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The Bermuda Triangle

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The Bermuda Triangle (classic)
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The Coast Guard does not recognize the existence of the so-called Bermuda Triangle as a geographic area of specific hazard to ships or planes.

U S Coast Guard

Different "authorities" have different definitions of the supposed Bermuda Triangle. The most widespread and possibly oldest one has Bermuda, Miami (roughly), and San Juan of Puerto Rico as it points. The area is known for the many strange incidents involving ships and airplanes; disappearances, ships found abandoned for no apparent reason, weird messages ... Many theories have been brought forward to explain the phenomenon, all the way from completely natural to downright supernatural; huge bursts of natural gas, Atlantean machinery, spaceships, portals to other "dimensions", and so on.

But when one takes a closer look at the incidents, what is actually known about each and every one of them rather than what is told and re-told in Triangle lore, most of them turn out to be considerably less mysterious, many haven't taken place anywhere near the Triangle anyway, and the remaining ones are not unusually many. The mystery simply doesn't exist.

If it had, it's strange indeed that nobody seems to have taken any notice until 1950. (A brief note by Columbus is sometimes mentioned, but his observation was neither unexplainable nor very spectacular, and it anyway took some 450 years until anyone else had anything to report.) Shipping in particular has been well established indeed in those waters for centuries, during many of which people certainly didn't mind colorful descriptions and explanations of marine phenomena.

The Triangle is, as far as known, first mentioned in 1950. It didn't become really well known until 1974, when Charles Berlitz published The Bermuda Triangle. Most descriptions of strange things, here called "anecdotes", come from him, directly or indirectly, and I've used his book as the main source of Triangle Lore. (Interested readers ought to see Vincent Gaddis article from 1964, where he coined the term.) One interested reader of Bertlitz was Larry Kusche, librarian, pilot and mythbuster with a knack for scepticism. He had already studied the Triangle for some years, but arrived at a completely different conclusion: the tales being told frequently have more than a dash of "manufactured mystery", when they are not downright make believe.

Here are some of the errors in the anecdotes. The first two are particularly common.

  • Incidents not taking place anywhere near the Triangle.
  • Bad weather isn't mentioned, or magically turned into fair weather.
  • Other details improved or forgotten - as when unexperienced pilots become experienced, radio communication turns more weird and intriguing than it ever was, or when failure to observe debris can be explained with bad weather and/or late search expeditions.
  • Ships abandoned in good order (the crew being taken aboard another ship) are later found empty, or ships feared to have been lost turn up in excellent condition.
  • Pure imagination?

Regarding the first point, Berlitz uses the "classic" Triangle, but doesn't seem to mind the least to use completely different ones (e.g. identifying the Triangle with the Sargasso sea) which is more than a little strange - if a certain area has a large number of mysterious incidents, shouldn't it be easy enough to determine it's outline? Even if the figure would be a less catchier one than The Devil's Triangle, allowing for however fuzzy a border. (Some incidents used as evidence were so far away from the Triangle, that several Triangles would fit in between, despite it's considerable size.)

Let me tell precisely what I conclude regarding the Bermuda Triangle, what I don't, and what one possibly could or couldn't conclude.

First, nobody can show that no unexplained, or unexplainable, disapperances have ever taken place. A small or medium-sized boat that rams a whale or floating log can go down in no time, leaving survivors and debris to be spread away by the mighty Gulf Stream long before anyone begins to look for them. To reconstruct such a chain of events might very well be impossible.

What is certainly possible, though, is to find that many of the anecdotes are not the evidence many assume. The Triangular apologetics do have a habit of uncritical retelling of urban legends, with widely varying veracity. Enter people like Kusche: he doesn't explain every incident, which is perhaps not possible even in theory, but he does show that a sufficient number of the anecdotes have a sufficient number of problems to clearly indicate that there is something fishy with the entire concept.

Because the main point of the Triangle is the number of supposedly mysterious and/or unexplained disapperances. If it cannot be shown that they are perceptibly many more there than in comparable areas around the world, then you have an area which isn't remarkable - and the myth disappears.

