Mystery has surrounded the Bermuda Triangle for well over a century, but where does fact end and fiction begin? Is the “Devil’s Triangle” a swirling vortex of paranormal activity or is it simply a storm-prone region where navigators have become befuddled by naturally occurring compass variations? Read on to find out!
What is the Bermuda Triangle?
The Bermuda Triangle is an area of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida that has developed a reputation as being dangerous to fly or sail through due to a number of mysterious disappearances of ships and planes. It has been written about extensively, with some authors offering scientific explanations for the disappearances and others providing more supernatural theories.
It was Edward Van Winkle Jones who first published an article suggesting that there was something unusual about an area of sea near Bermuda. His 1950 article was followed by one by George Sand two years later. Sand was the first writer to suggest a supernatural element could be behind the disappearances, but he certainly wasn’t the last.
Sand’s article fired the imaginations of a host of other writers. Most notably, Vincent Gaddis is attributed with coining the name “Bermuda Triangle” in his 1964 article, which he ultimately expanded into a book on the area. Other books have followed, as have various television programmes looking into the multiple disappearances of ships and planes.
One of the reasons that the Bermuda Triangle has captured the interest of so many people is the fact that the vessels and aircraft that have disappeared there have in many cases done so without leaving a trace. Many have simply vanished without so much as a distress call. Others have been found adrift with no sign of foul play, but with their crews inexplicably gone.
Recent writers point to a range of natural, scientific causes as being behind the disappearances that have occurred over the years in the Bermuda Triangle. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration goes so far as to state:
“There is no evidence that mysterious disappearances occur with any greater frequency in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other large, well-traveled area of the ocean.”
And yet the mystery persists. Because for all of the scientific explanations as to how and why over 50 ships and 20 airplanes – not to mention the nearly 1,000 people who were on board them – disappeared in the area, nobody can say for certain what the causes were. We can only theorise and assume. And hope that those who continue to travel through the Bermuda Triangle make it out the other side.
Where is the Bermuda Triangle?
One of the difficulties when it comes to the Bermuda Triangle is getting those investigating to agree precisely where it is. However, the broad consensus is that it is located in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, off the Florida coast of the United States.
What three places make up the Bermuda Triangle?
While it is broadly defined as an area extending from Florida to Puerto Rico to Bermuda, different writers and producers over the years have played with its boundaries significantly. This has, of course, had an impact on the number of disappearances defined as occurring within the area.
The Bermuda Triangle was originally defined (by Gaddis, in 1964) as stretching between Miami, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Since then, its boundaries have been varied to the point where the actual area covered by the triangle covers anything from 500,000 to 1,510,000 square miles.
Why is the Bermuda Triangle so dangerous?
The Bermuda Triangle has developed a reputation for being dangerous to those flying over it and sailing through it due to a number of unexplained disappearances over the years. We’ll take a look at some of the most famous disappearances below.
Before we do, it’s worth noting that private and commercial aircraft fly over the Bermuda Triangle daily, while pleasure craft, cruise ships and commercial ships sail through it, all without incident and without any kind of special planning or insurance arrangements.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine how an insurer would quantify threats as supposedly wide-ranging as extra-terrestrials, flames of fire shooting through the sky and the hangover of technology from the lost city of Atlantis.
Over the years, all three of these ideas – unlikely as they sound in the clear light of day – have been put forward as reasons why ships and aeroplanes have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle.
On theory runs that the Bermuda Triangle is home to an underwater alien base. It was popularised by writer Charles Berlitz, who put the idea forward in his 1974 book. Berlitz was also a key proponent of the Atlantis theory, linking the lost city to the Bermuda Triangle.
Some of those who favour this theory cite the experience of Christopher Columbus and his crew. On 11 October 1492, Columbus recorded in his diary that his Admiral and other members of his crew had witnessed a mysterious light in the sky, over the waters near Bermuda.
