The Bermuda Triangle

Published on July 6, 2021 by nilesh

What is Bermuda Triangle?

 Bermuda Triangle is an imaginary triangular area on the western part of North Atlantic where many ships sailing through it or planes flying over it had allegedly disappeared mysteriously over the past centuries. The imaginary Bermuda Triangle is located off the South-Eastern coast of the United States. The three corners of the triangle are: Miami (in Florida); San Juan (in Puerto Rico); and Bermuda (a north-Atlantic island on which it has been so named).  

 Source: Wikimedia Commons  Why is Bermuda Triangle an imaginary or a mythical area? Because there is no official map that shows the boundaries of the triangle or indicates the location of the triangular area. In fact, U. S. Board on Geographic Names and US Navy do not even recognize an area called Bermuda Triangle.  

So how did the triangle emerge?

Main Article: How the mystery was manufactured  It all started by authors who were novelists, and the mystery was initially perpetuated by them. While we all know that novel writers are good in wild imaginations, but many of these writers were actually quite popular and well respected authors of their times.  The mystery started catching attention in 1952 when George Sand wrote an article in the American 'Fate' magazine which deals mainly with paranormal. He wrote about incidents like Flight-19, a training flight of five torpedo bomber planes, all of which went missing during a routine training session in 1945 and never returned. This article 'Sea mystery at our back door' was one of the first to hint at paranormal element in this sea area.   In February-1964, the author Vincent Gaddis wrote an article 'The Deadly Bermuda Triangle' in the American pulp magazine 'Argosy' and he was the first to define the boundary of the triangle. In his article, he mentioned that Flight-19 and other incidents of disappearances in Bermuda triangle fall into a pattern of strange events. In 1965, he went ahead and expanded this article into a complete book and named it 'Invisible Horizons'.  But it was in 1974, when the best-seller 'The Bermuda Triangle' by author Charles Berlitz was published, it took the world by a storm. Nearly 20 million copies of the book were sold in 30 different languages. Berlitz was a believer of paranormal and tried to connect the Lost City of Atlantis to the Bermuda Triangle incidents and several disappearances to extraterrestrial.  Supposedly, Charles Berlitz (whose family created popular language courses) first came to hear about Bermuda Triangle from his travel agency who mentioned that his customers wanted to avoid flying over the triangle area. Nevertheless, this hugely popular book inspired many films, documentaries, TV shows and authors to promote the tales around Bermuda Triangle.  

 Source: Wikimedia Commons  With time, there have been attempts to explain the disappearances with innovative hypothesis taking help of science, natural phenomena and even paranormal.  One such explanation is with the methane hydrates that are highly inflammable and get trapped below the ocean floor (a geological phenomena that is hypothetically possible), and if methane gas erupts from such hydrates, it lowers the density of water and the buoyancy and can easily sink a ship. While that might be a remote and hypothetical possibility, it has never been seen or known to have happened in or anywhere near the Bermuda Triangle.  Another theory was the Compass Variation. It was said that Bermuda Triangle is one place where the compass points to the true north and the captains failed to make the necessary adjustments. The fact is, a compass always points to the magnetic north and not the true north (i.e. the geographic north pole). There are few point on earth's surface including a narrow channel in Bermuda triangle, where this difference becomes zero when they appear to be on a straight line to a ship.  

  Unless a compass variation is adjusted by the captain, the ship could land up miles away from its targeted destination. But the assumption that why some captains might not have done this, is never answered. Even in earlier days, all captains were well trained and experienced in preparing the navigation charts taking into account the compass variation, as a matter of routine practice.  And there were also theories proposed around some Electronic Fog that would appear from nowhere and engulf a ship or a plane and finally causing it to disappear.  Another theory that became quite popular was about the Sargasso Sea where nature's law apparently seemed to be different and unusual. Sargasso Sea is an area in North Atlantic bounded by ocean currents in all sides. The sea is exceptionally calm here, and the still winds along with dense sea weeds filling up the area would have stranded many sailing ships in the early days. Although several derelicts were found in this area, in modern days any ship can steam past this area.  Sargasso Sea 

