The Truth About Townsend; Volume II (1940-80) Poor Man's Paradise

Chapter 4: Lost in the Bermuda Triangle

In his book Limbo of the Lost, John Wallace Spencer wrote:

Americans everywhere were finalizing plans for 1947 Independence Day Celebrations when word flashed to the Coast Guard, Army Air Corps, and Navy stationed along the lower eastern seaboard that a four-engine, Army C-54 cargo transport plane with its crew of six was missing at sea. The overdue aircraft took off Thursday morning, July 3, 1947, from Kindley Field, Bermuda, bound for Morrison Army Air Field, Palm Beach, Florida. Estimated time of arrival was mid-afternoon.

Ships and planes raced out to play their role in the by now all to (sic) familiar search pattern extending from the coast of Florida to Bermuda. Hunters scanned the seas all night for a glimpse of light. By dawn the air-sea rescue operation was in full swing with hopes high of finding the fliers alive. Early Friday morning, July 4, a large Army transport C-74 reported sighting wreckage on the sea 300 miles northeast of West Palm Beach, Florida. Army authorities said the Navy cargo ship Orion was plowing toward the area in order to determine if the debris was that of the missing plane. The C-74 was acting as guide for the surface craft when poor visibility and communication difficulties hampered the rescue efforts.

For hours the press awaited word from the Orion. Finally Major L.R. Humphreys, commanding the Fifth Air Rescue Squadron at Morrison Field released details of the find. He reported the cargo ship found an oxygen bottle, two yellow seat cushions, and some aircraft plywood; all believed to be Army aircraft equipment. But none of it was identified as belonging to the lost airplane. The search was abandoned on July 8, with nothing more being found in the course of an 110,000 square mile search. No other debris, no bodies, no oil slick, nothing. To this day the mystery of what happened to the Army C-54 and crew of six remain the secret of the Limbo of the Lost.

That tragic mystery takes on special meaning for Townsend because the oldest son of Hillcrest Lodge owners Tony and Anna Bagocus was on board the doomed flight. According to U.S. Army enlistment documents, Andrew Simon Bagocus was born in 1922. He graduated from high school in Chicago in 1939 and came to Townsend with his parents and brother Victor in the early 1940s. The whole family proudly watched as Victor went off to serve in World War II while Andrew stayed home to help his parents run their very busy resort.

But longing for adventure and in love with airplanes, Andrew decided to join the Army Air Corps. On April 22, 1946, he enlisted in Milwaukee as a single man with no dependents and was given the rank of staff sergeant. He was stationed at Westover Air Field near Holyoke, Massachusetts, where he met his wife Claire, a civilian employee. The couple married in February 1947 and conceived a child on their honeymoon. Andrew was ecstatic for two reasons; he had always wanted children, and he had just been transferred to Kindley Field in Bermuda, a friendly place for young military couples.

On July 3, 1947, Andrew was a crew member on a C-54 Skymaster that took off from Kindley. The C-54 transport was a cargo aircraft, the military prototype of the civilian Douglas DC-4, a big airliner capable of carrying 85 passengers. Upon take-off, everything about the flight was routine. Leading the mission was Major Ralph B. Ward from Concord, New Hampshire. Ward was a very experienced pilot who also served as operations director at Kindley. His co-pilot was Major Clyde Inman from Boise, Idaho, another veteran pilot whose wife and young son lived in Bermuda. The navigator was Major John R. Sands, Jr. from Jacksonville, Florida. Radio operations were the responsibility of Staff Sgt. Ernest D. Fey from New Orleans. Assistant Aerial Engineer was Sgt. Fred E. Fricks, a Chattanooga airman and the father of a young son and daughter. Fricks’ family, like those of the rest of the men aboard, lived on the island of Bermuda. Fricks was assisting Staff Sergeant Andrew S. Bagocus, the flight engineer from Townsend, Wisconsin, whose wife was expecting their first child in November.

To reach its destination, the Skymaster had to fly through what has become known as the Bermuda Triangle. Also called the Devil’s Triangle, this imaginary area with apexes generally accepted as Bermuda; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Miami, Florida, has been the site of many unexplained accidents. Since it had only been 18 months since the December 5, 1945, disappearance of famous Flight 19, no mission over this area was undertaken without at least a touch of anxiety. Indeed, the entire 1945 episode was so eerie that it must have been a constant topic among those who flew in the area, including Staff Sergeant Bagocus who had to have struggled to hide his misgivings from his wife Claire. Everyone knew the story of Flight 19. Five TBM Navy Avenger bombers carrying a total crew of 14 were lost during a training flight originating in Fort Lauderdale. A search aircraft, a PBM Martin bomber with a thirteen-man crew, was sent to assist Flight 19 but also never returned to base.    

When an airplane crashes, it usually leaves an oil slick or some sort of wreckage, but the Naval Board of Inquiry’s observation of Flight 19 in 1945 is telling: “All aircraft vanished completely, as if they had flown to Mars.” Not a single body was recovered. In their last communications, the Avengers had radioed that their compasses and gyros were going crazy, that everything seemed strange, and the ocean did not look as it should. So a year and a half after the disaster, it was natural that flying in this area would never be considered routine.

As stated earlier, the estimated arrival time for the C-54 was mid-afternoon. Early on, the Skymaster called in its position. Both the A and B position reports showed the aircraft was south of its intended course. Then later, its C and D reports showed it had made a noticeable course change to north, passing its scheduled flight path by 50 miles before it turned southwest and parallel to it, keeping this distance north of it for the rest of the flight. By doing so, Major Ward was heading straight for the worst part of a squall he should have been able to avoid on his proscribed route. This odd change of course made the inquiry commission vigorously investigate the navigator, who had been a last minute substitution. The investigation revealed Major Sands was a thoroughly qualified Class 2 navigator. However, the flying of the plane was always in the hands of Major Ward. Even if the navigator did make a series of errors, this would never explain why Ward flew straight into the eye of a thunderstorm.

