GEOGRAPHY & HISTORY
The Bermuda Triangle became known as the area where an unusually large number of ships and airplanes disappeared, under mysterious circumstances and, usually, without any traces. Geographically it is a triangle defined by Miami Florida, San Juan Puerto Rico, and the Bermuda islands. The area started to gain its fame right after the end of World War II and reached its peak during the 60’s and 70’s.
However, long before the Triangle gained its fame and its name, the high seas of the area were full of mystery and danger for the sailors. To the south, the numerous Caribbean islands were the base of operations for ruthless pirates. To the west, and partially inside the Triangle’s area, the well-known Gulf Stream runs as a “river in the sea”, with a temperature and other physicochemical characteristics slightly different from those of the rest of the ocean. The weather conditions in the entire region are extremely variable and short-living and violent phenomena are common enough. Finally, at the northeast and also partially inside the Triangle, lies the Sargasso Sea, perhaps the most strange piece of ocean in the world.
When Christopher Columbus made his journey to the New World, he encountered waters full of seaweed that made him believe he was approaching land. When he tried to measure depth, he couldn’t, since at some places the ocean is as much as 5.000m deep. In the following years, the Sargasso Sea became a nightmare for sailors.
In the area defined by the 20th and 35th north parallel and the 30th and 75th west meridian, a thick layer of seaweed covers the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean is 1.500-7.000m deep. The seaweed named Sargassum is reproducing on the ocean surface and remains gathered in the Sargasso Sea because of the weak sea currents.
The main characteristics of the Sargasso Sea, besides the floating seaweed, are the weak currents, the higher than normal salinity and the long periods of total lack of wind. When ships were depending on the wind for their motion, a ship in the Sargasso could be trapped for weeks or even months due to weak or no winds at all. For many centuries it was known as the “Graveyard of ships” since there were many vessels trapped, often with their crews on board, dead from thirst and hunger.
Another common name for the Sargasso Sea is the “Horse Lattitudes” since many of the Spanish ships heading for the New World were carrying horses for the soldiers. When a ship was trapped in the Sargasso and the sailors were starting to experience thirst, they used to throw horses in the sea to save water. Many ships used to encounter floating dead horses, or horses skeletons mingled in the seaweed.
For centuries, the sailors, always-superstitious beings, believed that the spirits of the horses that had died there haunted the area. The legends were fed by the frequent discoveries of abandoned ships. Many times, when a ship was trapped in the Sargasso Sea, the crew would try to escape rowing the lifeboats.
The 17th and 18th century legends told stories about tenths of ships still floating entangled in the seaweed, abandoned, or with their crews long dead. Ships from all eras, Spanish galleons loaded with gold, even Roman galleys with skeletons still holding the oars. The Sargasso Sea was the sea of lost ships, a piece of ocean that every sailor tried to avoid.
Even today, many small ships are in danger of being immobilized if their screws get tangled in the seaweed.
The Gulf Stream enters the Atlantic Ocean coming from the Gulf of Mexico, in the area between Florida and the Bahamas. It is actually a river in the sea, with a temperature almost 10οC higher than that of the ocean water and an increased salinity. It runs with a speed of 5 knots on a north-northeast heading.
The Gulf Stream is responsible for many intense and sudden weather phenomena. When the wind is blowing strong from the northeast, the sea can get suddenly very rough with 10-15m waves, capable to sink or capsize small vessels.
The temperature difference between the ocean and the Stream water often creates a thick fog curtain that appears and disappears unexpectedly, approximately defining the Stream’s route in the ocean.
Area morphology and characteristics
On the north and east of the Triangle there is only the Atlantic Ocean and the Sargasso Sea which is partially located inside it. The Gulf Stream flows on the west end of the Triangle, before the continental U.S. Cuba and the Bahamas are located southwest and the Antilles on the south.
Extremely deep water and unique meteorological phenomena are some of the area characteristics. The ocean depth is usually more than 5.000m, while near the Puerto Rico coast the depth drops at 8.300m, the deepest point in the entire Atlantic Ocean.
The weather is extremely variable and unpredictable. Even when the regional forecasts predict good weather, the rapid development of violent storms, with wind speed up to 75 knots, restricted to small areas, is quite possible.
Another interesting phenomenon is the appearance of small cyclones that move masses of water and sometimes raise water to tenths of meters, threatening low flying aircraft.