 Source: Wikimedia Commons  Believers of paranormal brought in several supernatural explanations to the incidents. Few of such bizarre theories included the mythical City of Atlantis that lay under the ocean is able to destroy ships and planes with its powerful crystal energy, aliens capturing aircraft and people for their experimentation, UFOs, time-warp in the triangle area (which has never been seen or proved to date) taking ships, planes and people into another time and space, etc.   Through generations, the legend evolved and took a shape of its own through various such hypothetical or imaginary explanations. It kept spreading rapidly through authors, TV channels, news magazines and other media, and started encompassing stories such as aircraft, ships, crew and passengers disappearing without a trace in normal weather conditions, abandoned ships on sail, mysterious wrecks, electronic fog engulfing planes, time portals etc. And gradually Bermuda Triangle, as it is usually told, unfortunately became a virtual reality in the minds of millions all over the world.  Read the main article: How the mystery was actually manufactured

So, what are the facts?

 Well, the facts are quite far from what has been generally perpetuated by the books and media. Many stories and myths have been created by writers through sheer speculations, imaginations and grossly erroneous research. Documented evidences through scientific research show that in most cases where adequate information could be gathered for investigation, it was found that the incidents were caused due to either equipment failure, human error or violent weather conditions. Many reputable sources have completely debunked the idea of any mystery behind Bermuda Triangle.  Here are what the experts say...  

Larry Kusche

 Lawrence David Kusche was an American research librarian in Arizona State University. He was also a pilot himself and an author. Kusche published his famous book 'The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved' in 1975. This book was a result of his extensive research on numerous incidents (over 50) that reportedly took place in Bermuda Triangle between 1840 and 1973. Most of his research was based on referring newspapers of the periods, checking out the meteorological reports of the days the incidents took place, interacting with many Naval officers and crew etc.  Here are Larry Kusche's findings: The total number of such incidents in the triangle area is nothing unusual in a place where tropical cyclones or hurricanes are quite common.  The study also showed that number of incidents in Bermuda Triangle is not significantly more compared to any other ocean area particularly considering the fact that this ocean area is one of the most heavily traveled ocean channels in the world.  Kusche also pointed out that several authors had misconceptions, made faulty observations, and wrongly reported several incidents to create sensational stories. In fact, many incidents actually took place far outside the triangle area.  Some incidents reported actually did not take place at all. For example, in 1937, a plane crash was reported off Daytona beach. The local newspaper report suggested nothing of that sort.  The research showed numerous incoherent and inaccurate information in Charles Berlitz's account and his mentions of eyewitnesses and other participants. In one such case, Berlitz misreported a ship disappearing three days after it left a port in Atlantic, while the fact was the ship actually left a port of the same name from Pacific ocean which was over 3,000 miles away.  In another case, Charles Berlitz misreported that Donald Crowhurst, the yachtsman who participated in Golden Globe Race in 1968, disappeared without a trace. It was clear from the log books and other documentation found in the boat that Crowhurst committed suicide because he was not in a position to complete the circumnavigation of round-the-world yachting competition, and thought he would face humiliation and financial ruin.  Charles Berlitz and other writers often cited incidents taking place in calm waters although it was clearly evident from the meteorological reports that the ships encountered strong cyclones or storms. And sometimes, a ship's disappearance was reported, but its return, although belated, was not.  Kusche came to the conclusion that Bermuda Triangle is a "Manufactured Mystery"... there is no real mystery about it and most of the incidents were either mere accidents or result of violent weather, human error, equipment failure or were simply misreported (often deliberately). Kusche later noted that Charles Berlitz's research was so sloppy that "If Berlitz were to report that a boat were red, the chance of it being some other color is almost a certainty."   

Karl Kruszelnicki

 Karl Kruszelnicki is a well known Australian author and a science communicator. During his interview with in July 2017, he claimed that there is no mystery behind Bermuda Triangle at all. Below are some of the points he made related to Bermuda Triangle: "It is close to the Equator, near a wealthy part of the world – America - therefore you have a lot of traffic". He explained that considering the heavy traffic of planes and ships across Bermuda Triangle, there is nothing out of the ordinary about the number of incidents that took place in this area.  He further referred to the Lloyds of London and US Coast Guards' consistent statements that there is nothing unusual in Bermuda Triangle when one compares the number of such incidents with that of other ocean areas in a percentage basis.  Disappearance of Flight-19 (the training flight of five avenger bomber planes) created a widespread menace and further propelled the mystery around Bermuda Triangle. Vincent Gaddis published his book 'The Deadly Bermuda Triangle' in 1964 where he put forth his own account and theories around it and mentioned that the planes vanished in ideal flight conditions. Kruszelnicki clarified that the weather wasn't fine at all... there were 49-ft waves.  Grumman TBM Avengers similar to Flight 19 

