The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil’s Triangle, is a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a number of aircraft and surface vessels allegedly disappeared mysteriously. Popular culture has attributed these disappearances to the paranormal or activity by extraterrestrial beings. Documented evidence indicates that a significant percentage of the incidents were inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, and numerous official agencies have stated that the number and nature of disappearances in the region is similar to that in any other area of ocean.
The boundaries of the triangle cover the Straits of Florida, the Bahamas and the entire Caribbean island area and the Atlantic east to the Azores. The more familiar triangular boundary in most written works has as its points somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda, with most of the accidents concentrated along the southern boundary around the Bahamas and the Florida Straits.
The area is one of the most heavily traveled shipping lanes in the world, with ships crossing through it daily for ports in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. Cruise ships are also plentiful, and pleasure craft regularly go back and forth between Florida and the islands. It is also a heavily flown route for commercial and private aircraft heading towards Florida, the Caribbean, and South America from points north.
The earliest allegation of unusual disappearances in the Bermuda area appeared in a September 16, 1950 Associated Press article by E.V.W. Jones. Two years later, Fate magazine published “Sea Mystery At Our Back Door”, a short article by George X. Sand covering the loss of several planes and ships, including the loss of Flight 19, a group of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger bombers on a training mission. Sand’s article was the first to lay out the now-familiar triangular area where the losses took place. Flight 19 alone would be covered in the April 1962 issue of American Legion Magazine. It was claimed that the flight leader had been heard saying “We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, no white.” It was also claimed that officials at the Navy board of inquiry stated that the planes “flew off to Mars.” Sand’s article was the first to suggest a supernatural element to the Flight 19 incident. In the February 1964 issue of Argosy, Vincent Gaddis’s article “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle” argued that Flight 19 and other disappearances were part of a pattern of strange events in the region. The next year, Gaddis expanded this article into a book, Invisible Horizons.
Others would follow with their own works, elaborating on Gaddis’s ideas: John Wallace Spencer (Limbo of the Lost, 1969, repr. 1973); Charles Berlitz (The Bermuda Triangle, 1974); Richard Winer (The Devil’s Triangle, 1974), and many others, all keeping to some of the same supernatural elements outlined by Eckert.
Lawrence David Kusche, a research librarian from Arizona State University and author of The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved (1975) argued that many claims of Gaddis and subsequent writers were often exaggerated, dubious or unverifiable. Kusche’s research revealed a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies between Berlitz’s accounts and statements from eyewitnesses, participants, and others involved in the initial incidents. Kusche noted cases where pertinent information went unreported, such as the disappearance of round-the-world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, which Berlitz had presented as a mystery, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Another example was the ore-carrier recounted by Berlitz as lost without trace three days out of an Atlantic port when it had been lost three days out of a port with the same name in the Pacific Ocean. Kusche also argued that a large percentage of the incidents that sparked allegations of the Triangle’s mysterious influence actually occurred well outside it. Often his research was simple: he would review period newspapers of the dates of reported incidents and find reports on possibly relevant events like unusual weather, that were never mentioned in the disappearance stories.
Kusche concluded that:
- The number of ships and aircraft reported missing in the area was not significantly greater, proportionally speaking, than in any other part of the ocean.
- In an area frequented by tropical storms, the number of disappearances that did occur were, for the most part, neither disproportionate, unlikely, nor mysterious; furthermore, Berlitz and other writers would often fail to mention such storms.
- The numbers themselves had been exaggerated by sloppy research. A boat’s disappearance, for example, would be reported, but its eventual (if belated) return to port may not have been.
- Some disappearances had, in fact, never happened. One plane crash was said to have taken place in 1937 off Daytona Beach, Florida, in front of hundreds of witnesses; a check of the local papers revealed nothing.
- The legend of the Bermuda Triangle is a manufactured mystery, perpetuated by writers who either purposely or unknowingly made use of misconceptions, faulty reasoning, and sensationalism.
When the UK Channel 4 television program “The Bermuda Triangle” (c. 1992) was being produced by John Simmons of Geofilms for the Equinox series, the marine insurer Lloyd’s of London was asked if an unusually large number of ships had sunk in the Bermuda Triangle area. Lloyd’s of London determined that large numbers of ships had not sunk there.
United States Coast Guard records confirm their conclusion. In fact, the number of supposed disappearances is relatively insignificant considering the number of ships and aircraft that pass through on a regular basis.