Thunderstorms in the area ionize atmosphere particles and cause another phenomenon known as the “St. Elmo’s fire”, or, in a more scientific term, electroluminescent coronal discharge. Physically, St. Elmo's fire is a bright blue-white glow, resembling fire, formed around tall, sharply pointed structures such as masts, spires and chimneys, and aircraft wings.
During the 60’s and the early 70’s the zero magnetic variation line was crossing the Triangle area. As a rule, the true north and the magnetic north bearings have a difference up to 20o. This difference is marked on maps so that navigators can compensate accordingly. On the meridian of the zero magnetic variation (also known as “Agonic Line”) there is no difference between true and magnetic north. The Agonic Line is moving as the years go by and today it crosses the Gulf of Mexico, west of Florida.
In addition to all these characteristics, the area can be described as a seafaring crossroads. Ships moving to and from North, Central and South America have to transit through the Bermuda Triangle. The same applies to air traffic, as numerous airstrips cross the Triangle.
Florida and the numerous small islands in the area, being attractive tourist destinations, attract lots of private or chartered airplanes and small boats.
A MYTH IS BORN
The Bermuda Triangle stories did not surface suddenly. There was an initial stage, the 50’s, during which the legend was being born. Then, during the 60’s, a period of gradual promulgation and, during the 70’s, an explosive propagation. The Bermuda Triangle myth was here to stay.
In 1950, E. Jones, an Associated Press journalist, wrote an article implying that there was a mystery concerning the disappearance of 5 U.S. Navy torpedo planes, right after the end of World War II, in the Atlantic Ocean, near Florida. Two years later a Fate magazine article covered the same incident, also adding the disappearance of other ships and airplanes in the area. The 5 U.S. Navy airplanes story started appearing in books, Flying Saucers by H.T. Wilkins (1954), The Flying Saucer by D. Kehoe (1955) and The Case for the UFO by Μ.Κ.Jessup (1955).
The title “The Triangle” was frequently used during the 50’s when referring to incidents in the area. D. Titler, in his book Wings of Mystery (1962), had a chapter under the title The Mystery of Flight 19, dealing with the 5 airplanes, in which he used the name “Death’s Triangle”. A. Eckert in his 1962 article titled Lost Patrol, presented a series of dialogues between the control tower and the airplanes. In those dialogues there were phrases like: “…everything is wrong...strange ...the ocean doesn't look as it should…” and “…They look like they're from outer space - don't come after me…”. The name “Bermuda Triangle” appeared for the first time in a 1964 article by V. Gaddis in Argosy magazine.
The first book completely devoted to the Triangle was published in 1964, written by J. Spencer and titled Limbo of the Lost. In the early 70’s hundreds of article were published in magazines and newspapers, but no book or article has been read by more people than the The Bermuda Triangle by C. Berlitz that was published in 1974. Berlitz, starting with the already famous Flight 19, presented a long series of incidents and various theories. The book sold more than 10.000.000 copies, worldwide, and contributed more than anything else in establishing the Bermuda Triangle as one of 20th century’s greatest mysteries.
The mystery of Flight 19
The disappearance of Flight 19 is not just the most famous of the Bermuda Triangle mysteries, but is also the case on which the birth and the consolidation of the legend were based. During the 50’s and 60’s the 5 airplanes and the mysterious circumstances that marked their loss, was the subject of the first reports and hints that there was something strange in the area. Perhaps, were it not for the mystery of Flight 19 the Bermuda Triangle would never have existed.
"…They look like they're from outer space - don't come after me…"
On December 5th 1945 a flight of 5 TBM-3 Avenger torpedo planes, under the call sign Flight 19, departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a routine 2 hour patrol. The pilots and many of the crew members were experience World War II veterans. Shortly before the estimated time of arrival back to Fort Lauderdale the control tower received a strange communication from the leader of Flight 19 who seemed to be in confusion:
- “We cannot see land, seems we ‘re out of course”
- The control tower interrogated: “What is your position?”
The contact is lost for about 10 minutes. When it is re-established the control tower records tie voices of pilots that sound disoriented. Fort Lauderdale control tower advises the leader of Flight 19 to fly towards the sun (west) till he finds land.
- “We don’t know where west is, everything is wrong...strange ...the ocean doesn't look as it should”
It was 4 in the afternoon, a beautiful sunny day in Florida but Flight 19 seemed to be facing some sort of unidentified emergency. The communications became difficult and the base radio got only broken messages between the planes. One of these messages seemed to report that the fuel was almost over (something impossible based on the aircraft’s tank capacity and the duration of the flight), while another one spoke about compasses that were turning wild.
