For some, the Bermuda Triangle is simply a myth, while for others it is a mysterious ship and airplane graveyard in the North Atlantic Ocean, off the eastern coast of North America.
After several supposedly unexplained disappearances there, Lloyds Shipping Insurers of London was asked to investigate; after an exhaustive inquiry, they reported that losses in this area were no higher than in other ocean sectors. So is it true that the Bermuda Triangle is really dangerous to ships and aircraft, or is this just a figment of someone’s very active imagination?
On 8 October 1492, the intrepid navigator Christopher Columbus was on his first voyage to the Americas. While sailing in the North Atlantic, in what is now known as the Bermuda Triangle, he noted that his compass was behaving strangely and giving inexplicable readings. He worried that telling his crew of the problem would create a panic, so he kept the anomaly a secret. When, three days later, a peculiar glow (which could have been a meteor) appeared on the sea, the crew threatened to mutiny and return to their home port in Spain. It was just as well Columbus had not divulged the compass reading to his crew, for perhaps the discovery of the New World would then have been delayed for some years!
Perhaps the best-documented disaster attributed to the Bermuda Triangle is the loss of Flight 19 out of Fort Lauderdale in Florida. Flight 19 was crewed by 14 young Navy pilots, just returned from active service after the Second World War. Flying five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and led by Lt. Taylor, they left on a routine training mission. Taylor took them from Fort Lauderdale towards the Northern Bahamas to drop their bombs in the shallow water of Hen and Chickens Shoal. Late in the afternoon, a crew member radioed asking for a compass reading and was astounded to hear his fellow pilot say that he did not know where they were and that they must have gotten lost after they made a turn.
Lt. Taylor also found that both his compasses were malfunctioning as he was trying to find their home base. Out his window, he could see islands that he felt sure were the Florida Keys, but he had no idea where in the Keys they were at the time. Another pilot felt that they should fly west, as that would eventually bring them over land. By just after 6:00 pm, Lt. Taylor insisted that the flight bunch up; when one plane was ready to ditch, they would all go down together. Air traffic control at Fort Lauderdale was trying desperately to radio Lt. Taylor, but none of these messages seemed to get through. When they were able to triangulate the position of the flight, they were horrified to see that it was way off course and north of the Bahamas. No sign of the men or their aircraft was ever found.
Shortly after Flight 19 went dark, a PBM Mariner with 13 crew on board was sent to search for the Avengers.
At 7:30 pm the captain of the Mariner made a routine call that was the last ever heard of the plane. The rescue plane also vanished and was never seen again.
The loss of these planes on the same day was cause for concern, and then over the next few years, three more planes and a yacht went missing as well. The Connemara IV was found adrift with no crew aboard in 1955. A couple of years later, two US Air Force Stratotankers also vanished.
All of this provided fertile ground for the seeds of conspiracy theories to grow.
A short time after the loss of the two Stratotankers, in February 1963, the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle was made more public when Vincent Gaddis wrote a dramatic article for Argosy magazine in which he claimed that the area was haunted by supernatural forces. He dubbed the area “the Bermuda Triangle” and listed all the strange disappearances that had happened in this stretch of water over the centuries. Using little in the way of fact, Gaddis put down a convincing tale of evil forces that swallowed boats and planes with impunity. This article, with all its allusions to dark forces, caught the imagination of the public. As it seemed no one could supply answers as to why so many craft went missing, the public lapped up the concept of a supernatural void.
Since the public was enamored with the concept of the Bermuda Triangle, others were quick to cash in on the phenomenon, and books on the subject appeared almost overnight. In 1974, the most popular of all the books appeared, selling an astounding 20 million copies. The Bermuda Triangle, written by Charles Berlitz, was translated into 30 languages and was an international bestseller. This was an incredible feat for a book offering few facts and a great deal of allegation about alien abduction and supernatural powers. Berlitz’s theories were so popular and so well known that Hollywood stepped into the fray; Steven Spielberg used them in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when he inferred that the crew of Flight 19 had been abducted by aliens by having them return to Earth in the blockbuster film.
If the conspiracy theories are not credible, then what is the explanation for the disappearances in this part of the ocean? It is a well-known fact that compass variations and electronic instrument malfunctions can have devastating effects when they cause a pilot to misinterpret the data. However, although a compass bearing can change while trying to fix on a magnetic bearing, there is no explanation for irregularly spinning compass needles. There would also be no valid reason for electronic parts to all suddenly lose power. Physical differences in magnetic and electromagnetic fields have neither been scientifically recognized nor approved. Hurricanes, which are common in the Triangle, as well as exploding methane ocean fields and huge waves mid-ocean, can also create shipping hazards. Unusual wind patterns created by the warm Gulf Stream meeting with colder surrounding air and water would certainly influence the safety of aircraft as well as ships.
Many of the supposed disappearances in this part of the ocean have now been successfully explained. The US Air Force concluded that pilot error was the cause of the loss of Flight 19. Lt. Taylor, despite being a vastly experienced pilot, was not knowledgeable about the land around Fort Lauderdale, as he had just recently arrived there from Miami. He wrongly believed that he was over the Florida Keys when he was, in fact, west of Bermuda, so each time he changed course he took his flight further out to sea instead of closer to land.
The missing PBM-Mariner was deemed to have exploded in mid-air. This was proven when Captain Shonna Stanley, also in the area aboard the SS Gaines Mills, reported seeing a flash of fire in the air at the time the Mariner went missing. The Connemara IV did not have an encounter of the third kind, and its crew did not spend time with aliens. The yacht was washed out to sea, without the crew being on board, during a hurricane. The two missing US Air Force Stratotankers were found to have collided in mid-air and crashed into the ocean.
Not only Lloyds of London but also the US Coast Guard have concurred that the Bermuda Triangle is the figment of very fertile imaginations. The number of craft lost, compared to the number of craft that regularly traverse the area, is statistically negligible.
This down-to-earth description would not satisfy the lovers of the alien theories, and it is not surprising that Gaddis never accepted the results of the official inquiries. He insisted that supernatural forces were at work and the establishment was trying to cover it up, The Telegraph reported.
In the end, it makes little difference. Flight 19 did disappear, and no trace of them has ever been found, so the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle was born, and it is unlikely to fade away anytime soon.
The idea of aliens and alien abduction sends a delicious shiver down the spine, and so long as it is fed by books and films, we will always have just that smidgen of doubt about this stretch of the North Atlantic Ocean.