At this level the Sargasso Sea below must have been stunning: great mats of floating green sargassum on a deep blue ocean. Above the clouds the visibility was limitless; below never less than 12 miles.
But what happened? Nothing was ever heard from Star Ariel again. Kingston finally reported her overdue.
The search began with another Tudor IV Star Lion (G-AHNJ). She had landed at Nassau on a routine flight. Now she refueled and took off at 3:25 P.M. to fly out to Star Ariel’s route, bisect it at 27o NL, 69o WL and follow it back to Bermuda. Another aircraft took off from Bermuda, flew 500 miles out, then did a 10 mile lattice search all the way back. A U.S. Navy task force headed by Battleship Missouri coordinated the effort, which expanded to dozens of ships and several planes for the next few days. Not one shred was ever found.
The British Civil Air Ministry was faced with another disturbing mystery, as was a now bereft B.S.A.A.C. Lord Barbazon of Thara headed the commission.
As with the Star Tiger, the results only concluded how mysterious the loss was. There was, in fact, no clue.
“There were no weather complications at all. A study of the weather reports gives no indication of any abnormal conditions. A low pressure system was centered about 28 N 53 W and an anticyclone about 32 N 14 W. The aircraft track lay about halfway between these coordinates. The Bermuda 1500 hrs. upper air temperature was stable above about 5,000 feet and the remainder of the route was over anticyclone conditions. Although the 0900 hrs. Bermuda radar upper wind report gave some indication of shear between 14,000 and 18,000 ft., the 1500 hrs. report indicates little if any. The chance of any marked clear air turbulence of a frictional nature is therefore almost nil. . . .There were no clouds above 10,000 feet over the whole route . . .The freezing level was 14,000 feet, so there was no question of icing.”
Although the weather was good, the day was vexed by communication problems ranging from static to hazy reception to complete blackouts lasting as much as 10 minutes which came and went after selectively affecting certain planes calling certain stations from different angles. The communication problem lasted almost exactly the entire time Ariel should have been in flight, lifting around 1:07 P.M.
This was also investigated along with McPhee’s rather early switch over to Kingston frequency when he was still so close to Bermuda. It was thought that perhaps no one would have heard a distress for this reason, since Kingston was far away.
However, when a BSAAC representative in Kingston was queried by the Barbazon Committee, he aptly observed:
It would appear that the aircraft should have made firm contact with MRX before
requesting permission from Bermuda to change frequency. This was obviously not
done as MRX never worked G-AGRE on this frequency at all. In addition I am
convinced that G-AGRE did not ever transmit on this frequency of 6523 kc/s. even if
Bermuda did give authority to change frequency which they could quite readily have
done. This latter opinion is based on the fact that not only was MRX in Jamaica listening
out on 6523 kc/s. but so also were New York, Miami, Nassau, Havana, and Balbao
and, so far as we are aware and from what definite information we have, none of these
stations ever heard from G-AGRE on 6523 kc/s. Whilst it may have been possible for
us not to hear G-AGRE owing to the bad reception Palisadoes [Kingston Aerodrome]
was experiencing at the time of the requested QSY, it would seem most improbable for
similar conditions to obtain with all those other stations listening out on that frequency.
The Barbazon Committee agreed. “The Captain’s procedure was correct. That he did not re-establish communication with Bermuda after failure to contact Kingston or any other Caribbean Station must be assumed to have been because of inability to do so.”
Such a conclusion seems undeniable; Star Ariel must have vanished within minutes or even seconds after her routine call to Bermuda before she could raise Kingston. With hindsight, this scenario does not seem too maverick. It is precisely what we have seen in almost every disappearance since then: a sudden and extremely destructive force. Indeed, just prior to her loss, another airliner, a DC-3 vanished in even more inexplicable conditions around Miami. Whatever it may be, it is worthy to note that Jumbo jets continue to encounter unexplained phenomena in the Bermuda Triangle. (As recent as April 7, 1996, an American Airlines Boeing 757 with 194 passengers en route from New York to Caracas encountered severe and mysterious turbulence 300 miles west of Bermuda, which were neither predictable nor showed on any weather forecast, causing it to divert to Bermuda with a serious injury.)
Without any solution to 2 disappearances of BSAAC aircraft the company was in trouble. Sabotage was ruled out, leaving the suspicion in the minds of would-be ticket holders that the carrier was simply to blame. BSAAC went broke and BOAC took over as sole carrier. Although the Tudor IV aircraft was a beautiful aircraft, performed well in the Berlin Airlift, and none of the other planes had experienced anything remotely out of the ordinary, the Civil Air Ministry ordered the plane withdrawn. None were to fly again because of those 2 which vanished in the Bermuda Triangle . . until, that is, Freddie Laker brought them back and modified them as the “Super Trader. It was then that they were used for cargo flights only.
In addition to Flight 19’s disappearance, it was the loss of Star Tiger, Star Ariel and the DC-3 NC16002 which began to create the enigma of the Bermuda Triangle.