A little bit later the leader of Flight 19 was heard reporting:
- We ‘re not sure where we are, we must have passed Florida and we are over the Gulf of Mexico”
The last words anybody ever heard from Flight 19 were:
- “It seems we ‘re entering white water. We are totally lost.”
The above mentioned dialogues were publicized in A. Eckert’s article Lost Patrol (1962).
A PBM-5 Martin Mariner patrol plane took off to assist Flight 19 but vanished a few minutes later. Since then no one ever heard or found a single trace of either Flight 19 or the PBM. According to some reports a base near Miami intercepted a weak radio message including the letters “FT” that were part of Flight 19’s call sign. However, that message was recorded late that evening, around 7, almost 2 hours after the fuel should have run out.
For 1 week, hundreds of ships and airplanes researched an area almost 300.000 square miles in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Absolutely nothing was discovered.
The Board of Investigation did not produce any substantial results. No satisfactory answers were given, although there were enough assumptions concerning a violent weather phenomenon. One member of the Board said “They disappeared, like they went to Mars”.
In 1974 journalist-investigator A. Ford who was following the case since 1945, revealed during a TV show that one of the messages from Flight 19 was: “don’t come after me, they look like they are from outerspace”.
The message was recorded by a radio amateur and reported it to Ford at the time of the incident. Ford didn’t put credit in it assuming that the publicity of the case and the rumors that circulated excited the man and lead him to a misinterpretation of one of the weak messages, or to a deliberate act in pursuit of personal fame. Years later, while he (Ford) was studying the Board’s files, he encountered the phrase “don’t come after me” in the official record of communications with Flight 19. The phrase reminded him of the radio amateur’s story and lead him to the conclusion that the Board or the Navy could have falsified the official record and classified at least one part of them.
Until today, no one, ever, came up with some kind of evidence or a plausible, reasonable answer concerning the disappearance of Flight 19 or the Martin Mariner PBM.
Omissions and Inaccuracies
ΤΒΜ-3 Avenger aircraft, similar to those in Flight 19
The above-mentioned narration is the most common version of the Flight 19 mystery and has been reproduced in countless books and articles, with slight changes. The repetition consolidated it as the sole, accurate, original version. Several investigators who tried to come up with a reasonable explanation, focused on bad weather conditions and the assumed inadequacy of the Flight leader, but both these allegations were proven groundless.
However, this well publicized version of the story is incomplete and only partially accurate.
The first factual error concerns Flight 19’s composition and mission. It was a training flight dealing mainly with navigating over the ocean. The crews of the airplanes were actually inexperienced aviators. Most of them had years of service in the armed forces and fought in World War II but not as aviators, a capacity they had recently acquired as part of the vast re-structuring program that was undertaken by the US Armed Forces after the end of World War II. It is worth mentioning that US Marines Captain Powers (a trainee pilot) and US Navy Lieutenant Taylor (the leader of Flight 19 and trainer) had the same rank and actually Powers being promoted to the rank earlier than Taylor was technically senior.
The second factual error concerns the presentation of the recorded communications. To begin with, Flight 19 was in radio contact with Fort Lauderdale control tower and other airbases in the area for several hours. The dialogues that were presented in the previous chapter are a mixture of phrases that were recorded and phrases that were never uttered. The famous “don’t come after me” communication that Ford discovered in the Board of Investigation records and connected with the radio-amateur statement, was actually transmitted by Lt. Taylor but at 16.11, almost 3 hours before the last communication with Flight 19 at 19.04. At this point it should be mentioned that the information that weak radio messages with the “FT” call sign were intercepted at around 7 pm, is accurate, but what is not accurate is the observation that by that time the airplanes should be out of fuel. According to the fuel load and the engine characteristics, the airplanes should not run out of fuel before 8-9 pm, depending on the force and direction of the winds they encountered during their flight. Messages like “the ocean doesn't look as it should”, “It seems we ‘re entering white water” or “compasses are turning wild”, were never received.
Even Ford’s allegation that a radio amateur intercepted communications from Flight 19 is extremely dubious, since all communications were at 4805 KHz, a frequency that was used only for the training flight around Fort Lauderdale and were so weak that most military radio stations had difficulties reading the messages.