The fact is that the entire flight’s behavior was bizarre. How is it possible that two experienced members of the crew could simultaneously forget their training? Just a month or so before, general orders had specifically instructed pilots never to fly through thunderstorms if they could avoid doing so. Yet Major Ward apparently flew right into this one. The navigator, though qualified, somehow sent the plane into the worst part of the weather front. The plane was clearly off course and had been from the moment it had left Bermuda.


It is also hard to explain a garbled SOS that was received at Bermuda. The mayday transmission was very low and faint, in sharp contrast to the C54’s last normal message. After a 45 second pause, the faint SOS repeated, then there was nothing. Whoever was sending the mayday did not transmit a call sign. In fact, the operator at Bermuda, William Pentuff, thought it couldn’t have been from the plane because it would have identified itself. Of course, this also may have meant there was no time for the pilot to do so. Pentuff chalked the message up to some local station that was tuning and didn’t want to send its call letters in case it was overheard. In this context, however, it is hard to explain why any station would use an SOS to test its apparatus.

After considering all available facts and existing weather conditions, the Accident Investigating Board at Morrison Field, Florida, issued this ruling: The aircraft encountered violent turbulence and the pilot lost control of the aircraft. It is possible that structural failure was a factor prior to contact with the ocean. No evidence of fire was found, and there was no sign of a ditching attempt. Debris located about 290 miles northeast of Florida consisted of an oxygen bottle and some other equipment, all of which argued for sudden and horrid destruction: the crew compartment was torn apart on contact with the ocean. The last plotted position of the aircraft and the corresponding position of the frontal zone substantiates the weather assumption. Contributing factors to this accident were possible navigational error allowing the aircraft to drift north of course to frontal zone, and pilot error in that no apparent effort was made to circumnavigate the dangerous weather front.

In his book The Bermuda Triangle, Charles Berlitz wrote: “Is that all there is to it? Is it as simple as that the plane flew into a squall while enroute from Bermuda to West Palm Beach and simply disintegrated? One might be tempted to imagine this, if the facts of the incident were not at hand. They present some disturbing parallels with other missing ships and planes.” Berlitz admitted that the C54’s loss had merited little commentary in books; he himself had never regarded the incident as particularly interesting. He did acknowledge that John Spencer had included it (as  summarized previously) in his Limbo of the Lost, but dismissed Spencer’s theory. “Per usual with Spencer, he seemed loathe to admit bad weather existed, and never did.”

Another famous researcher into the Bermuda Triangle, Lawrence Kusche, explained away the incident with mistaken thinking. Kusche described the plane as a B-29 Superfort lost near Bermuda. Berlitz wrote “He (Kusche) merely ‘solved’ the mystery by saying it was a non existent flight in the wrong location.” Unlike Kusche, Charles Berlitz did his homework. He requested and read the Mishap Report from Maxwell AFB and made his conclusion:
 That report revealed some interesting facts. For one, the airplane did fly through a squall. But a problem arose immediately: the squall was not on the airplane’s route; so the Skymaster had to have been far off course to begin with. And an after-the-fact examination of its position reports showed its erratic course began right after takeoff and continued throughout its flight. It was never once on course, and apparently, neither the pilot nor the navigator knew it.

Whatever happened, Andrew Bagocus and his comrades were never seen again. His loss hit Townsend especially hard because everyone knew and loved the family and because it was the second time a son did not come home from serving in the military. Carolyn Joas remembers seeing a gold star in the window of Hillcrest’s front door. Sid Sindelar recalls that one summer weekend he and his wife stopped at Hillcrest on their way to their cabin and that Tony and Anna were despondent over the mysterious disappearance of their son. Sid says the Bagocuses never got over losing Andrew, which may explain why in 1950 Anna and Tony sold Hillcrest and moved to Florida.
Andrew’s daughter Lauren, who was found quite by accident while this author was conducting research online, said in Spring, 2008:

Anna and Tony were my grandparents. My birth father was Andrew Bagocus, who died in the Bermuda Triangle in July of 1947. I was born in November of that year so I never knew him. My mother remarried in 1950 and I was legally adopted in 1953, taking my adopted father's name of Mongeau. My mother told me my grandparents came from Townsend, Wisconsin, and that they had once owned a tavern there. Since my father died while my mother was pregnant with me, she said she chose not to live in Wisconsin because she didn't really know the family all that well. She moved back home to Holyoke, Massachusetts, where I was born. She did encourage me to write to the Bagocuses every few months, but as a child, I never really got any specific family history.

It wasn't until around 1978 that I traveled to Florida to meet Tony and Anna for the first time. As you can imagine, it was difficult for me to ask questions about my father. I was given a book of photographs to look at. From the pictures I saw, my father seemed to be an avid swimmer. I wish they would have offered me some of those photos, but they didn't. When they died, I don't know what happened to their possessions. As for my Uncle Victor, my father’s brother who had served and was wounded in World War II, I only met him for 15 minutes and he was not talkative. According to my grandmother, Victor had four daughters and a son, but she never spoke of any of them. I believe one of the girl’s names was Annick and the son's name Robert.

Of course my adoptive father is the only dad I ever knew, and he was wonderful to me. He treated me as his own child, but over the years my curiosity to find my birth father grew, especially when I had children of my own. I look forward to visiting Townsend to trace my birth family roots and see the place my father spent much of his life.

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