The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is a region of the northwestern Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels have disappeared or are alleged to have disappeared.
Some people have claimed that these disappearances fall beyond the boundaries of human error or acts of nature.
Popular culture has attributed some of these disappearances to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings.
Though a substantial body of documentation exists showing numerous incidents to have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, and numerous official agencies have gone on record as stating the number and nature of disappearances to be similar to any other area of ocean, many have remained unexplained despite considerable investigation.
The Triangle Area
The boundaries of the Triangle vary with the author; some stating its shape is akin to a trapezoid covering the Straits of Florida, the Bahamas and the entire Caribbean island area and the Atlantic east to the Azores; others add to it the Gulf of Mexico.
The more familiar, triangular boundary in most written works has as its points somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Florida; 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-sailed 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 Gulf Stream ocean current flows through the Triangle after leaving the Gulf of Mexico; its current of five to six knots may have played a part in a number of disappearances. Sudden storms can and do appear, and in the summer to late fall hurricanes strike the area.
The combination of heavy maritime traffic and tempestuous weather makes it inevitable that vessels could founder in storms and be lost without a trace – especially before improved telecommunications, radar and satellite technology arrived late in the 20th century.
History of the Triangle Story
According to the Triangle authors, Christopher Columbus was the first person to document something strange in the Triangle, reporting that he and his crew observed "strange dancing lights on the horizon", flames in the sky, and at another point he wrote in his log about bizarre compass bearings in the area. From his log book, dated October 11, 1492 he wrote:
"The land was first seen by a sailor (Rodrigo de Triana), although the Admiral at ten o'clock that evening standing on the quarter-deck saw a light, but so small a body that he could not affirm it to be land; calling to Pero Gutiérrez, groom of the King's wardrobe, he told him he saw a light, and bid him look that way, which he did and saw it; he did the same to Rodrigo Sánchez of Segovia, whom the King and Queen had sent with the squadron as comptroller, but he was unable to see it from his situation. The Admiral again perceived it once or twice, appearing like the light of a wax candle moving up and down, which some thought an indication of land. But the Admiral held it for certain that land was near..."
Modern scholars checking the original log books have surmised that the lights he saw were the cooking fires of Taino natives in their canoes or on the beach; the compass problems were the result of a false reading based on the movement of a star.
The first article of any kind in which the legend of the Triangle began appeared in newspapers by E.V.W. Jones on September 16, 1950, through the Associated Press.
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."
This was the first article to connect the supernatural to Flight 19, but it would take another author, Vincent Gaddis, writing in the February 1964 Argosy magazine to take Flight 19 together with other mysterious disappearances and place it under the umbrella of a new catchy name: "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle"; he would build on that article with a more detailed book, Invisible Horizons, the next year.
Others would follow with their own works: 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) has challenged this trend.
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.
He 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 Berlitz recounted 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 which have sparked the Triangle's mysterious influence actually occurred well outside it.
Often his research was surprisingly simple: he would go over period newspapers and see items like weather reports that were never mentioned in the stories.
Kusche came to a conclusion:
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 listed as missing would be reported, but its eventual (if belated) return to port may not have been reported.
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.
Kusche concluded that:
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. §Epilogue, p. 277
The marine insurer Lloyd's of London has determined the Triangle to be no more dangerous than any other area of ocean, and does not charge unusual rates for passage through the region. 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 which 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 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 (1976-06-27) 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 favour of books, TV specials, etc. which 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 which annually handles 50,000 flights, and is visited by over a million tourists a year.
An explanation for some of the disappearances has focused on the presence of vast fields of methane hydrates 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.
A white paper was published in 1981 by the United States Geological Survey about the appearance of hydrates in the Blake Ridge area, off the southeastern United States coast.
However, according to a USGS web page, no large releases of gas hydrates are believed to have occurred in the Bermuda Triangle for the past 15,000 years.
Compass problems are one of the cited phrases in many Triangle incidents. Some have theorized the possibility of unusual local magnetic anomalies in the area, however these have not been shown to exist. It should also be remembered that compasses have natural magnetic variations in relation to the Magnetic poles.