PBM-5 Martin Marine
PBM-5 Martin Mariner’s disappearance is no mystery at all. The airplane took off at 19.27 when the weather was already bad. The radar of the aircraft carrier Solomons (CVE-67) that was participating in the SAR mission for Flight 19 monitored the PBM-5 until 19.50 when the trace suddenly dropped. At the same time, the tanker ship SS Gaines Mills radioed an explosion in mid-air. The last trace of the PBM-5 on the radar matched the site of the observed explosion and the area where SS Gaines Mills found oil slicks.
It is quite obvious that the most well known and widely publicized version of Flight 19’s story, is a fragmentary, inaccurate presentation that aims in obscuring the facts and evoking questions.
The true story of Flight 19
The 5 TBM-e Avenger torpedo bombers departed Fort Lauderdale at 14.10, December 5th 1945. Their mission was to fly east (heading 091o) for 53 miles, execute a bombing exercise at Hens and Chickens Shoals, continue on the same course for 67 miles, turn north-northwest (heading 346o) for 73 miles passing over Grand Bahama and finally turn southwest (heading 241o) for about 120 miles returning to Fort Lauderdale. It was primarily an “over the sea” navigation exercise. In each leg of the flight, one of the trainees was to guide the others.
In 1945, years before the GPS days, pilots flying over the sea were basing their navigation on a decent watch, an accurate map and the aircraft instruments.
Ground crew control showed the aircrafts in fine condition. The weather in the area was favorable and the sea state moderate to rough. Other aircraft that were in flight at the same time span encountered 20-30 knots northeastern winds and a 10-15 miles visibility. The weather got worse only after 18.30-19.00, about the time that Flight’s 19 last messages were received.
The following map presents:
- the green line represents the preplanned route of Flight 19
- the red line the route that Flight 19 most probably followed
- the white line the route that Lt Taylor believed he had followed
- A, B, C, … the turning points based on communications with Flight 19 and the corresponding time
At 15.00 a fishing boat spotted 5 aircraft in a low flight approximately in the area of the bombing run.
Lt Cox, a trainer in Fort Lauderdale, was also airborne, leading a training exercise similar to Flight 19. At around 15.45-16.00 while he was still near Fort Lauderdale he monitored a communication at 4805 KHz, the frequency used for the training flight from Fort Lauderdale. A voice was asking someone named Powers about the reading of his compass. The same voice continued:
- “I don’t know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn”
The countdown that would lead to the tragedy of Flight 19 had only just begun. For 3 hours numerous airbases in Florida maintained almost continuous, yet fragmented, communications with Flight 19. Due to the frequency used not all communications were clear and as time was passing by, Fort Lauderdale had more trouble reading Flight 19’s messages. The Investigation Committee unified all the communications received and transmitted (communications with flight19).
Lt Cox (call sign FT74) tried to contact the voice he had heard after notifying Fort Lauderdale. It was Lt Taylor, Flight 19 leader under the call sign FT28:
- “FT-28, this is FT-74, what is your trouble?”
- “Both my compasses are out and I am trying to find Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I am over land, but it's broken. I'm sure I'm in the Keys, but I don't know how far down and I don't know how to get to Fort Lauderdale”
- “Put the sun on your port wing if you are in the Keys and fly up the coast until you get to Miami…” “…What is your present altitude? I will south and meet you?”
- “I know where I am at now. I'm at 2,300 feet. Don't come after me”
- “…roger. I'm coming up to meet you anyhow”
Later Taylor explained what happened:
- “…We were out on a navigational hop and on the second leg I thought they were going wrong so I took over and was flying them back to the right position, but I'm sure now that neither one of my compasses are working.”
Fort Lauderdale and 4 other airbases in eastern Florida tried, without success, to get a radar trace of Flight 19. A conversation between Flight 19 pilots about the course they should follow and Lt Taylor trying to evaluate his compass error based on the readings from the other pilots, was received by the radios monitoring the event.
At 16.31 Taylor reported to Fort Lauderdale that some of the pilots believed that they should change course to 270o (West) in order to find dry land. Lt Cox, although he was flying south, was receiving gradually degrading communications from Flight 19. Later, in front of the Investigation Committee he stated:
- "… As I was flying south, his transmission was fading. I estimate that during his first transmission he was flying over Bimini or Bahama…”
But Taylor still believed he was somewhere around the Florida Keys and into the Gulf of Mexico. At 16.45 he turns Flight 19 to 30o (North-NorthEast) and shortly after to 90o(East). at 17.12. By then, the weather was getting worse. Strong South-SouthWest winds were driving Flight 19 northwards. But there were objections from the other pilots who still believed they should turn West. Finally, Flight 19 turns to 270.
