The Bermuda Triangle

In March 1918 the USS Cyclops was lost with its 309 crew and passengers, the largest single loss of life in the history of the US Navy (unrelated to combat). It had left Barbados and was heading to Baltimore, but it never reached its destination and no trace of it was ever found. Many theories have been put forward to explain the incident. Some blame storms, others capsizing, while some suggest that enemy activity was to blame, but there is no strong evidence for any of these theories.

In December 1945 five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers (Flight 19), on a training flight over the Atlantic, from Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale, Florida, disappeared without trace along with their crew of 14 airmen. A search and rescue aircraft (a PMB Mariner with a 13 man crew), deployed to look for them, also disappeared.

These are just a couple of early examples of unexplained disappearances of aircraft and ships in the area known as the Bermuda Triangle, or the Devil's Triangle.

Where And What Is It?

It does not actually exist! The Bermuda Triangle is not shown on maps, nor is it recognised as a definite region. It is an undefined area in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean where a large number of ships and aircraft have disappeared. A magazine first coined the name "Bermuda Triangle" in 1964 and its mystery has continued to intrigue people ever since. Covering roughly 500,000 square miles, its vertices have been described as being in Miami, San Juan (Puerto Rico) and Bermuda, but there have been many different descriptions of the triangle's exact position. The Triangle may have been named after its Bermuda apex because Bermuda was once known as the "Isle of Devils". The legends of devils and spirits is thought to have stemmed from the raucous calls of birds such as the Bermuda Petrel and the loud noises made at night from wild hogs, together with the dangerous reefs and stormy conditions that abound around the island. Documented evidence suggests that a large percentage of incidents in the Triangle were incorrectly reported or exaggerated and that many possible causes of the disappearances were overlooked. Other accidents attributed to the Triangle actually happened well outside its boundaries. On the other hand, popular culture has tried to ascribe the accidents to the supernatural or blame them on alien beings. The area is one of the most heavily travelled in the world, with busy shipping lanes between ports in America, Europe and the Caribbean and aircraft heading towards the Caribbean, Florida and South America from the north.

An American author, Charles Berlitz, proposed in his bestselling book of 1974, "The Bermuda Triangle", that it was connected to the lost city of Atlantis, which he believed was real. Since then countless books, magazines, websites and TV shows have promoted the mystery. This idea was disputed by another American author and pilot Lawrence Kusche, who wrote "The Bermuda Triangle – Solved" and "The Disappearance of Flight 19". He became convinced that virtually all the incidents had been caused either by bad weather or accidents, had happened well out of the area, or had never occurred at all. He concluded that the Triangle's mystery had been manufactured and was the result of poor research and reporting and that Berlitz's book was riddled with errors and unscientific theories. One example of an incident which according to him, never happened, was a plane crash in 1937 off Daytona Beach, Florida, said to have occurred in front of hundreds of witnesses. When Kusche checked the local papers of the time he found absolutely nothing about the event.

One would imagine, that if this area were as dangerous as suggested, the marine insurance market, "Lloyd's of London", would be aware of abnormal numbers of ships sunk in that area. They apparently have confirmed that this is not the case and their opinion is seconded by the "United States Coast Guard" who's records imply that the number of supposed disappearances in the area are less than one would expect, given the large amount of shipping and aircraft passing through it on a regular basis. Another point to note is that parts of the Triangle are supposed to cross land as well as the sea, in areas such as Puerto Rico, the Bahamas and Bermuda. Yet there seems to be no evidence of disappearances in these areas, even though the city of Freeport boasts a major shipyard and an airport handling around 50,000 flights per year.

Some Natural Explanations

Compass variation – Some people consider that there are unusual local magnetic anomalies in the area affecting the compasses of vessels and aircraft, but there seems to be no evidence to support this theory.

The Gulf Stream – This deep ocean current flowing from the Gulf of Mexico, through the Straits of Florida and into the North Atlantic and having a surface velocity of about 2.5 metres a second, can carry floating objects rapidly and long distances and has been cited as one of the causes of missing vessels.

Methane Hydrates – This is a form of natural gas which occurs in large fields on the continental shelves. It produces bubbles that decrease the density of the water and some believe that periodic methane eruptions, known sometimes as "mud volcanoes, may produce areas of frothy water not capable of providing enough buoyancy for vessels. If this is a true scenario it could cause a vessel to sink quickly without warning. Any wreckage would rapidly be dispersed by the Gulf Stream. Another theory is that this methane gas near the surface could be ignited by a lightening strike causing a vessel to sink without trace. Evidence is confusing as some publications describe large amount of these hydrates off the south eastern US coast, while others deny that there have been any such releases in the Triangle area.

Rogue Waves – These huge waves occurring suddenly and without warning have been blamed by some for many of the accidents to shipping, while others believe that there is little evidence and think of them as a myth.

Human Error – This is one of the most used explanations for missing aircraft and ships in official enquiries; not recognising the severity of local weather conditions or miscalculation of navigation.

Bad Weather Conditions

Hurricanes – These have caused several accidents in the Triangle area. The first recorded instance was in 1502 when 20 vessels of a 31-ship convoy of a Spanish fleet were destroyed. Because of the particularly rough weather in the area it is indeed possible that quickly generated storms could sink ships without warning and knock planes out of the sky, resulting in no evidence being found.

A Downdraft Of Cold Air – During unstable weather conditions these can hit the surface of the sea like a bomb and explode outwards. It was this phenomenon which was thought to be responsible for the sinking of the "Pride of Baltimore" in 1986, when the crew noticed a sudden increase in wind velocity from 20 to 60 mph. More recently, in 2010, the "SV Concordia" was knocked onto its side by what the captain described as a "microburst" southeast of Rio de Janeiro. In the rough seas and extremely high winds the vessel sunk in 20 minutes. Fortunately all on board were able to abandon ship and were eventually rescued.

Electronic Fog – This is a thick cloud which can engulf a ship or plane, causing instruments to malfunction, though whether it would cause a vessel to disappear is dubious.

Some Supernatural Explanations

The Bimini Road – Some writers have attributed the loss of ships to a submerged rock formation known as the Bimini Road, off the island of Bimini in the Bahamas. While geologists consider it to be of natural origin, others, expanding on Berlitz's ideas about Atlantis, believe it to be a road or wall left over from the mythical lost continent which is using its reputed "crystal energies" to sink ships and destroy planes.

Time Portals Or Wormholes – An even more fanciful theory is that a rift in space and time develops in certain areas of the Triangle that causes laws of physics to change and into which the vessels and aircraft enter and disappear, passing through to a different time and place in the universe. Needless to say there is no evidence for this hypothesis.

UFOs – Some believe that UFOs are responsible for the loss of vessels and aircraft and that their crews have been abducted by aliens. Steven Spielberg used this idea for his science fiction film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind".

Is There An Answer?

In spite of there being little scientific evidence to support the Triangle's existence, the myth will probably go on. After all it is a wonderful and lucrative subject that authors, reporters and film makers will no doubt continue to exploit. We all like a good mystery whether we believe in it or not.

Author - Dee White

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