Clearly, passing through waters crammed with aliens and a sky prone to mystery bursts of light – all above the lost city of Atlantis – is a risky business. However, putting your faith in science doesn’t make the Bermuda Triangle any less risky. The fact remains that, regardless of the cause, all of those vehicles did disappear within the Bermuda Triangle region.
Scientific theories as to why the Bermuda Triangle is so dangerous and seems so mysterious include naturally occurring compass variations, extreme weather patterns, methane hydrates and the flow of the Gulf Stream.
Compass problems are a recognised issue in the Bermuda Triangle, with compasses ‘changing’ as travellers cross the area. But these changes are nothing supernatural. Magnetic variations occur naturally, with magnetic north and geographic north only being exactly the same in a few locations. These compass changes are known to navigators but may seem mysterious to those with less experience of traversing open waters.
Hurricanes are another issue that those crossing the Bermuda Triangle may be faced with and to which at least some of the disappearances may be attributable. Downbursts can also occur there. These sudden, downward blasts of incredibly fast cold wind can, “hit the surface like a bomb, exploding outward like a giant squall line of wind and water,” according to James Lushine of the National Hurricane Center. Just the kind of sudden blasts that neither sailors nor pilots could predict and that can destroy a ship or aircraft in minutes.
Rogue waves are also a possibility. These huge waves of heights up to 30.5 metres can occur when multiple storms converge – something which is known to happen in the Bermuda Triangle. Waves of this magnitude would be more than sufficient to make a ship vanish without trace.
Another scientific theory that could explain the disappearance of vessels within the Bermuda Triangle is the presence of methane hydrates. These are explosive releases of natural gas from the sediment of the seabed.
Opinion varies as to whether methane hydrates are present within the Bermuda Triangle. However, in other areas of the world, such as the Barents Sea off the coast of Norway, they have been found to blast craters up to half a mile wide in the seabed. In addition, laboratory modelling has shown that methane bubbles can decrease the density of the water to the point where ships can sink suddenly and without warning.
Not only that, but National Geographic reports that, “methane can escape into the air, making the atmosphere highly turbulent and perhaps causing aircraft to crash.”
In addition to all of this, there is the presence of the Gulf Stream. This huge surface current can quickly and effectively sweep any debris in the upper level of the water away into the ocean outside of the Bermuda Triangle. This means that boats and aircraft can disappear without a trace, as any wreckage is swept away long before investigators can arrive on the scene.
Bermuda Triangle disappearance stories
Now that we’ve set the scene and laid out both the supernatural and the scientific possibilities, let’s take a look at what we know about some of the disappearances within the Bermuda Triangle over the years.
There have been dozens of incidents involving ships and aircraft disappearing – or being found intact but without a trace of their crew – in the area. Since 1945, there have been at least 15 air incidents, with 20 aircraft lost. Records of ships disappearing, meanwhile, date back to 1800.
We’ve included a handful of these below, along with suspected causes of their disappearance where known – none of which include energy beams from Atlantis’ ancient technology (though you are, of course, entitled to make up your own mind on the likelihood of this being the root cause!).
1800 was the year that the USS Pickering vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. Possibly lost in a gale, the ship and the 90 people she was carrying were never heard from again.
In 1840, it was the Rosalie that was the scene of a mysterious incident. The ship was found abandoned within the Bermuda Triangle, other than a single canary that remained on board.
One of the largest recorded losses of life in the Bermuda Triangle – and the US Navy’s single largest non-combat loss – occurred when the USS Cyclops went missing in 1918. The collier had 306 people on board when she vanished without a trace after departing from Barbados. Explanations over the years have included wartime enemy activity, stormy weather and structural weakness resulting from the vessel being overloaded with manganese ore. But nobody knows for sure.
Three years later, the five-masted schooner Carroll A. Deering was discovered aground and abandoned at Diamond Shoals, North Carolina. Rumours about the fate of her crew range from piracy connected to bootleg rum-running, to the involvement of another ship that also disappeared – the Hewitt.