As time goes by the messages from Flight 19 become weaker and at 17.20 Fort Lauderdale’s Control Tower asks Taylor to switch to the emergency frequency (3000 KHz). Taylor objects. It’s already dark and he is afraid of loosing contact with his planes if someone doesn’t receive the frequency change message, or fails to switch.
Taylor repeatedly asked the members of the Flight about the time or for how long they had been on a certain heading and it is quite possible that besides a compass malfunction he also had a watch problem, did not trust his watch, or simply did not have one.
Another interesting point is that after Flight 19 turned West at 17.12, Taylor repeated his estimation that they were over the Gulf of Mexico and they should turn East, using the verb “suggest”. It is worth remembering that Lt Taylor, although the flight instructor, was not the senior officer in the flight. US Marines Captain Powers was senior. It is probably to Powers that Taylor suggests a turn to the East and Powers seems to ignore his messages. It is quite possible that at some point, Powers asserted his rank, assumed control of Flight 19 and turned the planes West.
The last communication from Flight 19 is at 18.37 with Taylor asking about their course. At 19.04 radios received garbled messages that were too weak to be understood.
The trouble for Flight 19 probably started after the beginning of the second leg of the exercise (point A of the map). One of the trainees had the lead and navigated the flight. Lt Taylor thought that they were on a wrong heading and assumed the lead to bring the flight back to the planned course. But, it was his compasses (the Avengers had 2 of them) that were malfunctioning. When they crossed Great Abaco he believed he was over Grand Bahama, as originally planned. At point B of the map, he released the lead to another trainee who turned to 241o as planned for the 3rd leg.
Taylor started to realize that there was a problem. He was expecting to cross Grand Bahama and he became worried when instead he saw a row of small islands. He was against a very difficult situation. One way to deal with it was to estimate his compass error and trace their course and changes of heading on the map in order to establish their current position. But when a compass malfunctions the error is not always constant. It is unknown what calculations lead him to believe he was over the Florida Keys. Maybe it was just the visual resemblance between the Florida Keys and the Fish and Pensacola Cays. In any case, he was wrong. It is quite safe to assume that he was over the Cays and he was flying on course parallel to them.
The area marked on the map represents the most probable location of Flight 19 around 19.50, with the red line marking its course. This assumption is consistent with the fix produced by the triangulation of radio bearings from the six different stations that monitored the communications.
It is also certain that at some point after 17.00 Cpt Powers assumed command of Flight 19 and turned to the West. Something that most pilots were asking for since 16.30.
Another interesting and important fact is that Fort Lauderdale had the wrong Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) for Flight 19. The Control Tower’s recorded ETA was 17.23, a flight of 3 hours and 13 minutes. But, according to the testimonies of other trainers and pilots the duration of the specific exercise was 2 hours and 13 minutes. This detail led to crisis management mistakes. At 16.00, when the first reports arrived from Taylor about Flight 19 being lost, Fort Lauderdale Control Tower believed that the airplanes were at least 1 hour from their ETA and therefore the fact that they did not register on radar was not something to worry about. But Taylor and his aircraft should be approaching Fort Lauderdale by 16.00 and be well within radar range. If that point was clear then the emergency procedures would have been initiated much earlier.
What happened after 19.00 with the airplanes still flying West, remains unknown. Perhaps Taylor convinced Powers to turn again to the East. In that case they ditched in the ocean somewhere north of Grand Bahama and to the South of Georgia. Maybe they encountered strong head winds and they were out of fuel before they reached land. A third scenario has also been offered: the strong South-SouthWest winds may have carried the airplanes to the North, over Georgia and finally crashed them in the vast Okefenokee swamps.
The disappearance of Flight 19 presents all the typical characteristics of an aircraft accident: instruments malfunction (compasses), human errors (Taylor’s belief they were flying over the Gulf of Mexico), and unfortunate coincidence (wrong ETA).
As for why no debris or other trace of the aircraft was never found, the answer depends on where they finally crashed. If they ditched in the ocean, bad weather and the Gulf Stream flow can provide reasonable explanations. If they crashed in the Okefenokee swamps the answer is even simpler: no one ever searched there.
The disappearance of Flight 19 may be the most well known but is not the only Bermuda Triangle mystery. There are dozens, or even hundreds of incidents presented by various researchers as mysterious disappearances or accidents, involving aircrafts and ships as well. Most of them were cover the time span from 1950 until today, after the systematic observation of occurrences in the area began. But, there are also numerous citations of much older cases.