 Source: Wikimedia Commons  He further stated that the flight squadron leader Lieutenant Charles Taylor "arrived with a hangover, flew off without a watch, and had a history of getting lost and ditching his plane twice before". The radio transcripts clearly indicated that Taylor was hopelessly lost and did not take the advice from his junior pilots to fly in the right direction. The planes eventually ran out of fuel and ditched into the foaming sea in the darkness.   Two rescue seaplanes PBM Martin Mariners were sent for the Flight-19 search operation. Gaddis in his book mentioned that one of them vanished without a trace. To this Kruszelnicki said... "It didn’t vanish without a trace, [It] was seen to blow up". A tanker off the coast of Florida observed this explosion. Oil slicks and debris were found. In fact the PBM Martin Mariners were known to be prone to explosion due to gas leakage from tanks when full. The US Navy grounded all such Mariner seaplanes after this incident.  

Michael Barnette

 Barnette is a Marine Biologist and a scuba diver who busted the myths surrounding the coal ship SS Cotopaxy that disappeared in 1925 and could not be traced for a century. On November 29, 1925 Cotopaxy carrying 3,800 tons of coal and 32 crew was reported lost on its way from Charleston to Havana. And this incident fanned the myth of the mystery so much that the ship reappeared in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', shown in tact in Gobi desert.  Barnette had first located Cotopaxy back in 2010 during one of his scuba diving trips. It's lying off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida and mostly buried in sand about 100ft below the surface. This wreck is popularly known as 'Bear Wreck'. He wrote about his findings in his book 'Encyclopedia of Florida Shipwrecks, Volume I: Atlantic Coast' published in 2013. But it did not get much attention then.  In January 2020 when Cotopaxy started making headlines again in well known media channels, Barnette teamed up with Science Channel to document his discovery and findings in a series named as Shipwreck Secrets which was premiered in February, and that nailed the story.  Here is what Barnette had to say...  "A lot of times there's numerous shipwreck accidents or a missing aircraft and the Bermuda Triangle kills a story. That's not the story - that's an excuse, right? No one really wants to look for it. And then you say, ‘Oh, it's lost in Bermuda triangle’. But, in actuality, there are very real circumstances that led to these sinkings or disappearances. And without actually finding the wreck, you won't actually know the real cause and the real drama. The real story is what happened to the crew, the passengers."  

More Findings

 Lloyd's of London is a marine insurance market since long. They insure ships on voyage. When Lloyd's was asked by a UK television channel (UK Channel 4) in 1992 if they noted unusual number of ships sinking or getting lost in Bermuda Triangle, they responded that the so called disappearances were not large in number and nothing usual compared to any other ocean areas. They further confirmed that they do not even charge higher than usual insurance rates to cruise lines for voyages through Bermuda Triangle area. The US Coast Guard also has gone on record that the number of reported missing cases in Bermuda Triangle is nothing unusual. In fact, they contradicted many such alleged triangle disappearances in their reports after having conducted the necessary search. When the tanker SS V. A. Fogg exploded and sank in 1972, a triangle writer published that all bodies had disappeared expect that of the captain who was seen in his cabin clutching on to his coffee cup. In reality, the US Coast Guard report stated that several bodies were recovered, and further, the tanker sank off the coast of Texas and nowhere near the Bermuda Triangle area. A study conducted in 2013 for WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) reported the 10 most accident prone ocean areas in the world for shipping. And that does not include Bermuda Triangle. In fact, based on the accidents recorded, the most dangerous water areas are South China Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.  

