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Incident Prevention Magazine

Kelly Sparrow, J.D.

Production, Quality, Safety and the Bermuda Triangle

We’ve all heard or read about the Bermuda Triangle, a loose geographic area with Miami, Bermuda and San Juan, Puerto Rico, serving as the triangle’s three points. Legend has it that lots of strange things have happened in the Bermuda Triangle, mostly the unexplained disappearances of ships and airplanes that sailed or flew through the area. You may remember the story of Flight 19, a group of five torpedo bombers that disappeared on December 5, 1945, over the Bermuda Triangle while on a training mission. Fourteen airmen were lost in the incident.

There is a part of the story that a lot of people don’t know about. Those in command responded to the missing Flight 19 by sending a flying boat – a plane that can land on water – to search for the lost planes. It is believed that the rescue plane had a small, undetected fuel leak that caused a vapor buildup in the fuselage. The plane exploded in midair, and all 13 crew members were lost while they were looking for Flight 19.

Experts think the five planes of Flight 19 may have been uniformly underfueled due to a faulty gauge on the tanker that fueled them before they took off. Because systems for checking the gauge failed to discover that problem, 14 men died and 13 more died searching for them. If a quality equipment inspection had found the faulty gauge on the truck, or the operator of the truck had questioned why the filling operation had been completed so quickly, or the flight crew had asked for a recheck, the Flight 19 mission might have gone off without any problems. If that had happened, the rescuers would not have died because their flight would have been unnecessary.

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