered and continued the taxi for take-off. This meant that Joe was now leading the second section with Gerber as his wingman.

   I subsequently could not get Joe’s engine started, so I returned to the Ready Room and “Radio Operations” (just below the control tower) to hang out until the flight returned . . .


  Wading through claim after claim is enough to make a clergyman curse. Being a classical student, I have reverted to Latin to attempt to avoid offending the ears of the virtuous around me. Suffice it to say that Shoemaker’s claims are pure scattaurus.

     There is a virtual paper trail on these aircraft. Facts are easily accessible to contradict everything Shoemaker claims. The most damning are the “Yellow Sheets,” the Daily Inspection Sheet for each aircraft. They were saved and are a part of all the paperwork amassed by the Board of Inquiry. The pilot had to fill out these plane chits before checking out the plane. The chit was marked with the number of the plane in the upper right corner and lower left by the plane captain. The pilot had to sign for the plane, date it, write the flight number down, the type of flight and then his crewmen’s names.

     Bossi’s plane, T-3, the plane that he flew and vanished in, was checked out by him, signed in his own hand, timed at 1:45 p.m., the same time as all the other yellow sheets were filled out by the other pilots of Flight 19.  T-3 had been checked out earlier by a pilot with the initials MJK but then the flight was canceled and a line was drawn through the flight details and his name erased. “No Flight” was scrawled on the bottom of the page (not in scan). The same thing happened to Gerber’s plane. This was not uncommon.

     The Board of Inquiry concluded: “Findings of Facts No. 7  That. Joseph Tipton Bossi, Ensign (A1)L, U.S. Naval Reserve, File No. ----- was the authorized pilot who signed for and accepted for flight  TBM-1C, BuNo. 45714, for Flight 19 on the afternoon of December 5, 1945.” BuNo. 45714 is FT-3.

     Shoemaker must be unaware of the official documents extant regarding Flight 19. His claim is tantamount to saying that he checked out T-3, that Bossi checked out some other plane but that it would not start so they switched on the field, Bossi climbing into T-3, Shoemaker gratuitously letting him take his place. The “Yellow Sheet” for Torpedo 3 makes it clear no such switch happened.

   The Testimony of Lt. Stephen B. Smith, Naval officer in charge of Air-Plot.

   Question 2 of the Board:  “What are your particular duties?”
   A. “As officer in charge of Air Plot, I supervise all the flying operations, including assignment of planes for flights and personnel involved. All plane captains and line personnel are directly under me.”
   Question 5 of the Board: “How are Daily Inspection Sheets (Yellow Sheets) handled at Naval Air Station, Fort Lauderdale?
   A.  “. . .Before the warmup in the morning, the plane captain inspects his plane, supervised by the crew leader and as soon as the plane has been inspected and turned up, the crew leader gives us thumbs up and then goes and signs all yellow sheets for his crew. That has been the set up for a year and a half.”

     All planes were checked out in working order each morning. Those planes that did not pass inspection were not used for the day until repaired. Warm up for an Avenger is 20 minutes (usually). Big monster machines like Avengers simply didn’t start and taxi away. If Bossi’s plane didn’t start, he had more than enough time to get another. He would not need to run down the field and ask another pilot to get out spur of the moment!

     As to that, one could not even do that. Once you were assigned to a plane, that was your plane. You simply can’t play “musical planes.” Also, Avengers had no brakes. There was a holding brake. The pilot had to keep this depressed if he needed to switch crew, but if he let his foot off . . .obviously you could not switch pilots. The engine would have to be shut off to allow pilots to switch.

     Many officers testified before the Board of Inquiry. Anybody remotely associated with the planes had to give account and explain the slightest variation in performance that day. The tower operator, Rolland Koch, had to testify about which pilot called him for taxi instructions. Arthur Curtis, the aviation duty officer, was asked if anything unusual happened. And one of the 5 surviving members of Squadron 79M, the 9-man training squadron to which Stivers, Bossi, Powers, and Gerber belonged, was asked about what their instruction had been like in Miami. In 500 pages of testimony and ancillary documents, there is no Calvin Shoemaker. Anybody who was near those planes had to testify. How much more someone who claimed he was scheduled to take that flight, and even claims a discrepancy in starting a plane and a mad dash across the field saved his life?

