C.C. Taylor and Possible PTSD?

Is it possible that Lt. Charles C.Taylor could have been suffering some kind of medical malady while leading the Flight-19 training mission on December 5th, 1945? It is a plausible theory. One that needs to be considered. Weather or not he was suffering from the after effects of a late night on the town, or experiencing a legitimate emergency, all factors of his physical health and history should be examined in our investigation of the Flight-19 mystery.

In most of the descriptions of the ill fated story, including the official 1946 Navy report, Taylor; a seasoned combat veteran and experienced pilot, was the cause of, or at least responsible for the loss of the five aircraft and crews.  From a leadership stand point the conclusion made by the naval accident review board, is easy to understand. From the little evidence available all we know is that Taylor was in charge. Therefore: he was responsible for his men no matter what happened. Simple.

But ironically the Navy in the 56 facts and 56 opinions of the report while blaming him for the accident also left room for speculation about his health during the flight. Not making any attempt to interpret his medical or psychological mindset other than to make a blanket statement about his “Temporary Mental Confusion resulting in faulty judgement.” (Pg. 144 #44 &#45) the review board does its best to be impartial, but ends up sounding obtuse in it’s determination.

The report is worded in such a way to suggest all the pilots in the flight were , “physically qualified and temperamentally adapted for flight before take off (Pg.141 #11) and groups Taylor in with the rest of the pilots .  So on one hand they say he was perfectly fine to fly and the next they infer there was some kind of aberration in his psychological or physiological ability to function while in flight.  Sounds fair right? But they don’t mention the evidence leading up to that conclusion.

Either way, there is no doubt that there was something unusual in his demeanor that day seventy one years ago.  The book Discovery of Flight-19 by Jon Myhre; one reflecting many first hand personal interviews of those involved in the event: goes into detail regarding Taylor’s back ground, and his actions previous to, and on that day.  Charles was a natural pilot with a generally uncanny way of determining the correct direction to return to base, without instrumentation. Ultimately his goal was  to transition to a fighter squadron at some point after his current assignment.

Myhre also details how, according to another pilot close to Taylor; Howard Williams, C.C. had a bad feeling about the flight that day.  So much so that he made a call to his mother the day before to discuss it.  We will probably never learn the details of the conversation, but it seems clear above all; he was not being himself.

During Navigational Problem One;  just after the first leg and bombing run had been completed, something happened to Charles C. Taylor making him unable to focus completely on the routine directional tasks at hand. It is easy to speculate about his condition from just the record of radio transmissions between the planes and ground stations. But the Navy stopped short. So if we want answers we must take a stab at the his ‘mental confusion’.

Medically speaking, confusion can come about from any number of reasons ranging from, altitude sickness, to a heart attack, head injuries to de-hydration and to post-traumatic stress disorder. Formerly known as battle fatigue or shell-shock, PTSD injuries may stay dormant for months to years after an event, and outwardly visible signs can be hard to detect.

So can we build a case for PTSD?  Initially we might think he would be a prime candidate categorically; having been in combat and secondly ditching his aircraft at sea and surviving, not once but twice! Avengers were known to sink quite rapidly even in the calmest seas with all hands on board. The stress associated with the need to get out, must have been intense.

According to the Mayo Clinic “PTSD symptoms are generally grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in emotional reactions. ” From what we know of Taylor’s actions and the symptoms of the disorder it seems like he may have had at least two symptoms in the last two categories. Hyper vigilance or(being overly aware of possible danger) and  Hypersensitivity, having difficulty concentrating, startling easily, having a physical reaction (rapid heart rate or breathing, increase in blood pressure)

Lets examine facts from the case;

  • He had unofficially and officially asked to be excused from the training flight that morning, but gave no reason for the request. He had called his mom as well.             (Hyper-vigilance)
  • He gave the wrong radio call sign when responding initially by radio as MT-28 not FT-28 and had to be asked to correct it. (Hypersensitivity) Confusion
  • At one point he believes they are over the Florida Keys when in fact they were hundreds of miles away. He continues to return to this belief even after persuaded otherwise. (Hypersensitivity) Confusion
  • He could not determine which direction the Sun had set. In other words he couldn’t find the coast line and the general westerly direction. (Hypersensitivity) Confusion Furthermore; it seemed like his students knew which way was West.
  • Late in the mission, he gives or has control of the flight taken away from him seemingly by the next senior pilot. Later on he regains control of the flight still disoriented.

So why focus on PTSD above all else?  If there was some kind of medical emergency in Ft-28 (Taylors plane) could it have been a heart attack or embolism?   Can we rule out everything else?

In this process of elimination, its fair to say, it is not very likely to have been the case for some other trauma because from what we know of both heart attacks, strokes, and embolisms, Taylor would not have been able to communicate over the radio let alone perform the necessary functions to operate a plane. And in the end the planes stayed in the air close to 4 more hours beyond their projected return time. Even a panic attack would have likely caused an inability to coordinate his faculties.

No. Whatever ailment he was experiencing, it left his faculties intact enough to fly the plane. From what we are told by Myhre, Taylor was not a partier, so a hangover is unlikely, and it was December in Florida which makes dehydration from the heat possible but also unlikely. He may have suffered a head injury during one of his flights or ditches but symptoms of this should have been visible during his briefings or at least his last medical exam in Miami, earlier that year. Since, C.C. lived off post in a house shared with a couple of other pilots his behavior was not easily noted. Even if there was something unusual in his routine it seems no one was willing to discuss it.

But why would he want to cover up any problems anyway? Again we can only speculate, but while there were many veterans trying to get out of the service, there was also a small percentage of those wanting to make a career out of the military. Taylor was in this later group. And it only seems to reason that he wouldn’t want anything to prevent his desire to fly, especially in fighter planes.

In the end we cannot prove any medical condition simply as there are not enough facts. In addition Taylor was known as a cool customer under pressure, so in that light its hard not to give the man the benefit of the doubt.  Still it does make one wonder?