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The Bermuda Triangle is an area near Bermuda where many ships, planes and people are said to have mysteriously disappeared, with no trace of them ever being found. Over the years, a mythology has built up around these events, which have been attributed to almost every pseudoscientific phenomenon imaginable. In most cases, the Devil’s Triangle is synonymous with the Bermuda Triangle. Some commentators use this moniker to refer to a similar area in the Pacific Ocean near Japan, but the latter area is more commonly known as the "Devil's Sea."
The mysterious nature of the Bermuda Triangle, if it exists, manifests itself as an unusually high rate of disappearances of aircraft and marine vessels in the area. Among the more highly publicized events are:
- A pair of Avro Tudor IV passenger aircraft; the Star Tiger was lost on January 30, 1948, the Star Ariel on January 17, 1949
- The disappearance of the SS Marine Sulphur Queen on February 4, 1963
- The paranormal experience of airplane pilot Chuck Wakely in 1964
- The disappearance of expert yachtsman Donald Crowhurst on June 29, 1969
The most famous event associated with the Bermuda Triangle was the ill-fated “Flight 19,” a training mission of US Navy bombers on December 5, 1945. The planes and their 14 crewmen never returned, and no wreckage has ever been located.
It is believed that the commander of the flight misidentified a group of islands, causing him to erroneously believe that he was over the Florida Keys, rather than well out into the Atlantic Ocean. Compounding this error, he assumed that the aircraft instrumentation was faulty, and continued heading out to sea. As the planes continued to stray, radio contact was eventually lost, and the planes likely ran out of fuel. The weather also turned bad, and darkness fell.
In the following days, one of the search planes suffered a fatal fuel-tank explosion en route to the search area.
The Navy originally reported that the squadron was lost due to pilot error, but following protests from the commander’s family, this was changed to “causes unknown.” The secondary tragedy of the search plane was reported as if “it too never returned,” creating a sense of profound mystery where there was none.
As early as 1950, people began to notice an unusually high frequency of tragedy in the area of the Bermuda Triangle. In 1952, George X Sands wrote an article in Fate magazine about the phenomenon. Allan W. Eckert wrote an American Legion article in 1962 focusing on Flight 19. Generally, these early accounts merely recount the disappearances without positing supernatural explanations.
In 1964, Vincent Gaddis wrote an article in Argosy which attached unspecified paranormal causes to the disappearances. Gaddis is generally credited with coining the phrase "Bermuda Triangle," later expanding upon his arguments in the book Invisible Horizons. Gaddis also added older mysteries, like the USS Cyclops and Carroll A. Deering, to the legend alongside the more recent incidents recounted by Sands and Eckert.
In 1969, the book Limbo of the Lost by John Wallace Spencer led to Richard Winer's documentary The Devil’s Triangle. Spencer explicitly theorized that space aliens were responsible for disappearing planes, ships and people. In contrast, Winer's spinoff book, The Devil's Triangle followed earlier accounts by presenting the Triangle as a mystery without explanation.
In 1974, Charles Berlitz published The Bermuda Triangle, which recounted the long history of shipping losses in the area, and examined particularly the events of Flight 19, drawing heavily on Eckert's earlier article. While the essential details were correct, Berlitz dramatized the disappearance significantly with speculative dialogue from the pilots. While Berlitz's book presented little new information, he crystalized previous accounts into a more coherent narrative than previous authors.
The Bermuda Triangle became a bestseller, and many people began to speculate on the reason for the high frequency of mysterious disappearances. Speculations in the popular media have included extraterrestrial alien abductions, space-time anomalies, advanced civilizations from Atlantis, and other supernatural causes.
Writings on the Bermuda Triangle, including Berlitz's bestseller, often also commented on other areas of alleged disappearances, such as the "Devil's Sea" around the Izu Islands in Japan. In a 1972 article, paranormalist Ivan Sanderson introduced the idea of twelve "Vile Vortices" around the world in which mysterious disappearances take place, connected on the same patterns of latitude within the north and south hemispheres. Others have linked the Vortices to other paranormal geographical theories such as ley lines.
Iterations of the Vile Vortices vary slightly, but generally include the Bermuda Triangle, the Devil's Sea, Hawaii, Easter Island, both poles, other areas of the ocean and a few areas on land such as the Indus Valley in Pakistan and megaliths south of Timbuktu in Mali.