In 1925, it was the SS Cotopaxi that got into trouble while travelling between Charleston, South Carolina and Havana, Cuba. A distress call reported that the ship was sinking two days after she left port. The vessel wasn’t seen again until 1985, when a wreck was discovered off the coast of St Augustine, Florida, and it wasn’t until 2020 that the wreck was identified as the Cotopaxi, some 95 years after the Bermuda Triangle claimed her and her crew.
In 1941, two tragedies occurred in the Bermuda Triangle within just weeks of each other. The USS Proteus and USS Nereus, both sister ships of the USS Cyclops, were lost after departing from St Thomas, in the Virgin Islands. Both vessels were carrying a heavy load of Bauxite and the leading theory is that the acidic cargo led to structural weakening, making the ships unable to cope with heavy seas. But again, as with almost all of the Bermuda Triangle disappearances, we don’t know this for certain.
It was in 1945 that the first loss of a plane in the Bermuda Triangle was reported, when Thomas Arthur Garner and his 11 crew members vanished while on a radar training flight between Banana River, Florida and Great Exuma in the Bahamas. After a radio report from the vicinity of Providence Island, the plane and its crew vanished without trace, despite an extensive air and sea search that lasted for 10 days.
Just five months later, in December 1945, not one but five planes disappeared while on a training flight. This was the incident that first led to there being significant speculation that there might be something mysterious about the Bermuda Triangle.
Flight 19 consisted of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, flying out from Fort Lauderdale on a 140-mile training exercise. All five planes vanished without a trace. Their disappearance was ultimately put down to navigational error, which would have resulted in the aircraft running out of fuel before returning to base, though this was never proven.
But the Flight 19 mystery didn’t end there. During the search and rescue operation, a further aircraft vanished – a PBM Mariner, with 13 men on board. It is assumed that the aircraft exploded while searching for the missing planes, as the Mariner had a history of vapour leaks leading to explosions. Indeed, a vessel off the coast of Florida even reported seeing an explosion, as well as an oil slick. But once more, we cannot say for sure.
Many further incidents have occurred in the Bermuda Triangle over the years. In 1948, G-AHNP Star Tiger, flying from the Azores to Bermuda for British South American Airways, disappeared without a trace. The following year, the British South American Airways G-AGRE Star Ariel also disappeared, while travelling between Bermuda and Kingston, Jamaica.
In 1963, two KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft from the US Air Force were lost some 300 miles west of Bermuda. The two planes collided in mid-air. While not mysterious in itself, rumours spread that there were two distinct crash sites, some 160 miles apart. The second site was eventually revealed to be a mass of driftwood and seaweed tangled around a buoy, but the air of mystery never quite left the incident.
The Pride of Baltimore was also lost to the Bermuda Triangle, this time in 1986. On her way back from Europe, the schooner was struck by a microburst squall while in the area north of Puerto Rico. It took just minutes for the vessel to sink.
Two of the latest incidents in the Bermuda Triangle occurred in 2017. In February of that year, Turkish Airlines flight TK183 began experiencing mechanical and electrical problems while flying over the area. The plane had to divert to Washington Dulles airport instead of continuing to its intended destination of Havana.
Then, in May 2017, a private airplane vanished from radar and radio while flying over the Bermuda Triangle at a height of 24,000 feet. Debris from the plane was later discovered.
The Bermuda Triangle is part of one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, so it’s sadly inevitable that accidents and incidents will occur there. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Coastguard and Lloyds of London all agree that the number of vessels that go missing there are proportional to the number passing through.
And yet the air of mystery won’t go away. For many of the dozens of incidents that have occurred within the Bermuda Triangle, we can only speculate as to what actually happened. There are plenty of scientific explanations that could be true; and nobody has proven that aliens or energy beams from Atlantis have had anything to do with any of the disappearances.
Of course, nobody has conclusively proven that they haven’t, either…
So, is the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle related to the supernatural or is it easily explained away by science? It’s up to you to decide!