For example, in the United States the only places where magnetic (compass) north and geographic (true) north are exactly the same are on a line running from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico.
Navigators have known this for centuries. But the public may not be as informed and think there is something mysterious about the compass "changing" across an area as large as the Triangle, which it naturally will.
Hurricanes are powerful storms which are spawned in tropical waters, and have historically been responsible for thousands of lives lost and 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.
The Gulf Stream is an ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, and then 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.
A small plane making a water landing or a boat having engine trouble will be carried away from its reported position by the current, as happened to the cabin cruiser Witchcraft on December 22, 1967, when it reported engine trouble near the Miami buoy marker one mile (1.6 km) from shore, but was not there when a Coast Guard cutter arrived.
Extremely large waves can appear seemingly at random, even in calm seas. One such rogue wave caused the Ocean Ranger, then the world's largest offshore platform, to capsize off the coast of Newfoundland in 1982. There is, however, no particular reason to believe rogue waves are more common in the Bermuda region, and this explanation cannot account for the loss of airplanes.
Acts of Man
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 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. Many losses remain inconclusive due to the lack of wreckage which could be studied, a fact cited on many official reports.
Deliberate Acts of Destruction
This 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 the various command log books, many others which have been 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, as defined by the taking of a ship or small boat on the high seas, is an act which 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.
Historically famous pirates of the Caribbean (where piracy was common from about 1560 to the 1760s) include Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and Jean Lafitte. Lafitte is sometimes said to be a Triangle victim himself.
Another form of pirate operated on dry land. Bankers or wreckers would shine a light on shore to misdirect ships, which would then founder on the shore; the wreckers would then help themselves to the cargo. It is possible that these wreckers also killed any crew who protested. Nags Head, North Carolina, was named for the wreckers' practice of hanging a lantern on the head of a hobbled horse as it walked along the beach.
Triangle writers have used a number of supernatural theories 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 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which features the lost Flight 19 as alien abductees.
Charles Berlitz, grandson of a distinguished linguist and author of various additional books on anomalous phenomena, has kept in line with this extraordinary explanation, and attributed the losses in the Triangle to anomalous or unexplained forces.
Over the years there have been dozens of articles, books, and television programs that promoted the mystery and history of the Bermuda Triangle.
And there have been many news paper articles on such mysterious disappearances in Bermuda Triangle.
However, Larry Kusche in his study found that few did any real investigation into the mystery. Rather, they passed on the speculations of their predecessors as if they were passing on the mantle of truth.
Here are some references to news paper articles that have mention of some of the incidents I have discussed in my other sections.
DC-3 Airliner NC16002 disappearance
Marine Sulphur Queen: This 524-foot carrier of molten sulphur started sail Feb 2, 1963 from Beaumont, Texas. This was a T2 tanker converted into sulphur carrier. It was reported lost in Florida Straits on Feb 4.
Two of the so-called Bermuda Triangle's most mysterious disappearances in the late 1940s may have been solved.
Scores of ships and planes are said to have vanished without trace over the decades in a vast triangular area of ocean with imaginary points in Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico.
But journalist Tom Mangold's new examination for the BBC provides plausible explanations for the disappearance of two British commercial planes in the area, with the loss of 51 passengers and crew.
One plane probably suffered from catastrophic technical failure as a result of poor design, while the other is likely to have run out of fuel.
Sixty years ago, commercial flights from London to Bermuda were new and perilous. It would require a refuelling stop on the Azores before the 2,000-mile flight to Bermuda, which at that time was the longest non-stop commercial overseas flight in the world.
The planes would have been operating at the limit of their range. Today planes arriving at the tiny Atlantic island have sufficient reserve fuel to divert to the US East Coast 700 miles away, in case of emergency.
And the planes of the post-war era were far less reliable than today's airliners.
British South American Airways (BSAA), which operated the route, had a grim safety record. In three years it had had 11 serious accidents and lost five planes with 73 passengers and 22 crew members killed.
On 30 January 1948, a BSAA Avro Tudor IV plane disappeared without trace. Twenty-five passengers and a crew of six were on board The Star Tiger. No bodies or wreckage were found.