As long as the basic facts (year, name/spelling of ship/plane) haven't changed too much, such errors and others can be corrected by checking with the sources. When these really have nothing to say about a supposed incident, even after reasonable amounts of search term adjustment, one can wonder what have happened; a common case of data mutation, or a concieved tale that never was? - That's where we amateurs can make a difference. Anyone who can show that Lotta of 1866, Stavenger (sic?) of 1931, or the pilot Carolyn (Helen?) Cascio of 1964 has ever existed is more than welcome.

The following table is a compilation of incidents described by Berlitz (CB) that has been investigated by Kusche (LK) or, in a few cases, by me. Those who have been given what I consider believable explanations are marked with an "OK", those who didn't take place (if at all) near the area are marked with the triangle icon, and those who haven't (yet) been found to have taken place at all are marked with a "?". The rest - incidents that really took place in or near the classic Triangle and for which no sufficient explanation has been given, are marked with a square. (Note: The pages given for CB refer to the Swedish version, thus the italics; this will be corrected. The pages of LK refer to the original English version, though.)

Year

Ship/plane

CB

LK

Desc.

Error
(if any)

1840

Rosalie

52

24

There are no records of this ship. LK supposes that it actually is the known ship Rossini. She hit a ground, was abandoned, and eventually towed to port.

OK

1872

Mary Celeste

54

31

Found abandoned between the Azores and Portugal, i.e. in the east Atlantic, nowhere near the Triangle in the west Atlantic. A true mystery of the sea. Seriously studying it is not for the faint of heart, with reports that differ from the very beginning. As when she is mispelt Marie Celeste.

Outside

1880

Atalanta

49

36

A training ship in the Royal Navy, the crew of 250 included some 200 inexperienced young sailors. Probably went down in a powerful storm, which sank other ships as well. It's route crossed the Triangle, but she could have been well outside when she sank.

OKOutside

1881

Ellen Austin
and the
abandoned
ship

53

44

EA comes across an abandoned ship. Some crew members board it, the ships become parted in foggy weather - and the next time they meet, the "prize crew" is gone.
The only source LK has found is a Rupert T. Gould, a good sceptic who still didn't give any sources for this particular anecdote. The location is only given as somewhere in the Atlantic. Quasar suggests a renaming to Meta may have confused the truth (if any), and a change of flag from British to German as well. The records does indicate this took place in 1881. Apart from that, not a trace of a story as the one told has been found.

Pure fabrication?Outside

1902

Freya

53

47

Left port in Manzanillo, was abandoned the following day, found drifting. But the Manzanillo in question was not the one on Cuba, but another city with the same name on the west coast of Mexico.

OKOutside

1909

Spray

59

50

In 1895-98, Joshua Slocum was the first man to sail single-handedly around the world with his Spray. The seaworthiness of the couple nine years later has been questioned. He left Martha's Vineyard (not Miami as told by CB) heading for the West Indies. His planned route did cross the Triangle, but nobody knows whether he went down there or somewhere else.

Outside

1918

Cyclops

49

53

Was probably sunk in a storm off Norfolk, Virginia. If it sunk before that, it would have been in the Triangle; but the storm would be a simpler explanation that still suits the facts. The disappearance was never thoroughly investigated due to the Great War.

OKOutside

1921

Carroll A. Deering

55

65

Found abandoned off North Carolina.

Outside

1925

Raifuku Maru

57

74

The ship went fine, minding it's own business in perfectly good weather, when it suddenly transmitted a mysterious message: "It's like a dagger! Come quick!" - and that was the last thing anyone heard of her ... Really? Not even close. The japanese freighter was caught in a storm, the distress message was "Now very danger, come quick", and despite Homeric och Tuscania coming to the rescue, it went down with the entire crew of 38. This well-documented tragedy took place east of Boston.

OKOutside

1925

Cotopaxi

57

76

Probably went down in a storm.

OK

1926

Suduffco

57

78

Probably went down in a storm.

OK

1931

Stavenger

43

80

No Stavenger nor Stavanger (which would reflect the spelling of the Norwegian town) were reported lost in 1931. Nor, actually, does the record indicate that such a ship even existed in 1931.

Pure fabrication?

1932

John and Mary

55

82

An explosion ruined the engine, the crew was rescued by another ship. The John and Mary drifted into the Triangle, where it was discovered by a third ship.

OK

1935

La Dahama

78

85

Similar to John and Mary: Was discovered in a less than seaworthy condition, the crew was rescued. The drifting ship was later sighted by a third ship. It was never, however, near the Triangle.