One of the first strange incidents reported occurred in 1840. The French ship Rosalie made of 222 tons of wood, was found near Cuba completely empty, abandoned by its crew. The ship and its cargo were intact and the fate of the crew remains unknown.
USS Cyclops, img source: US Naval Historical Center
The disappearance of USS Cyclops is another much debated case. Cyclops was a US Navy bulk carrier ship serving mainly as a coal replenishment vessel. In March 1918 she was heading to Norfolk carrying manganese ore. She never reached Norfolk. US Navy’s Search and Rescue operation didn’t reveal anything concerning the ship’s fate. A quite plausible scenario, an attack by a German U-Boat (WW I was still raging), was discredited later after a careful examination of the German Imperial Navy records. Another explanation that was offered is that the ship capsized trapping everyone and then sunk.
Two of the most important aircraft disappearances occurred within a year, both concerning passenger Tudor IV airplanes of the British BSAAC. In January 30 1948, the Tudor IV named Star Tiger was flying from the Azores to Bermuda carrying 25 passengers and 6 crew members. The aircraft contacted the control tower of Kindley airport 2 hours before the estimated time of arrival requesting confirmation of the course they should follow to approach the airport. It was a routine call, but it was also the last communication ever received from the Star Tiger. No trace of the aircraft or the souls carried aboard was ever found. The British Government’s investigation board couldn’t provide any answers. The aircraft was new, in excellent flying condition. The 4 engines used to provide the flying thrust guaranteed that a total loss of power was almost impossible, especially under clear weather and in any case ensured adequate response time for the crew to deal with any emergency and broadcast a distress call. A year later, January 17 1949, another Tudor IV, the Star Ariel, disappeared in-flight from Bermuda to Jamaica, carrying 13 passengers and 7 crew members. Again the investigation board didn’t provide any explanations.
A few days before Star Ariel’s disappearance, a DC-3 with 36 souls aboard was lost in-flight from Puerto Rico to Miami. In this case, the pilot in what turned out to be his last communication mentioned he was seeing the lights of Miami. Again no trace of the aircraft or the passengers was ever found.
A case of special interest is the disappearance of a B-52 strategic bomber in October 1961. The incident was kept secret for many years for obvious reasons. It was the first disappearance of a jet aircraft and not just any jet. From their introduction to the US Air force in 1957 until today (mod H), they are the main nuclear weapons airborne platform for the USA. It is a huge aircraft, measuring a length of 50 meters and a wing span of 52 meters, using 8 turbofan engines.
The B-52 that disappeared was part of a 6 aircraft flight executing a nuclear attack simulation. The exercise had 2 parts. During the first part the flight would execute mid-air refueling. The second part would follow consisting of an approach to the US East Coast in attack formation. During the second part the flight was to approach the northern coast of Bermuda. The problems for the B-52 with the call sign Pogo22 began during the first leg. The B-52 could not locate the refueling tanker’s radio beacon emission and the pilot had to execute visual identification and approach with the help of its wingman. When the second leg started the aircraft spread in a line formation with 10 miles spaces, at 350 meters. Pogo 22 was at the northernmost end of the formation. The weather was clear and the visibility was at 7-10 miles, thus the each aircraft was able to maintain visual contact with the neighboring ones. The minor turbulence that they met was no problem for aircrafts the size, specifications and capabilities of a B-52. But Pogo 22 just vanished. Its wingman, 10 miles to the south didn’t observe an explosion or any other incident able to explain what happened and the extensive search and rescue mission that followed produced absolutely nothing.
Marine Sulphur Queen debrisimg source: US Coast Guard
One of the biggest ships ever to disappear in the Bermuda Triangle was the Marine Sulphur Queen, 170 meters long. The ship was a WWII oiler that had been modified in order to carry molten sulphur, a cargo very dangerous and difficult to handle. She disappeared in February 1963, carrying 15.000 tones of cargo from Beaumont Texas to Norfolk. Only 2 weeks before that last journey the ship had successfully passed through a general inspection of all the on-board systems. It is believed that the incident occurred near the Florida Keys and the only traces that were ever found was some minor debris, including a piece of a label with the ship’s name and some lifejackets bearing marks of shark attacks.