The Coast Guard is also officially skeptical of the Triangle, noting that they collect and publish, through their inquiries, much documentation contradicting many of the incidents written about by the Triangle authors. In one such incident involving the 1972 explosion and sinking of the tanker SS V. A. Fogg in the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard photographed the wreck and recovered several bodies, in contrast with one Triangle author’s claim that all the bodies had vanished, with the exception of the captain, who was found sitting in his cabin at his desk, clutching a coffee cup.
The NOVA/Horizon episode The Case of the Bermuda Triangle, aired on June 27, 1976, was highly critical, stating that “When we’ve gone back to the original sources or the people involved, the mystery evaporates. Science does not have to answer questions about the Triangle because those questions are not valid in the first place… Ships and planes behave in the Triangle the same way they behave everywhere else in the world.”
Skeptical researchers, such as Ernest Taves and Barry Singer, have noted how mysteries and the paranormal are very popular and profitable. This has led to the production of vast amounts of material on topics such as the Bermuda Triangle. They were able to show that some of the pro-paranormal material is often misleading or inaccurate, but its producers continue to market it. Accordingly, they have claimed that the market is biased in favor of books, TV specials, and other media that support the Triangle mystery, and against well-researched material if it espouses a skeptical viewpoint.
Finally, if the Triangle is assumed to cross land, such as parts of Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, or Bermuda itself, there is no evidence for the disappearance of any land-based vehicles or persons. The city of Freeport, located inside the Triangle, operates a major shipyard and an airport that handles 50,000 flights annually and is visited by over a million tourists a year.
Triangle writers have used a number of supernatural concepts to explain the events. One explanation pins the blame on leftover technology from the mythical lost continent of Atlantis. Sometimes connected to the Atlantis story is the submerged rock formation known as the Bimini Road off the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, which is in the Triangle by some definitions. Followers of the purported psychic Edgar Cayce take his prediction that evidence of Atlantis would be found in 1968 as referring to the discovery of the Bimini Road. Believers describe the formation as a road, wall, or other structure, though geologists consider it to be of natural origin.
Other writers attribute the events to UFOs. This idea was used by Steven Spielberg for his science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which features the lost Flight 19 as alien abductees.
Charles Berlitz, author of various books on anomalous phenomena, lists several theories attributing the losses in the Triangle to anomalous or unexplained forces.
Compass problems are one of the cited phrases in many Triangle incidents. While some have theorized that unusual local magnetic anomalies may exist in the area, such anomalies have not been shown to exist. Compasses have natural magnetic variations in relation to the magnetic poles, a fact which navigators have known for centuries. Magnetic (compass) north and geographic (true) north are only exactly the same for a small number of places – for example, as of 2000 in the United States only those places on a line running from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico. But the public may not be as informed, and think there is something mysterious about a compass “changing” across an area as large as the Triangle, which it naturally will.
Deliberate acts of destruction
Deliberate acts of destruction can fall into two categories: acts of war, and acts of piracy. Records in enemy files have been checked for numerous losses. While many sinkings have been attributed to surface raiders or submarines during the World Wars and documented in various command log books, many others suspected as falling in that category have not been proven. It is suspected that the loss of USS Cyclops in 1918, as well as her sister ships Proteus and Nereus in World War II, were attributed to submarines, but no such link has been found in the German records.
Piracy—the illegal capture of a craft on the high seas—continues to this day. While piracy for cargo theft is more common in the western Pacific and Indian oceans, drug smugglers do steal pleasure boats for smuggling operations, and may have been involved in crew and yacht disappearances in the Caribbean. Piracy in the Caribbean was common from about 1560 to the 1760s, and famous pirates included Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Jean Lafitte.
The Gulf Stream is an ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and then flows through the Straits of Florida into the North Atlantic. In essence, it is a river within an ocean, and, like a river, it can and does carry floating objects. It has a surface velocity of up to about 2.5 metres per second (5.6 mph). A small plane making a water landing or a boat having engine trouble can be carried away from its reported position by the current.
One of the most cited explanations in official inquiries as to the loss of any aircraft or vessel is human error. Whether deliberate or accidental, humans have been known to make mistakes resulting in catastrophe, and losses within the Bermuda Triangle are no exception. For example, the Coast Guard cited a lack of proper training for the cleaning of volatile benzene residue as a reason for the loss of the tanker SS V. A. Fogg in 1972. Human stubbornness may have caused businessman Harvey Conover to lose his sailing yacht, the Revonoc, as he sailed into the teeth of a storm south of Florida on January 1, 1958.