Shipwrecks around Bermuda

 The island Bermuda is at one corner of the imaginary triangle. The island is located about 665 miles off the nearest landmass of the US east coast (i.e. Cape Hatteras in North Carolina). It is known that over 300 shipwrecks lie on the seafloor surrounding Bermuda that includes prominent ones like the Constellation, the Cristobal Colon, the Mary Celeste, the Montana, the Xing Da and lot more, many of which have now become popular scuba diving sites.  Montana Shipwreck 

 Photo: Heidi Hess  So, why so many ships found their graveyard around Bermuda? The answer is simple... around 200 square miles of water area surrounding Bermuda is full of dangerous underwater reefs.  In the early days, these reefs created severe hazards for ships when the captains had to mainly depend on compass and charts for navigation. The reefs rising from the bottom of the sea and hidden below the water surface tore apart the hulls of numerous ships that passed over them. These days however with advanced GPS navigational systems, captains can easily navigate around the hidden reefs and such accidents haven't taken place many years since the use of GPS.  If you are interested to know about the wrecks that lie sunken in the water around Bermuda island and the stories behind them, read Shipwrecks around the islands of Bermuda.   

Some Major Incidents

Main article: Bermuda Triangle Incidents  Below are some reports of ships and planes that met with ill fate while crossing the triangle area. As you visit the links, you will also see my findings. In most cases I have discussed and explained the possible causes as investigated and brought out by experts, and in some cases I have also given excerpts from official reports that were produced by US Navy, US Air Force and US Coast Guards.  USS Cyclops The disappearance of cargo ship Cyclops with 309 crew onboard resulted in the single largest loss of lives in the history of US Navy. It started from Barbados with full load of Manganese ore and was scheduled to reach Baltimore on March 13, 1918, but it never did. Some time after March 4, 1918, it was considered lost in the sea.   USS Cyclops anchored on Hudson River in 1911 

 Source: Wikimedia Commons  Although the exact reason is still unknown until now, some experts suggest that it could be due to heavy storm causing it to capsize, others say it could be due to wartime enemy activities etc. However, the most acceptable of all the reasoning is... it had a structural failure due to overloading and eventually sank. In fact, two of its sister ships Proteus and Nereus too were lost in North Atlantic during World War II, and both were carrying similar heavy metallic ores like that of Cyclops.  Mary Celeste Mary Celeste, a 103-foot brigantine, had many misadventures even before her mystery voyage in 1872. But this time, although the ship could be salvaged, none on board could ever be traced. On December 4, 1872 it was found abandoned at sea.  To date, there has been no theory that explains this mysterious abandonment with any clear evidence. However, a greater mystery is how and why this incident somehow got connected to Bermuda Triangle. After all, the abandoned ship was found between the Azores and Portugal, and about 590 miles west of Gibraltar which is nowhere near Bermuda Triangle.  Ellen Austin The Ellen Austin, an American schooner, met with an unknown ship in 1981 on Atlantic during its voyage from London to New York. Strangely the unknown ship had nobody on board although it was seaworthy. The captain of Ellen Austin sent his salvage crew to the unknown ship and asked them to sail together to New York. However according to reports, the unknown ship disappeared after two days during a storm. It reappeared after a few days, but this time too there was nobody onboard.   According to Larry Kushe, the above could be substantiated through research and particularly from a book of a retired Navy Commander Rupert Gould where he detailed the incident. However, no further information could be retrieved on the matter and Kusche noted that this could remain a mystery until source of Gould's account could be located, or even thereafter due to lack of adequate information.  Carroll A. Deering This is another case of an abandoned and stranded vessel which created one of the biggest maritime mysteries of all times. While returning from Rio de Janeiro of Brazil to Portland in Maine in January 1921, it was found abandoned and derelict at Diamond Shoals, off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina. But all the 11 crewmen including the captain were missing and never to be traced again.  Several possible explanations have come up to the surface. The lifeboats were missing too, and the Coast Guards assumed that the crew and the captain felt it was a doomed ship and fled on the lifeboats only to be lost in the sea.  Another explanation... Deering could have been a victim of piracy at a time when illegal and prohibited rum running trade was prevalent. An unknown ship (often referred as the steamer Hewitt) was seen following Deering's route and ignored the signals of a lightship near Cape Lookout. It is said that this unknown ship would have cleared out the crew of Deering.  Flight 19 Five Avenger planes of Flight-19 took off from the U.S Naval Base Fort Lauderdale located in Florida for a routine training session on an afternoon of December 1945. The squadron was to fly 141 miles east, then 73 miles north and then back 140 miles to complete the circuit. But strangely this time they never returned.  The final US Navy report suggested that navigational error was the cause to this accident as the planes ran out of fuel and ditched into the rough sea. In fact, the flight squadron leader Charles Taylor had a history of getting lost and ditched planes earlier too. The radio transmission also verified that he did not listen to a trainee's suggestion to correct the path and fly in the right direction, instead being confused, chose to continue in the wrong direction.  PBM Martin Mariner When all hopes for the above Flight-19 planes were quickly fading, two rescue Martin Mariner planes (flying boats that could land on sea) were sent by US Navy to search them out. After extensive fruitless search operation, one of them returned, but the other didn't. Why?  PBM Martin Mariner 