This incident, involving a ship the size of Marine Sulphur Queen can very difficultly attributed to weather conditions. Some of Marine Sulphur Queen sister ships (T-2 oilers) had broken in 2 pieces, probably dew to some structural fault of the design, but almost always with enough time for the crew to escape. So if Marine Sulphur Queen indeed broke in half the crew should have been able to radio a distress call and use the ship’s life boats. Even a theory that there was an explosion because of cargo mishandling does not explain the lack of more extensive and large debris. Another theory implicated Cuba and the Castro regime. According to that theory the Cubans took over the ship in order to capture its cargo and staged the disappearance by spreading debris and lifejackets. But no substantial or even circumstantial evidence was ever produced for any of those theories. Till today the official position is “causes unknown”.
Besides the above mentioned incidents there is a long list of ships and airplanes that vanished or experienced strange and unexplained difficulties. Many of them are small private or chartered yachts and airplanes since the area, besides a transportation crossroads, has many popular tourist destinations.
Some times, either from mistake, ignorance or even in an attempt to attract the public’s interest, the Bermuda Triangle is blamed for 2 very well known cases that have nothing to do with the Triangle. These are the notorious Mary Celeste mystery and the loss of the nuclear attack submarine SSN-589 Scorpion. Both incidents took place far away from the Triangle, near the Azores, and, tragic as they may be, are no mysteries at all.
A common element in most of the Bermuda Triangle mysteries is the sudden disappearance, with minimal or no traces and no distress calls. Obviously many of the incidents in the long lists have been partially or fully explained.
In several occasions self-proclaimed investigators distorted, misinterpreted, or/and omitted crucial aspects of an incident and produced a mystery. The story of Flight 19 is such an example.
Incidents involving small private ships and airplanes should be considered with great care. It is quite reasonable to raise serious doubts on their materiel condition and especially their propulsion, control and communications systems. Another highly important factor in those cases is the experience and abilities of amateur pilots and skippers, especially in a very demanding area with singular meteorological characteristics. But even if all the incidents involving small ships and airplanes are discarded, there are still a quite large number of disappearances that could not be explained by the official boards of investigation.
On the other hand such disappearances occur, more or less, in many other regions of the world oceans, depending on traffic density and various particular characteristics.
It is difficult to weigh these two undisputable facts and determine whether something irregular happens in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, something out of the ordinary, or if the number of unexplained incidents is acceptable (comparable with the ones in other areas), taking into account the large numbers of ships and airplanes and the specific conditions (intense, sudden weather phenomena, Gulf Stream etc).
Theories and Questions
There are 3 main paths in proposing theories and possible explanations concerning the Bermuda Triangle.
The first one is followed by those who do not believe that there is something strange happening in the area. The supporters of this view accept the significant number of unexplained accidents as normal, considering the amount of traffic that arrives in, emanates from or simply crosses the Bermuda Triangle. They also note that a large number of these ships and airplanes are small, private ones, with amateur or/and inexperienced crews, low maintenance levels and questionable adequacy and functionality of navigation and communications systems. They amplify their position by quoting the US Coast Guard statement that the number of distress calls in the area, in annual basis, is not proportionally greater than the respective numbers in other areas of equal size. They also invoke the London Lloyds insurance agency position that the area known as the Bermuda Triangle does not present an increased number of accidents. A similar study that was quoted in a BBC documentary on the Triangle concluded that the area between the Azores and Portugal presents an equally high number of unexplained disappearances.
The second path begins with the acceptance that the amount of unexplained incidents in the area is indeed excessive, but its followers try to explain the fact using logical and scientific arguments. Most of these arguments are based on the particular natural characteristics and the meteorological conditions of the area. The most important points are:
- the Gulf Stream and the less important surface and underwater currents that can carry the debris from an accident hundreds of miles away, in a very short time. These same currents are responsible for a series of unusual phenomena, like the sudden formation of very thick fog dew to temperature gradients and the unexpected and unpredictable creation of waves that can reach a height of 15 meters.
- the intense, unpredictable and spatially confined weather phenomena, like gales with wind speed up to 100 Km/hr. These storms have been observed many times and may last for only a few minutes and affect only a few square miles. They are usually accompanied by an atmosphere with high loads of static electricity (St Elmo’s fire) that can affect navigation and communication instruments. The Gulf Stream is directly or indirectly connected with these phenomena.
- sea cyclones that can raise masses of water hundreds of meters in the air
- waves caused by undersea earthquakes that occur very often in the area
- magnetic anomalies that can affect compasses, radios and navigation instruments. The existence of such anomalies is merely a speculation since it has not been scientifically explored. US Navy’s Magnet program that monitors the earth’s magnetic field in the world’s oceans for almost 50 years has not recorded any significant magnetic disturbances in the area.
