The Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle, also called the Devil's Triangle, is an imaginary area that can be roughly outlined on a map by connecting Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the Bahamas, an island chain off the coast of the United States. Within that triangular area of the Atlantic Ocean have occurred a number of unexplained disappearances of boats and planes. Additionally, readings on directional devices do not operate normally inside the triangle.
Unusual events in that area date back in recorded history to 1493 and the first voyage of Christopher Columbus (1451–1506) to the New World. In his log, Columbus noted that his compass readings were askew within the area now called the Bermuda Triangle, and he and his crew were confused by shallow areas of sea with no land nearby.
The term "Bermuda Triangle" was first used in an article written by Vincent H. Gaddis for Argosy magazine in 1964. Gaddis claimed that several ships and planes had disappeared without explanation in that area. The article was expanded and included in his book, Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea (1965), where he described nine mysterious incidents and provided extensive detail. Many newspapers carried a story in December of 1967 about strange incidents in the Bermuda Triangle after a National Geographic Society news release brought attention to Gaddis's book. The triangle was featured in a cover story in Argosy in 1968, in a book called Limbo of the Lost (1969) by John Wallace Spencer, and in a documentary film, The Devil's Triangle, in 1971. Charles Berlitz's 1974 bestseller The Bermuda Triangle marked the height of the disaster area legend, but some of its sensationalized claims were quickly proved inaccurate.
As early as 1952, George X. Sands had noted in a report in Fate magazine that an unusually large number of strange accidents had occurred in the region associated with the Bermuda Triangle. That many of the accidents in the area are intriguing, and that the area does have some natural conditions that sailors and pilots need to be aware of, has not been challenged. However, neither statistics nor documented evidence indicates that the number of accidents is unusually high or without explanation.
In March 1918, during World War I, the USS Cyclops vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. That ship may have been a casualty of war, but the December 1945 disappearance of Flight 19, a training squadron of five U.S. Navy torpedo bombers, became the most notorious of disappearances associated with the Bermuda Triangle. The squadron left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with 14 crewmen and disappeared after radioing in several distress messages. A seaplane sent in search of the squadron also vanished. Those two airplane disappearances were frequently cited as the Bermuda Triangle legend grew during the 1960s and 1970s.
Few of those stories included telling details. All of the crewmen of Flight 19 were in training, for example, except for their patrol leader, who had tried to withdraw from his flight duty that day because he was feeling ill. After his compass malfunctioned soon into the flight, the flight leader decided to navigate by land-marks below on the islands of the Florida Keys, with which he was familiar. Visibility became a problem because of a sudden storm, and the leader became disoriented. Flight 19 was still in radio contact with the Fort Lauderdale air base, but after some mechanical difficulties they failed to switch to an emergency frequency. Radio recordings indicate that some of the crew believed they were heading out over the Atlantic Ocean, instead of the Gulf of Mexico as their leader reported.
A search plane took off and was claimed to have disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle with Flight 19. The plane actually blew up 23 seconds after takeoff. Wreckage from Flight 19 has never been recovered.
Other aircraft that have disappeared in the area include a DC-3 carrying 27 passengers in 1948 and a C-124 Globemaster with 53 passengers in 1951. Among the ships often listed among the mysteriously disappeared are the Mary Celeste (1872), the Marine tankership Sulphur Queen with 39 men aboard (1963), and the nuclear-powered submarine Scorpion with a crew of 99 (1968). The Mary Celeste entered the list of supposed Bermuda Triangle mysteries many decades after its odd tragedy. The ship set sail from New York to Genoa, Italy, but was found sailing unmanned some 400 miles off course, off the coast of Africa. Personal articles of the crew were found and food storage areas showed no sign of upheaval. A tattered sail and a missing lifeboat suggested the boat had encountered a storm, but the ship's log, in which information was recorded as late as nine days before the ship was found, made no mention of any kind of catastrophe.
There is no evidence, however, that the Mary Celeste ever entered the area of the Bermuda Triangle. Still, the eerie, unanswered questions concerning its fate are often cited by those who attribute a malevolent force as being responsible for odd and tragic events of the triangle.