OKOutside

1940

Gloria Colita

55

89

Found drifting in the Mexican Gulf, with broken sails and steering system. The crew had probably been washed aboard by a recent storm.

OKOutside

1944

Rubicon

55

95

Found drifting, the only living being aboard being a dog. A torn anchor line and a recent hurricane could indicate that the crew went ashore somewhere for shelter, and that the ship broke off.

OK

1945

Flight 19

17

97

This disappearance is by far the most well known in the Triangle lore. LK wrote an entire book on it, The disappearance of Flight 19 (1980).
The anecdote in short: Five military airplanes on a training flight disappear east of Florida, under very odd circumstances. A plane that was sent looking for them disappears as well.
The solution in short: Reading the primary sources with e.g. the actual radio communication (rather than the tabloid versions à la CB), the air of mystery all but vanishes.

OKOutside

1948

Star Tiger

26

127

LK described the disappearance of this airplane as "truly a modern mystery of the air" - there is simply no likely explanation, only unlikely ones. (Not that the Avro Tudor was never involved in accidents.) The plane disappeared on it's way from the Azores to Bermuda, that is well outside the Triangle.
In 2009, Tom Mangold presented some possible explanations for this plane and Star Ariel. A failed heater forced the plane to fly low, which burns fuel faster and also leaves less margin for manoeuvring, not to mention time to send distress signals.

Outside

1948

Albert Snider

56

139

Famous jockey (Snyder with Gaddis and CB) took a fishing trip with two friends and disappeared. The anecdote often fails to mention that they left at 5 PM, and that the wind was blowing at a less than merry 25 m/s.

OK

1948

DC-3

31

142

In the anecdote, the plane communicates with the Miami control tower when, 50 miles south of the city, it suddenly becomes silent. No traces of the plane are found in the shallow waters. In reality, the DC-3 was never in touch with Miami, the position given was overheard in New Orleans, and could very well have been wrong.
Before take off, the batteries were found to be in a bad shape. The pilot Linquist had them refilled with water, but apparently didn't consider it necessary to wait for the hours it would take to recharge them.

OK

1949

Star Ariel

29

151

Lost somewhere between Bermuda and Jamaica. As with the Star Tiger nothing stands out; the weather was as fine as in the anecdotes, the crew experienced, plane and equipment in good order, and so on. Due to a communication glitch (the plane never got in touch with Kingston, Jamaica) the rescue operation was delayed several hours.
Tom Mangolds investigation (which included Star Tiger) suspected the heater. These was pretty new, used fuel, and several dangers were caused by its proximity to the hydraulic pipes.
An expression in the official report could have been interpreted as fuel by the Triangular theorists: "some external cause may (have) overwhelm(ed) both man and machine". True as it is, it certainly is no acknowledge of flying saucers, doomsday rays or kraken.

Unexplained

1950

Sandra

58

161

The anecdote gives a vivid image of a 350 foot ship, calmly sailing out of reality, into the mysterious realms of Triangle lore ... She actually was 185 foot, to mention one error, and probably went down in a storm which the anecdotes mysteriously doesn't mention.
LK: "The evolution of the Sandra's story in the Legend of the Bermuda Triangle is one of the more interesting examples of what can happen when authors take their information from each other, rather than from original sources."

OK

1951

Globemaster

32

157

Debris 600 miles southwest of Ireland indicated that the plane had exploded in the air. Heading for Newfoundland, it was never close to the Triangle. The event is often misdated to 1950, an error which goes back to Gaddis.

OKOutside

1951

São Paulo

51

-

Despite CB describing this disappearance as one of the most remarkable to take place in the Bermuda triangle during peace time, it didn't, according to himself, take place there. The de-commisioned Brazilian warship was being towed from Rio de Janeiro towards England when it broke free, southwest of the Azores.

Outside

1954

Super Constellation

32

166

Disappeared outside the Triangle.

Outside

1955

Connemara IV

56

172

The yacht was probably deserted by the crew when hurricane Ione struck, 150 miles southeast of Bermuda. It managed better than the lifeboat. (This is an interesting and potentially dangerous psychological phenomenon: When things get rough, people can be eager to leave ship even when they are not forced to, but might actually be better off staying.)