Hurricanes are powerful storms, which form in tropical waters and have historically cost thousands of lives lost and caused billions of dollars in damage. The sinking of Francisco de Bobadilla’s Spanish fleet in 1502 was the first recorded instance of a destructive hurricane. These storms have in the past caused a number of incidents related to the Triangle.
An explanation for some of the disappearances has focused on the presence of vast fields of methane hydrates (a form of natural gas) on the continental shelves. Laboratory experiments carried out in Australia have proven that bubbles can, indeed, sink a scale model ship by decreasing the density of the water; any wreckage consequently rising to the surface would be rapidly dispersed by the Gulf Stream. It has been hypothesized that periodic methane eruptions (sometimes called “mud volcanoes”) may produce regions of frothy water that are no longer capable of providing adequate buoyancy for ships. If this were the case, such an area forming around a ship could cause it to sink very rapidly and without warning.
Publications by the USGS describe large stores of undersea hydrates worldwide, including the Blake Ridge area, off the southeastern United States coast. However, according to another of their papers, no large releases of gas hydrates are believed to have occurred in the Bermuda Triangle for the past 15,000 years.
In various oceans around the world, rogue waves have caused ships to sink and oil platforms to topple. These waves, until 1995, were considered to be a mystery and/or a myth.
Flight 19 was a training flight of TBM Avenger bombers that went missing on December 5, 1945 while over the Atlantic. The squadron’s flight path was scheduled to take them due east for 120 miles, north for 73 miles, and then back over a final 120-mile leg that would return them to the naval base, but they never returned. The impression is given that the flight encountered unusual phenomena and anomalous compass readings, and that the flight took place on a calm day under the supervision of an experienced pilot, Lt. Charles Carroll Taylor. Adding to the intrigue is that the Navy’s report of the accident was ascribed to “causes or reasons unknown.”
Adding to the mystery, a search and rescue Mariner aircraft with a 13-man crew was dispatched to aid the missing squadron, but the Mariner itself was never heard from again. Later, there was a report from a tanker cruising off the coast of Florida of a visible explosion at about the time the Mariner would have been on patrol.
While the basic facts of this version of the story are essentially accurate, some important details are missing. The weather was becoming stormy by the end of the incident, and naval reports and written recordings of the conversations between Taylor and the other pilots of Flight 19 do not indicate magnetic problems.
The mysterious abandonment in 1872 of the 282-ton brigantine Mary Celeste is often but inaccurately connected to the Triangle, the ship having been abandoned off the coast of Portugal. The event is possibly confused with the loss of a ship with a similar name, the Mari Celeste, a 207-ton paddle steamer that hit a reef and quickly sank off the coast of Bermuda on September 13, 1864. Kusche noted that many of the “facts” about this incident were actually about the Marie Celeste, the fictional ship from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement” (based on the real Mary Celeste incident, but fictionalised).
The Ellen Austin supposedly came across a derelict ship, placed on board a prize crew, and attempted to sail with it to New York in 1881. According to the stories, the derelict disappeared; others elaborating further that the derelict reappeared minus the prize crew, then disappeared again with a second prize crew on board. A check from Lloyd’s of London records proved the existence of the Meta, built in 1854 and that in 1880 the Meta was renamed Ellen Austin. There are no casualty listings for this vessel, or any vessel at that time, that would suggest a large number of missing men were placed on board a derelict that later disappeared.
The incident resulting in the single largest loss of life in the history of the US Navy not related to combat occurred when USS Cyclops, under the command of Lt Cdr G. W. Worley, went missing without a trace with a crew of 309 sometime after March 4, 1918, after departing the island of Barbados. Although there is no strong evidence for any single theory, many independent theories exist, some blaming storms, some capsizing, and some suggesting that wartime enemy activity was to blame for the loss.
Theodosia Burr Alston
Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of former United States Vice President Aaron Burr. Her disappearance has been cited at least once in relation to the Triangle. She was a passenger on board the Patriot, which sailed from Charleston, South Carolina to New York City on December 30, 1812, and was never heard from again. The planned route is well outside all but the most extended versions of the Bermuda Triangle. Both piracy and the War of 1812 have been posited as explanations, as well as a theory placing her in Texas, well outside the Triangle.
S.V. Spray was a derelict fishing boat refitted as an ocean cruiser by Joshua Slocum and used by him to complete the first ever single-handed circumnavigation of the world, between 1895 and 1898.
In 1909, Slocum set sail from Vineyard Haven bound for Venezuela. Neither he nor Spray were ever seen again.