The official investigation into the disappearance concluded: "It may truly be said that no more baffling problem has ever been presented.
"What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery."
At 2,000 feet you'd be leaving very little altitude for manoeuvre - in any serious in-flight emergency the plane could have lost its height in seconds and gone into the sea
But there are a number of clues in the official accident report that reveal the Star Tiger had encountered problems before it reached the Azores.
The aircraft's heater was notoriously unreliable and had failed en route, and one of the compasses was found to be faulty.
Probably to keep the plane warmer, the pilot had decided to fly the whole transatlantic route very low, at 2,000 feet, burning fuel at a faster rate.
On approaching Bermuda, Star Tiger was a little off course and had been flying an hour later than planned.
In addition, the official Ministry of Civil Aviation report considered that the headwinds faced by Star Tiger may have been much stronger than those forecast. This would have caused the fuel to burn more quickly.
"Flying at 2,000 feet they would have used up much more fuel," said Eric Newton, one of the Ministry of Civil Aviation's most senior air accident investigators, who reviewed the scenario for the BBC.
"At 2,000 feet you'd be leaving very little altitude for manoeuvre. In any serious in-flight emergency they could have lost their height in seconds and gone into the sea."
Whatever happened to the plane, it was sudden and catastrophic - there was no time to send an emergency signal.
Five US Navy planes disappeared in the triangle area in 1945
The Avro Tudor IV was a converted warplane that was eventually taken out of passenger service because of its poor safety record. Only BSAA continued to fly the aircraft.
Gordon Store was chief pilot and manager of operations at BSAA. In an interview with his local newspaper last November, he said he had no confidence in the Tudor's engines.
"Its systems were hopeless… all the hydraulics, the air-conditioning equipment and the recycling fans were crammed together underneath the floor without any thought. There were fuel-burning heaters that would never work," he said.
Almost a year to the day after the disappearance of the Star Tiger, another Avro Tudor IV belonging to BSAA vanished between Bermuda and Jamaica.
Exactly one hour after departure from Bermuda on 17 January 1949, the pilot of the Star Ariel sent a routine communication of his position. But then the plane vanished without trace at 18,000 feet.
According to experts, this would have required a sudden catastrophe.
Again, no wreckage, debris or bodies were ever found.
Fuel starvation at that height was not plausible, the weather report had been good, and pilot error was ruled out.
The plane's poor design may well have been to blame, according to Don Mackintosh, a former BSAA Tudor IV pilot. The cabin heater mounted underneath the floor where the co-pilot sat is his prime suspect.
My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion
Captain Peter Duffey
At the time, aircraft heater technology was still in its infancy.
"The heater bled aviation fuel on to a hot tube - and was also fairly close to the hydraulic pipes," he says.
A pressure switch should have allowed the heater to operate when it was in the air but it was unreliable and was often deliberately short-circuited by staff, allowing the pilot manual control.
The switch prevented inflammable fuel from flowing, but if the heater was switched on manually, gas that may have collected could have ignited.
Captain Peter Duffey, a former BSAA pilot who went on to become a captain of British Airways Concorde, also believes that the proximity of the heater and the hydraulic pipes was significant.
"My theory is that hydraulic vapour escaped from a leak, which got on to a hot heater and caused an explosion," he says.
Mr Newton's report came to a similar conclusion: "If the heater had caught fire down below the floorboards then it could have developed to a catastrophic state before the crew knew anything about it.
"There was no automatic fire extinguisher to put it out like there is nowadays. There was no alarm where the heater was stored… so no-one would know, possibly until it was too late."
The official accident investigation discovered that because of a communications error, search and rescue teams were not despatched until seven and a half hours later.
By then what was left of the plane and the bodies would have sunk.
The report on the disappearance of the first plane, the Star Tiger, said something which, because it could be easily misinterpreted, helped the accident achieve notoriety.
In a moment of philosophical conjecture, the investigators mused that maybe "some external cause may (have) overwhelm(ed) both man and machine".
Those comments from sober-suited British civil servants opened the floodgates for conspiracy theorists, hack journalists and mischief makers, adding to the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.