OKOutside

1956

Martin Marlin

32

174

Exploded 40 miles southeast of New York, far north of the Triangle. Compare with the Martin Mariner that seemed to have exploded for no known, but possibly technical, reasons during the search of Flight 19, 1945. In both incidents, rescue operations were hampered by weather and darkness. (In many of the cases where no traces have been found of disappeared ships or planes, this is possibly because nobody has been able to look until hours later.)

OKOutside

1958

Revonoc

58

177

"... Were missing in wind-lashed seas off the southern coast of Florida". Two other ships that also were reported missing in the storm did not make it to Triangle lore. The Coast Guard eventually found a lifeboat from the yacht.

OK

1962

KB-50

32

179

An airplane that disappeared for unknown reasons north of the Triangle. The searches began hours later, in darkness.

Outside

1963

Marine Sulphur Queen

59

185

Disappeared in the Mexican Gulf, west of the Triangle. Hard winds at the time. The investigation arrived to several possible explanations, as an explosion in the cargo or capsizing. Since this ship (as well as the Southern Districts 1954, mentioned by LK) had been rebuilt to a more efficient shipper of molten sulphur, only one watertight compartment had been left.

OKOutside

1963

Sno' Boy

58

197

A 63 foot charter vessel lost south of Jamaica with an unlikely 40 fishermen aboard. Debris was later spotted in the area, and a corpse that the sharks were dealing with.

OKOutside

1963

Two KC-135

33

200

The tanker planes probably collided in mid-air. The anecdote mentions two spots of debris found several hundred miles between each other, which does sound strange enough; but one of the spots was described as "seaweed, driftwood and an old buoy", and obviously had nothing to do with either plane.

OKOutside

1963

C-133

34

-

(CB erroneously calls the Cargomaster C-132, which makes this anecdote easy to spot; the C-132 was a concept plane that never took off.) It's last position was some 80 miles southeast of Cape May, New Jersey. Searching gave nothing, and according to the press, "some said they held little real hope for survivors because of high wind and seas in the Atlantic area ..."

OK

1964

Cascio

34

-

Carolyn Cascio is called Helen in some anecdotes. In a light plane (a Cessna 172?) with one additional passenger she disappeared during a flight from Nassau to Grand Turk Island (Bahamas). She reported that she had got lost and was flying over two unknown islands, "there's nothing down there" - while people on the ground saw a desoriented plane circling around.
LK doesn't mention Cascio. I have yet to find any period sources for either the pilot, the disappearance or any similar ones. Quasar mentions a lost Cessna 1972 "near Grand Turk" 1968, without further details.
Considering this is one of the weirdest anecdotes, yet with far better documentation potential than most (eye witnesses!), I find it strange that neither believers nor sceptics have researched it more thoroughly.

Pure fabrication?

1965

C-119

34

207

The plane disappeared in darkness and 20 m/s winds.
This disappearance is sometimes connected with the sighting a so called UFO by Gemini 4 astronaut James McDivitt. Whatever that is supposed to mean, it must be said that U F O stands for Unidentified Flying Object. McDivitt: "The object which I saw remains unidentified. This does not mean that it is, therefore, a spacecraft from some remote planet in the universe. It also doesn't mean that it isn't such a spacecraft. It only means I saw something in flight which neither I nor anyone else was ever able to identify."

OK

1967

Chase YC-122

35

212

Disappeared between Fort Lauderdale and Bimini (between Florida and Bahamas). Debris was found. Cause unknown.
LK mentions a "black week" which I haven't found in CB. It includes a Beechcraft Bonanza and a Piper Apache. The first might have had an engine failure, the second could have run into foul weather. Debris was found after the YC-122 only, possibly because it's pilot was the only one to leave a trip plan (which is highly recommended, Triangle or not), making work considerably less difficult for the rescuers.

Unexplained

1967

Witchcraft

56

216

In the anecdote, the weather is perfectly calm when some gentlemen leave the Miami harbor to admire the city by night. On the contrary, the winds were strong enough to create "a carpet of foam" and metre-high waves. Since the engine had stopped they couldn't steer up the waves and could have capsized easily. On the other hands, the vessel supposedly was unsinkable (styrofoam blocks).

Unexplained

1968

Scorpion

60

219

A nuclear submarine is lost 400 miles southwest of the Azores. (Sometimes the anecdotes mentions her sister ship Tresher, she sank in April 1963, 200 miles east of Cape Cod.)