There is no evidence they were in the Bermuda Triangle when they disappeared, nor is there any evidence of paranormal activity. The boat was considered in poor condition and a hard boat to handle that Slocum’s skill usually overcame.
Carroll A. Deering
A five-masted schooner built in 1919, the Carroll A. Deering was found hard aground and abandoned at Diamond Shoals, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on January 31, 1921. Rumors and more at the time indicated the Deering was a victim of piracy, possibly connected with the illegal rum-running trade during Prohibition, and possibly involving another ship, S.S. Hewitt, which disappeared at roughly the same time. Just hours later, an unknown steamer sailed near the lightship along the track of the Deering, and ignored all signals from the lightship. It is speculated that the Hewitt may have been this mystery ship, and possibly involved in the Deering crew’s disappearance.
On December 28, 1948, a Douglas DC-3 aircraft, number NC16002, disappeared while on a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami. No trace of the aircraft or the 32 people onboard was ever found. From the documentation compiled by the Civil Aeronautics Board investigation, a possible key to the plane’s disappearance was found, but barely touched upon by the Triangle writers: the plane’s batteries were inspected and found to be low on charge, but ordered back into the plane without a recharge by the pilot while in San Juan. Whether or not this led to complete electrical failure will never be known. However, since piston-engined aircraft rely upon magnetos to provide spark to their cylinders rather than a battery powered ignition coil system, this theory is not strongly convincing.
Star Tiger and Star Ariel
G-AHNP Star Tiger disappeared on January 30, 1948 on a flight from the Azores to Bermuda; G-AGRE Star Ariel disappeared on January 17, 1949, on a flight from Bermuda to Kingston, Jamaica. Both were Avro Tudor IV passenger aircraft operated by British South American Airways. Both planes were operating at the very limits of their range and the slightest error or fault in the equipment could keep them from reaching the small island. One plane was not heard from long before it would have entered the Triangle.
On August 28, 1963 a pair of U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft collided and crashed into the Atlantic. The Triangle version (Winer, Berlitz, Gaddis) of this story specifies that they did collide and crash, but there were two distinct crash sites, separated by over 160 miles of water. However, Kusche’s research showed that the unclassified version of the Air Force investigation report stated that the debris field defining the second “crash site” was examined by a search and rescue ship, and found to be a mass of seaweed and driftwood tangled in an old buoy.
SS Marine Sulphur Queen
SS Marine Sulphur Queen, a T2 tanker converted from oil to sulfur carrier, was last heard from on February 4, 1963 with a crew of 39 near the Florida Keys. Marine Sulphur Queen was the first vessel mentioned in Vincent Gaddis’ 1964 Argosy Magazine article, but he left it as having “sailed into the unknown”, despite the Coast Guard report, which not only documented the ship’s badly-maintained history, but declared that it was an unseaworthy vessel that should never have gone to sea.
One of the more famous incidents in the Triangle took place in 1921 (some say a few years later), when the Japanese vessel Raifuku Maru (sometimes misidentified as Raikuke Maru) went down with all hands after sending a distress signal that allegedly said “Danger like dagger now. Come quick!”, or “It’s like a dagger, come quick!” This has led writers to speculate on what the “dagger” was, with a waterspout being the likely candidate (Winer). In reality the ship was nowhere near the Triangle, nor was the word “dagger” a part of the ship’s distress call (“Now very danger. Come quick.”). Having left Boston for Hamburg, Germany, on April 21, 1925, she was caught in a severe storm and sank in the North Atlantic with all hands while another ship, RMS Homeric, attempted an unsuccessful rescue.
A pleasure yacht was found adrift in the Atlantic south of Bermuda on September 26, 1955; it is usually stated in the stories (Berlitz, Winer) that the crew vanished while the yacht survived being at sea during three hurricanes. The 1955 Atlantic hurricane season lists only one storm coming near Bermuda towards the end of August, hurricane “Edith”; of the others, “Flora” was too far to the east, and “Katie” arrived after the yacht was recovered. It was confirmed that the Connemara IV was empty and in port when “Edith” may have caused the yacht to slip her moorings and drift out to sea.
A Cessna piloted by Carolyn Cascio, on June 6, 1969, with one passenger, attempted to travel from Nassau, Bahamas to Cockburn, Grand Turk Island. The plane was witnessed by many air traffic controllers in Cockburn’s airport to circle the island for 30 minutes, after which, it flew away apparently for another island. All attempts from the ground to raise Cascio on the radio failed.
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