     Shoemaker’s claims go on and become even more bold. He usurps Robert F. Cox’s very documented position in the ground drama of Flight 19 by claiming it was he who approached the “Operations Officer” at sunset and requested to man the Ready Plane and search for the flight. 

     Shoemaker also creates a maverick Ensign Bossi:

   Getting no response from his last urgent demand for Taylor to turn around to a westerly heading, Joe radioed that he was turning to a heading of 270 degrees and “*----- if anyone wants to go with me, join up.”

   Joe, Taylor and Powers ditched heading west before 8: 00 p.m. Joe ditched last. I heard Joe declare his intentions before starting his flight descent on intsruments several hundred miles on a magnetic bearing of 055 degrees from NAS Fort Lauderdale.

* indicates profanity, I assume, which he left out of this letter, which after the above quotation  ends with: “Please extend my best regards to John and the Bossi family.”

  Unusual, to say the least. Shoemaker hears what no one else heard. Fort Lauderdale was not even able to pick up the words of the flight by this time, only Bossi’s weak call letters of “Fox Tare Three” as he tried to contact the flight leader Charles Taylor. This was at 7:04 p.m. There was no more communication picked up from the flight afterward. Shoemaker could not have heard Bossi declare he was ditching at sea.

     There are many other problems with Shoemaker’s fanciful story. Another is that Prob. Nav. 1 was divided into 4 legs in order to give each student in the squadron the opportunity to lead the flight while the instructor observed. It was not divided into five. A sixth plane would be in the way. Furthermore, all training was done according to syllabus. Three flights were required in this syllabus, each on a different triangle. If Shoemaker didn’t need this flight, he would not have been there to begin with.Exhibit1icon

     It’s not worth putting the umpteenth nail in his story’s coffin; Shoemaker does that himself by describing in detail aspects of the flight only an eye witness could have seen, such as the distance between planes in the flight formation after they finished their bombing run at Chicken & Hen Shoals, then usurping one of the most documented roles in the whole drama, that of Lt. Robert Cox.

     Calvin Shoemaker’s story only became public after all the hoopla over Flight 19 in 1991 when the world thought the famous “Lost Patrol” had been found. If this had not happened, doubtless his story would not have been sought out by the Press, nor blossomed in the years afterward until the detailed account was written to Mr. Maars in 1994, anticipatory to formalizing his thoughts for his “book.”

     In short, most every claim in Shoemaker’s mythical flight can be contradicted by hardcore evidence: Bossi checked out T-3, in which he flew; there was no plane switching; there was no 6th plane that couldn’t go. Ensign Bossi was the most junior officer of the whole lot; he would not have instigated a mutiny and led others off, as Shoemaker implies in the above novel story. Stivers was an Annapolis grad, former Aide de Camp to 2nd Marine Corp Assistant Division Commander; Powers was a Princeton grad and the senior officer; Gerber had enlisted right after Pearl Harbor. Bossi had been in only 2 years.

     Another flight of fancy is shot down.

 . . . So I thought in 2000 when I first wrote this. But both my website bermuda-triangle.org and my writings had created a surge in interest in the Bermuda Triangle and in Flight 19, its cornerstone mystery. A new installment was at hand, and by a stroke of convenience Shoemaker got scheduled for a major documentary. It was time to look through the hoaxing glass into this mad world and take this tale apart.  


             What is the
       Bermuda Triangle?

500 Leagues of Sea

500 Leagues of Sea
The Bahamas
Andros & The Tongue
Eleuthera & More!
San Juan
The Sargasso Sea
Sea of Expanding Shapes
Somewhere Between
Through the Electronic Fog
Fantastic Journey
The Eye

The “Lost Squadron”

The Disappearance of Flight 19
The Real Flight of Flight 19
The PBM Mariner
Views of the Okefenokee

Flights of Fancy

Bad Navigation?
Flight DUI
A 6th Avenger
Through the Hoaxing Glass


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