Is it even true?
Before attempting to explain the high levels of disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle, it is necessary to ascertain whether there really is such a thing. This is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world, so a correspondingly higher level of typical ship disappearances would be expected. The Southeast coast of the US is also prone to violent storms, suggesting that a more frequent occurrence of non-supernatural disappearances would be expected. It should be noted that one could arbitrarily pick any three points in the ocean roughly the same distance apart as those making up the Bermuda Triangle and, assuming sufficient traffic, discover a similar number of unexplained sinkings.
It turns out that the Bermuda Triangle is no more dangerous than other similarly storm-prone areas. Heavier traffic in the area corresponds to a higher number of disappearances. Moreover, insurance rates for shipping and travel within the Bermuda Triangle are no higher than anywhere else.
Airplane crashes are, almost by definition, extraordinary events, and thus always occur as a result of an improbable sequence of events. Nevertheless, the official explanation for the disappearance of Flight 19 is both plausible and consistent with the facts: a group of flight students got lost, ran out of fuel, and crashed at night in an unknown location.
Disappearances of ships at sea are, of course, mysterious, but not unexplainable: the ocean is a dangerous and unpredictable place. The sea obscures or swallows up all evidence. We are not used to large objects disappearing, but the sea is more than capable of making any large object vanish entirely. It swallowed the Titanic, after all.
Librarian Lawrence Kusche conducted independent research into many of the incidents associated with the Bermuda Triangle. His work was published in the book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved. He found that the most highly publicized cases were often full of sloppy and incomplete research — Kusche preferred, where possible, to use original sources for each incident. He noted inconsistencies between the stories of popular writers and the testimony of witnesses. He also pointed out that descriptions of clement sailing weather did not agree with official weather records of stormy weather, and that reports of mysteriously missing craft were publicized, but reports of their return or other resolution were not. He admits that some disappearances are, given the known information on them, baffling and inexplicable—pointing especially to the pair of Avro Tudor aircraft—but says that disappearances like these happen all around the world and are not limited to the Bermuda Triangle. Kusche concluded: "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."
The BBC TV Horizon documentary about the Bermuda Triangle, first aired in 1976 and reedited for PBS as the NOVA episode "The Case of the Bermuda Triangle," featured a broad variety of opinion on the subject, but concluded "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."
In the NOVA version, David Kusche pointed out a common problem with many of the Bermuda Triangle stories and theories: "Say I claim that a parrot has been kidnapped to teach aliens human language and I challenge you to prove that is not true. You can even use Einstein's Theory of Relativity if you like. There is simply no way to prove such a claim untrue. The burden of proof should be on the people who make these statements, to show where they got their information from, to see if their conclusions and interpretations are valid, and if they have left anything out."
For example, one Bermuda Triangle story is that it started in 1492 with Christopher Columbus. In reality, the earliest reference to the region having issues is in a September 16, 1950 Associated Press dispatch by Edward Van Winkle Jones. In October 1952 came George X. Sand's "Sea Mystery at Our Back Door" in Fate magazine, and much later Vincent Gaddis's 1965 Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea, but it wasn't until the 1973 reprint of John Wallace Spencer's 1969 Limbo of the Lost that the myth caught on with the public.
Other examples also show how key details are left out and/or distorted to create a mystery. With the ships Witchcraft and Revonoc the fact there were storms (in the case of Revonoc "the worst winter storm in Florida's history") in the area is omitted, giving the false impression the sea was calm. This hiding and distorting of relevant facts is particularly egregious in the case of the Raifuku Maru, which sank in 1925. Not only is the ship's actual message of "Now very danger. Come Quick" twisted into 'Danger like danger, now. Come Quick" but the fact that Captain Roberts of the Homeric actually saw the ship sinking in a raging storm which prevented him from providing assistance is totally ignored. Jay Sivell speculates that these distortions arose from sensationalized press coverage of the Maru disaster, which caused accusations of racism from the ship's Japanese owners, and were repeated uncritically by Triangle writers. 
