An area of the Western Atlantic Ocean forming a loose triangle between Miami, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Bermuda, the region widely known as the Bermuda Triangle covers some half a million square miles. The area has garnered an infamous reputation for both ships and aircraft disappearing when passing through it, making it one of the most well-known regions of the world’s oceans. But is there any truth to the claim that there are an unusual number of disappearances in ‘The Devil’s Triangle’, and if so, what is causing it?
Disappearance of Flight 19
The first claim of unusual disappearances within the triangle came in a 1950 article in the Miami Herald. In 1952 writer George Sand expanded on the concept in an article in Fate magazine, detailing the disappearance of Flight 19, five US navy torpedo bombers that vanished inside the triangle during a training exercise. Departing Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale on December 5th 1945, the five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers were commanded by Navy Lieutenant Charles Carroll Taylor, who had 2,500 hours of flying time in similar aircraft, along with four trainee pilots and nine additional crew.
After carrying out a practice bombing run, problems began when one pilot, Joseph Powers, stated over the radio that he was lost. Flight commander Taylor later informed the leader of a fellow training flight that Flight 19 were together but lost, believing he was somewhere over the Florida Keys but unable to find his way back to Fort Lauderdale. Base operations attempted to talk Flight 19 back to base, but the weather quickly deteriorated and radio contact became increasingly patchy.
Radar pinpointed the flight as being north of the Bahamas, way off where the crew believed themselves to be and at risk of running out of fuel before reaching base. Taylor’s last message was transmitted at 6:20pm, when he was overheard commanding his flight; ‘all planes close up tight…we’ll have to ditch unless landfall…when the first plane drops below 10 gallons, we all go down together’.
It soon became evident that the flight had been lost, with flying boats diverted from their own training flights to search for survivors. One of the diverted planes, a Martin PBM Mariner, disappeared without contact during the search. 13 crew were lost on board, taking the total number of missing airmen during the incident to 27.
A 1962 article in Argosy magazine expanded on the disappearance of Flight 19. While Sand had already suggested a supernatural cause behind the disappearance, author Vincent Gaddis invented the term ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and attributed to Taylor a radio communication stating; ‘We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don’t know where we are, the water is green, not white’. This communication was not reported at the time of the disappearance, and is likely an invention of Gaddis.
While Flight 19 largely originated the idea of the Bermuda Triangle, older incidents were retrospectively attributed to a strange force in the area. In March 1918 the USS Cyclops disappeared without trace in the Bermuda Triangle, taking 306 crew and passengers with her. Officially the incident is the single largest loss of life in US naval history not involved in direct combat, although one likely explanation for the disappearance is that the Cyclops was sank by a German submarine. German command have always denied responsibility, however. US Naval History & Heritage Command believe she most likely sank in a sudden storm.
Commercial schooner the Carroll A. Deering ran aground in North Carolina in 1921, the entire crew missing. While subsequent writers have attributed the disappearance to the supernatural effect of the Triangle, at the time there was evidence that members of the crew had been planning a mutiny, led by first mate Charles McLellan. Regular captain William Merritt had been replaced after falling ill by 66-year-old Willis Wormell, who McLellan was overheard criticising in a bar in Barbados. When the ship ran aground at Diamond Shoals the steering equipment had been deliberately damaged, while two lifeboats and the crew’s personal effects where also missing.
British South American Airways plane BSAA Star Tiger disappeared without trace passing through the Triangle on 20th January 1948. 25 passengers and six crew vanished with the plane. A year later almost to the day, sister plane BSAA Star Ariel disappeared in similar circumstances, taking 13 passengers and seven crew with her.
In total 17 planes and nine ships have crashed or otherwise disappeared in the Triangle, along with two lighthouse keepers that vanished from Great Isaac Lighthouse, the Bahamas. 924 people have either been killed or disappeared.
Writers are fond of attributing a supernatural cause to the disappearances. One theory that has been put forward is that the lost city of Atlantis was located in the area, and some form of technology left over on the site is responsible for disrupting planes and ships. UFOs are another common explanation, a theory popularised by writer Charles Berlitz in his best-selling 1974 book The Bermuda Triangle.
Researchers have also put forward a number of natural explanations. Problems with compasses and navigation equipment malfunctioning have been regularly reported, leading to theories that local magnetic fields are disrupting them. However, no evidence of such fields has been found.
The Gulf Stream flows directly through the Triangle. Travelling at around two metres per second, a stranded boat or aircraft making a water landing could be rapidly carried away from its last known position. Hurricanes are common in the area, as well as sudden, unpredictable increases in the speed and velocity of the wind. One of these sudden winds, known as ‘air bombs’, was responsible for the sinking of the Pride of Baltimore off Puerto Rico in 1986, killing four crew.
Perhaps the most compelling explanation is that there is no mystery about the Bermuda Triangle. While disappearances within the Triangle are well-publicised, in reality ships and aircraft are not reported missing in the area at a higher rate than other parts of the ocean. American author and former pilot Larry Kusche argued that dating back to Gaddis, writers have regularly exaggerated stories surrounding disappearances, or simply made up details or entire incidents. A 2013 study by the World Wide Fund for Nature identifying the 10 most dangerous shipping zones worldwide did not include the Bermuda Triangle.