Nevertheless, there are many documented disappearances that occurred within the triangle. They include a four-engine Tudor IV air-plane lost in 1948, with 31 aboard; an American freighter, the SS Sandra (1952), which sunk without a trace; a British York transport plane, disappeared in 1952, with 33 aboard; a U.S. Navy Lockheed Constellation airplane, vanished in 1954 with 42 aboard; a U.S. Navy seaplane, 1956, with a crew of 10; a French freighter in 1970; and a German freighter, Anita, lost in 1972 with a crew of 32.
Theories about why so many air and water ships disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle involve strange magnetic fields, time warps, the lost continent of Atlantis, and alien abduction. Other proposed explanations include physical forces unknown to science, a "hole in the sky," and an unusual chemical component in the region's seawater. Several books have suggested that an intelligent, technologically advanced race living in space or under the sea has been responsible for jamming equipment and leading ships and planes to disaster.
Many books and articles play up mystery angles concerning vanished ships by depicting the disappearances as having occurred in calm weather and daylight. Such particulars of Flight 19 as an inexperienced crew, a faulty compass, a squadron leader who failed to follow instructions, and conditions of deteriorating weather and visibility are often not mentioned. Larry Kusche, a librarian at Arizona State University, examined claims of mysterious disappearances and recorded evidence from each example. The results, published in The Bermuda Triangle—Mystery Solved, showed that many of the accidents happened during raging storms, or were later explained.
The area known as the Bermuda Triangle is one of the two places on Earth where a magnetic compass does point towards true north, a phenomenon called compass variation. Navigators must compensate the amount of variation or the craft they are on will go off course. A region commonly called the "Devil's Sea" in the Pacific Ocean is the other area of compass variation.
The Gulf Stream that runs through the Bermuda Triangle area is swift and turbulent, and can quickly erase evidence of a disaster. The unpredictable Caribbean-Atlantic weather can suddenly change into thunderstorms or create waterspouts. Many short and intense storms build up quickly and dissipate quickly, undetected by satellite surveillance. The ocean floor has shoals around islands as well as some of the deepest marine trenches in the world. The interaction of the strong currents over reefs promotes a constant flux and the development of new, uncharted navigational hazards.
These factors can confuse even experienced sailors. A large number of pleasure boats travel the waters between Florida's coast and the Bahamas. The U.S. Coast Guard receives more than 8,000 distress calls per year, averaging more than 20 per day from that area, often from sailors who have run out of gas.
The Bermuda Triangle claimed more than 1,000 lives during the twentieth century. That averages to about 10 per year, a figure similar to other areas of high water traffic or volatile natural conditions. Scientific evaluations of the Bermuda Triangle have concluded that the number of disappearances in the region is not abnormal and that most of the disappearances have logical explanations. Paranormal associations with the Bermuda Triangle persist, however, in the popular imagination.
Berlitz, Charles. The Bermuda Triangle. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1974.
Gaddis, Vincent H. Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea. Philadelphia: Chilton Books, 1965.
Gordon, Stuart. The Encyclopedia of Myths and Legends. London: Headline Books, 1993.
Kusche, Lawrence D. The Bermuda Triangle Mystery— Solved. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.
Spencer, John Wallace. Limbo of the Lost. New York: Bantam Books, 1973.
An area of the Western Atlantic between Bermuda and Florida where ships and planes are said to have vanished without a trace. During the late 1960s, inspired largely by the volume by Vincent Gaddis, Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea (1965), a popular controversy erupted around claims that since 1945 over 100 ships and planes and more than 1,000 people have disappeared in the Bermuda triangle. The area was also termed "the Hoodoo Sea," "the Devil's Triangle," "Limbo of the Lost," "the Twilight Zone," and "Port of Missing Ships." Charles Berlitz, who wrote several books on the triangle, speculated on the possibility of time warps, electromagnetic impulses from vanished civilizations, and extraterrestrial activities in UFOs.
The controversy was largely put to rest by Lawrence David Kusche in his book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved. Kusche destroyed the mystery in a case-by-case discussion of the alleged disappearances. Many had been solved, but popular writers were unaware of the relevant literature. Others happened outside of the triangle. Many had perfectly normal explanations. Since Kusche's book appeared, discussion of the Bermuda triangle has been confined to the fringe, though a few writers like Berlitz have tried to perpetuate interest.