Within a year the public got at least two books (Charles Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle and Richard Winer's The Devil's Triangle) and a film "documentary" (The Devil's Triangle) with Vincent Price as narrator. In the NOVA program Kusche noted how each author added to or removed from either the previous author or from Gaddis's Invisible Horizons work, meaning that the story being told to the public only went back to 1965.
Response and later proponents
Despite the popularity of Kusche's book, neither Berlitz nor any other Triangle advocates made a serious attempt to rebut his charges. Berlitz weakly attacked Kusche in a follow-up book, Without a Trace, claiming that Kusche's opinion was invalid because he never personally visited the Triangle. In response, Kusche traveled extensively in the area while researching his next book, The Disappearance of Flight 19. Kusche repeatedly challenged Berlitz to a public debate, but Berlitz declined. The anemic pushback caused public interest in the Triangle to evaporate.
Gian J. Quasar tried to revive Triangle interest with his 2004 book Into the Bermuda Triangle. Quasar chronicled a variety of new disappearances in the three decades since Berlitz and Kusche, and attacked several of Kusche's specific rebuttals as inaccurate. However, Quasar revisited Berlitz's familiar tropes of Atlantis, time warps and interdimensional travel. Subsequently, the public mostly ignored him.
Reality is weirder than fiction
Aside from supposed supernatural effects, the Bermuda Triangle is not without fascinating and dangerous anomalies and phenomena.
There is known to be a large deposit of methane clathrates (water ice containing interstitial methane) on the seafloor in the region of the Bermuda Triangle. Sudden meltings of large deposits are known to occur. These could conceivably release enough methane that, upon reaching the surface, the density of the water would be suddenly decreased. This could conceivably cause a large ship to sink suddenly without warning.
The Bermuda Triangle partially overlaps with the Sargasso Sea, a region of relatively calm waters surrounded by the North Athlantic gyre, named after the large quantities of free-floating Sargassum seaweed that grows there. Bioluminescent bacteria surrounding this seaweed can produce an eerie glow at night.
So-called Freak Waves have been proposed as a possible cause of the mysterious sinking of ships in calm water. It is believed that unusually large waves may suddenly appear, caused by the focused coincidence of smaller waves. The phenomenon is poorly understood, and seems to occur with a greater frequency than current theories explain.
Another theory regarding personal yachts is that they were taken by modern-day pirates for use in the drug trade.
It has been proposed that the South Atlantic Anomaly (a point of increased electromagnetic activity caused by a weak spot in the Earth’s magnetic field) could cause compass problems and other instrumentation failure on ships and airplanes. However, this area is quite far from the Bermuda Triangle.
During the Slave Trade, on their way to North America, slave traders often passed through the Bermuda Triangle. A habit that they developed was to dump the bodies of slaves that died on the voyage in the Triangle, or occasionally, sick slaves that were worth less than their insurance value.
National publicity in the 1970s about the Bermuda Triangle spurred a copycat "mysterious triangle" in southeastern Massachusetts called the Bridgewater Triangle. A "Michigan Triangle" has also been proposed, located in Lake Michigan. The "Falkirk Triangle" is located in central Scotland around the town of Bonnybridge, known for its many reported UFO sightings.
- The Un-mystery of the Bermuda Triangle
- |online here
- National Geographic article
- The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved (Epilogue, p. 277).
- Original air date: 1976-06-27
- Original air date: 1976-06-27
- Kusche, Lawrence David (1975) The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-Solved pg 84
- see Graham Massey, "The Meretricious Triangle." New Scientist, July 14th, 1977. Online here: http://tinyurl.com/h4qyfz2
- Admittedly, Quasar does occasionally make a valid critique by showing that Kusche misidentified a ship or plane. For instance, he found records of the ship Rosalie, found abandoned in 1840, which Kusche claimed that Berlitz misidentified as another vessel.
- Could methane bubbles sink ships? NBC News
- Granted, this seems like an improbable coincidence (a sufficiently large clathrate deposit letting go at just the "right" time to sink a ship above); but at least it doesn't invoke anything supernatural.
- Rogue waves captured: Re-creating monster swells in a tank helps explain their origin by Devin Powell (6:43pm, May 20, 2011) Science News.
- December 7, 1978 "Bermuda Triangle Pirates" In Search of…
- What is the South Atlantic Anomaly?
- Falkirk Triangle, UfoEncounters.co.uk