Outside

1969

Maplebank

56

224

CB describes the Maple Bank, found drifting upside down. It was actually the Maplebank that spotted an unnamed ship drifting upside down northwest of Africa.

OKOutside

1972

L-1011

38

-

According to CB the plane disappeared without a trace. In reality, the plane crashed in the Everglades swamps in souther Florida and was found 25 minutes later. 99 people died, 77 survived. The investigation explained that the plane simply flew too low, for whatever reason. The "dramatic" descent that Valentine describes in CB (however dramatic +200 metres in 40 seconds really is) never took place, it was quite the contrary: "a very gentle descent until it struck the ground".
This is a very good example of just how sloppy CB and his sidekick Valentine are. This catastrophe was in fresh memory when the book was published.

OK

1973

Rigoni

35

-

Reno Rigoni and co-pilot Bob Corner disappears with their Cessna between Fort Lauderdale and Freeport, northwest Florida. I have yet to find any reliable information whatsoever about this. If confirmed as told, it still took place outside the triangle.

OutsidePure fabrication?

Considering how many of the incidents that have taken place outside the triangle, it rather appears to be quite a safe place. Who writes a bestseller about that?

The Bermuda Triangle, superimposed over Europe
Google Earth

The "classic" triangle has a side of about 1 000 miles, and an area of about 400 000 square miles. This area, larger than many countries, sees a vast amount of ships and airplanes. Still, many of the supposed triangle-related indicents have taken place somewhere else.

Almost half of The Bermuda Triangle is about other things than the Triangle. For example, Berlitz mentions the famous Maelstrom. This natural phenomenon has been exaggerated for at least 500 years - his source is Edgar Allan Poe, who didn't mean to and shouldn't be taken seriously. He writes a good deal about the lost Atlantis and it's technology, the supposed high level of which has far less to do with Plato than the alleged clairvoyant Edgar Cayce, who Berlitz appear to trust completely. UFOs, hilarious associative archaeology in the von Däniken vein, and similar stuff; all in all, a few mispelt names doesn't really feel like a problem worth mentioning.

Still, all Triangle believers are not as imaginative and sloppy as Berlitz (Ivan Sanderson is possibly worse). But the more careful and honest studies you make of the alleged mystery, the less of a mystery you're left with.

In short, the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle became a mystery by a kind of communal reinforcement among uncritical authors and a willing mass media to uncritically pass on the speculation that something mysterious is going on in the Atlantic.

Robert Todd Carroll, skepdic.com

... A little imagination, a few silly unanswered questions, a few references to other occurrences in the same area (accurate or not) can turn almost anything into a mystery.

Larry Kusche

Sources:
*Charles Berlitz w. J. Manson Valentine, Dödens triangel (Legenda 1990) - Swedish version, I know
Larry Kusche, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved (Prometheus Books 1995)
*Vincent H. Gaddis, The Deadly Bermuda Triangle, Argosy February 1964
Robert Todd Carroll: Bermuda (or "Devil's") Triangle, skepdic.com
United States Coast Guard, FAQ: Does the Bermuda Triangle really exist?
Wikipedia: Bermuda Triangle; List of Bermuda Triangle incidents
*Gian Quasar of www.bermuda-triangle.org works hard to keep the supposed myth alive
Gian Quasars "Debunkery" of Kusche isn't; it does, however, have a few corrections
"A Deadly Triangle", Time, January 6, 1975 (esp. p 2)
Minor sources:
Spray - D. H. Clarke, An Evolution of Singlehanders
Raifuku Maru - "Japanese Ship Sinks With a Crew of 38 [...]", New York Times, April 22, 1925
Star Tiger, Star Ariel - Bermuda Triangle plane mystery 'solved' (well...), BBC September 13, 2009
São Paulo - "Towed Warship Missing", New York Times, November 9, 1951
Revonoc - "5 Aboard Yawl Missing at Sea", New York Times, January 7, 1958
C-133 - "Hunt for 10 on Air Force Plane [...]", New York Times, September 26, 1963
L-1011 - "89 Die, 80 Survive and 8 Are Missing [...]", New York Times, December 31, 1972
L-1011 - "Pilot Error Hinted in Fatal Miami Crasch", New York Times, January 2, 1973

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