Among the more interesting theories put forward to solve the alleged mystery was proposed by Russian oceanographer Vladimir Azhazha. In articles published in reputable scientific journals in the U.S.S.R. and the United States, Azhazha suggested that storms in the triangle area generate "infrasound"— low-frequency waves that are inaudible to human beings but that can be magnified by special conditions to become a force powerful enough to destroy ships and planes. Infrasound is a frequency lower than 16 cycles per second. In an interview in Moscow published in the National Enquirer (November 15, 1977), Azhazha stated that he believed infrasonic waves in the Devil's Triangle are amplified by such factors as changes in water temperature and a powerful undersea river running in an opposite direction to ocean currents.
Scientists at the Wave Propagation Laboratory of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirm that the power of infrasonic vibrations does increase in a storm and that sound can be carried thousands of miles. A NOAA research oceanographer stated that there are very sharp changes in the temperature of the water in the Devil's Triangle because of the Gulf Stream, and that different temperatures in water could cause differences in the intensity of infrasound, either increasing it or decreasing it.
In the National Enquirer, Azhazha stated: "An infrasonic sound wave can travel thousands of miles to find its victim in a calm sea. If the wave is gigantic enough, a crew can perish almost instantly. Death will come from stopping of the heart or destruction of the cardiovascular system." In the resulting panic, a ship's crew might even abandon ship. Azhazha claimed that the hull and masts of the ship would begin to vibrate in tune with the infrasound, cracking the ship and breaking it up.
Azhazha's theory was published in the Soviet magazine Science and Life, and a similar theory was also put forward by Soviet science writer I. Boyetin. Tests conducted in France have supported the theory that infrasound can damage ships, and Dr. Freeman Hall, chief of the atmospheric acoustic program at NOAA Wave Propagation Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, confirmed that severe storms can generate such a phenomenon, and that it can also be dangerous to human beings. The theory has not been tested, however, because the mystery was largely accounted for by other means.
(See also Devil's Jaw , another area of claimed mysterious disappearances.)
Berlitz, Charles F. The Dragon's Triangle. New York: Wynwood Press, 1989.
Berlitz, Charles, and J. Manson Valentine. The Bermuda Triangle. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974.
The Bermuda Triangle: An Annotated Bibliography. Buffalo, N.Y.: Buffalo and Erie County Public Library Librarians Association and Buffalo and Erie County Library, 1975.
Kusche, Lawrence D. The Bermuda Triangle—Solved. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.
Kusche, Lawrence David, and Deborah K. Blouin. Bermuda Triangle Bibliography. Tempe, Ariz.: Arizona State University Library, 1974.
Winer, Richard. The Devil's Triangle. New York: Bantam Books, 1974.
BERMUDA TRIANGLE, the best-known of a variety of folk names given to a triangular region of the Atlantic Ocean whose apexes are Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the island of Bermuda. Numerous ships and aircraft have disappeared in the area, the most famous being a flight of five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo bombers that failed to return from a routine training mission in December 1945. Other losses range from small pleasure boats to the 542-foot U.S. Navy collier Cyclops, lost with all hands in 1918. Since the 1960s, some commentators have attributed these disappearances to powerful, mysterious forces that include UFOs, time warps, and the "lost continent" of Atlantis. Scientific and maritime authorities have consistently rejected these explanations in favor of naturalistic ones such as turbulent seas, rapidly changing weather conditions, and the errors of inexperienced sailors and pilots.
The name "Bermuda Triangle" first appeared in a 1964 Argosy Magazine article by Vincent Gaddis. A widely reprinted 1967 National Geographic Society press release gave it national prominence. Charles Berlitz's sensationalistic book The Bermuda Triangle (1974) and Steven Spielberg's references to the Avengers' Flight 19 in his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) bracketed the peak of the legend's popularity.
Kusche, Larry. The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved. New York: Harper and Row, 1975. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1995. Debunks the legend in detail.
A. BowdoinVan Riper
See alsoUnidentified Flying Objects .