 Source: Wikimedia Commons  The weather was stormy when this incident took place. And the Mariners had a history of exploding due to vapor leaks when full with oil. A tanker off the coast of Florida noticed a huge explosion in the sea area and found widespread oil slicks. The seaplanes were already nicknamed 'Flying Gas Tank'. The US Navy grounded all PBM Martin Mariners following this incident.  USS Scorpion USS Scorpion (SSN-589) was a Nuclear powered submarine of United States Navy that disappeared in May 1968. Although the wrecks were found and the incident is often related to Bermuda Triangle, in reality it occurred near Africa and Portugal, and not in Bermuda Triangle.  Star Tiger on January 30, 1948, Star Tiger, a Tudor Mark-IV aircraft operated by British South American Airways disappeared from the radar while flying in from Azores and shortly before it was about to land at the Bermuda airport. Due to strong headwinds, it was flying at a critically low altitude of only 2,000ft and there was no margin for any human error or faults in any equipment.  Fight DC-3 The aircraft Douglas DC-3 left San Juan (in Puerto Rico) on December 28, 1948 for Miami. It disappeared when it was only 50 miles south of Florida and about to land in Miami. A massive search operation was launched within a few hours. The weather was fine, sea was calm and so shallow in this part that large sunken objects could be easily seen on the bottom.  Hundreds of ships and search places combed the entire area, but no trace of the plane and its passengers were found. A Civil Aeronautics Board investigation reported that insufficient information was available to find the exact cause of the disappearance.  Flight 441 A Super Constellation Naval Airliner disappeared in October 1954 near the north of the triangle. It had 42 passengers aboard. It had two powerful radio transmitters but did not send out any emergency message. A massive search operation was carried out, but no trace of the aircraft or its passengers were found. Commander Andrew Bright, Director of the Navy's Aviation unit admitted that there was no official explanation given to the cause of this loss.  Marine Sulphur Queen This 524-foot carrier started sail on Feb 2, 1963 from Beaumont, Texas to Norfolk, Virginia with 39 crew and full load of molten sulphur kept at 275°F. It was reported lost in Florida Straits on February 4. A vast search resulted into nothing but a few life jackets and little debris. After long investigations and deliberations, the Coast Guard came out with a few possibilities that could cause the loss but failed to find a definite explanation.  

The Reality

 It is well known that marine and airway channels across Bermuda Triangle remain one of the busiest and most commercially used routes in the world. They are used extensively by numerous cruise lines and airlines connecting The USA, Europe, Caribbean islands, Bermuda, South America and even Africa.  Do you think this would have been possible if the triangle area played foul with the ships and planes passing across this area and more than in other ocean areas? Since this is one of the busiest ocean channels, there should have been more likelihood of accidents here than places where there is much less traffic. But as already mentioned, Bermuda Triangle doesn't even figure in the top 10 most accident prone ocean areas in the world.  Bermuda with its own charms and attractions is located at one corner of the triangle. It is one of the top island destinations in the world with lovely pink sandy beaches and wonderful people. Over 650,000 tourists visit Bermuda annually by cruise ships and airplanes crossing the triangle area safely.  Landing at Bermuda 

   The tourists mostly arrive from the US, UK and Canada, and the rest from various other parts of the world. And they all cross the Bermuda Triangle by cruise ship or plane. Bermuda could not have been a top island destination in the first place if the triangle behaved mysteriously by any means, or if the safety of tourists in Bermuda was in question.  Read: How safe is Bermuda?  And same is the reality with the other two corners of the triangle. Puerto Rico is another popular island destination in Caribbean with its warm climate, location and rich history. And of course, very few beaches in the world can match that of Miami, when it comes to the popularity of beaches.  

External Sources

Wikipedia: Bermuda Triangle