- methane pockets in the ocean’s bottom that can release gas bubbles rising towards the surface. These bubbles may reduce the water’s density causing the sinking of ships that may be at the area the bubbles expand into the atmosphere. According to this theory if an airplane is flying at a low altitude at the moment the bubbles are released into the atmosphere, its engines might cause an explosion because of methane ignition. This theory does not meet wide scientific acceptance and low temperature methane pockets exist in almost every ocean in the world and not just the Bermuda Triangle.
Finally there is a third path, preferred by those who believe that the answer to the Bermuda Triangle mystery should be sought beyond the conventional science. Most of the theories that follow this path were formulated during the 60’s and 70’s, when the Bermuda Triangle mystery was thriving.
Among the most popular theories is the Atlantis connection, a possible link between the mysterious phenomena and disappearances in the area and the lost civilization of ancient Atlantis. The quest for the lost continent was, and still is, one of the most intriguing research subjects for scientists of various faculties like archaeologists, historians, literature scholars and oceanographers, but also researchers with questionable motives or/and abilities like psychics, treasure hunters and paranormal investigators. There are many theories dealing with the actual existence of Atlantis, the possible correlation with other known ancient civilizations (pe Minoan civ.) and mainly the exact location of the lost continent. Until today no theory or hypothesis has been able to provide a definite solution to the Atlantis mystery: was there really an Atlantis, where and how advanced was that civilization.
The most popular, but not necessarily the most documented, hypothesis localizes Atlantis under the Atlantic Ocean, in the area between Gibraltar and the Gulf of Mexico, thus placing the Bermuda Triangle above the ruins of the ancient cities of Atlantis.
The theory that links the Bermuda Triangle with Atlantis is based on the assumption that the energy sources of the lost continent are on the ocean floor under the Triangle. Huge energy crystals, that were damaged when Atlantis was destroyed, emit energy packs or beams in irregular intervals. When these emissions occur, any unfortunate ships or aircrafts that happen to be in the area are vaporized and vanish without traces. However this theory is contradicted by various incidents ascribed to the Bermuda Triangle mysterious forces (pe ghost ships).
According to another interesting theory the ships and airplanes that vanish are entering another dimension, being transported in space and time. The Triangle is the entrance, the gate, to a black hole, a planetary anomaly or a wormhole, existing as a result of a natural anomaly, a high energy source (like the crystals of Atlantis) or extraterrestrial involvement.
There is of course the alien abduction theory according to which the ships and airplanes along with their crews and passengers are abducted by extraterrestrials. These abductions occur either by the physical presence and interference of aliens and are connected with a near-by alien underwater base, or via teleportation.
The 3 approaches towards the Bermuda Triangle mystery and the various theories presented cover the whole spectrum ranging from absolute skepticism to the Atlantis crystals and UFO abductions. Each person can choose which approach and theory is the most convincing. Some of the theories might seem totally unsupported by evidence, even ridiculous, but they do excite and satisfy many people. But the foremost question that needs to be answered is whether there is a Bermuda Triangle mystery.
Our planet is full with small and great mysteries. Some of those are deciphered as science and knowledge evolve through time, others still wait for answers. We must not forget that the human nature is attracted by mystery, by the unexplained. Perhaps this is the result of a primordial for a Supreme Power that guides or oversees our lives, ready to take blame or credit for good and bad things in our lives. For some this Power is called God, for others Nature or Destiny. Maybe it is that same Power that pulls the strings in the Bermuda Triangle. Maybe the Bermuda Triangle itself is the sum of all our fears for all the things we cannot, yet, understand.
References & Links:
- Berlitz C., The Bermuda Triangle, Doubleday, 1974
- Kuche L., The Bermuda Triangle Mystery Solved, Prometheus Books, 1995 (reprint)
- Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center, The Loss of Flight 19, 1998
- Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center, The Bermuda Triangle, 2001
- Encyclopaedia Britannica (Sargasso Sea, Gulf Stream, Bermuda Triangle, St Elmo's Fire)
- Mayel H., Bermuda Triangle: Behind the Intrigue, National Geographic News, Dec 2002
- Bermuda Shorts: A brief history of the Devil's Triangle
- Courson M., The Bermuda Triangle
- Skeptic Dictionary, Bermuda (or Devil's) Triangle
- Devil's Triangle
- Keyte G., The Bermuda Triangle