How the search for a downed plane led to the discovery of a crashed space shuttle and vice versa?

Following the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster, a massive search and recovery operation was launched to locate the submerged debris of the lost NASA spacecraft. Over the course of six months, 187 fragments of the shuttle were identified and, with the exception of 20, were recovered from the ocean floor. The recovery crews discovered 13 shipwrecks, 13 debris fields from prior rocket launches, and two wrecked airplanes while searching for Challenger. The latter included the wreckage of what was first considered to be a World War II-era Douglas DC-3 but was subsequently confirmed as a Grumman TBF Avenger.


The aircraft was raised after this finding because it was thought to be one of five such torpedo bombers that went missing in the so-called Bermuda Triangle on December 5, 1945. All five aircraft, as well as their 14 crew members, were lost without explanation. However, further investigation revealed that the Avenger was not from "Flight 19," but history has now been reversed.


A History Channel documentary team recovered one of the largest fragments of the space shuttle Challenger to be unearthed since the crash 36 years ago, as disclosed earlier this month. The divers were not seeking for spaceship debris, but rather the wreck of a Martin PBM Mariner flying boat, which similarly went missing on December 5, 1945. The Mariner and its 13-person crew vanished while looking for Flight 19.


That happens from time to time, according to underwater explorer Mike Barnette, who headed the team that discovered the Challenger. We start out seeking one thing and end up finding something different. The first episode of The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters aired on The History Channel on Tuesday, November 22.

The six-part series focuses on the legends and relics unearthed in and around the Bermuda Triangle, a loosely defined region bordered by Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico where planes and ships are claimed to suddenly vanish. The location where Barnette and his colleagues discovered the massive chunk of Challenger was not in the Bermuda Triangle but was on the Mariner's flight path off the coast of Cape Canaveral.


Historian David O'Keefe, who is working alongside Barnette on the hunt, stated, "[Flight 19] is the first episode that really focused the public's attention on what we would now call the Bermuda Triangle." You have five planes that go missing, then another one that goes out, and all of them vanish. A total of 27 guys are never seen again.


The episode ("The Big Find"), like the hunt, deviates from the Bermuda Triangle after they discover the Challenger piece. Viewers see the original finding as well as a subsequent dive to obtain the images required to make the identification. Following consultation with veteran astronaut Bruce Melnick, the crew travels to NASA's Kennedy Space Center to speak with Mike Cianelli, program manager of the Apollo, Challenger, and Columbia Lessons Learned Program.


On the broadcast, Barnette stated, "We're bringing up the history of a truly horrible occurrence." So, will they be unhappy with us? I'm not sure where we stand with them.


We're in the business of discovery and exploration, according to Cianelli. I believe [this discovery] will reconnect many individuals to the reason we fly rockets. So perhaps the incredible legacy of Challenger is not only a past event that is now lying at the bottom of the sea, but it is to affect the future for the better.


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