The Bermuda Triangle
If there’s one thing most everyone knows about Bermuda — even if they’ve never set foot on the island — it’s that the archipelago lies in the maw of a spooky phenomenon dubbed the “Bermuda Triangle.” Bermudians who live or travel overseas get peppered with questions about the popular myth, and it is a favorite topic of discussion among tourists, but locals tend to dismiss it with humor and skepticism. Despite the Bermuda Triangle’s perennial appearance in books and science fiction TV series, scientists agree it is nothing more than an enduring legend fueled by deadly coincidence.
Conspiracy theorists have devoted seas of ink to explaining why ships and aircraft have sunk, caught fire, or vanished without a trace within an area of Atlantic Ocean spanning Bermuda; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Miami, Florida. Some believe these were the victims of paranormal occurrences, blaming malevolent sea creatures, time warps, UFOs, aliens, and the lost city of Atlantis. Others speculate that natural sources such as fog fields, magnetic anomalies, or methane bubbles popping up from the sea floor might have caused planes’ instruments to malfunction or vessels to sink.
Empirical data suggests a far simpler explanation — that such “mysteries” aren’t really mysterious at all. Given the fact that many Bermuda Triangle incidents took place during raging storms or in the 1940s and 1950s before the advent of high-tech navigation equipment such as global positioning satellites (GPS), basic human error or the whims of Mother Nature could easily account for disasters. In fact, Lloyd’s of London accident records were shown to prove the Bermuda Triangle’s geographic area is no more dangerous than any other part of the ocean — a conclusion confirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Still the world’s fascination with the Bermuda Triangle continues, particularly with the story of Flight 19, the unsolved disappearance of five Avenger torpedo bombers on December 5, 1945. The Bermuda Triangle’s best-known tale describes how the aircraft left Fort Lauderdale’s Naval Air Station on a routine practice mission with 13 student pilots, accompanied by their Commander, Lt. Charles Taylor. The flight plan called for a test bombing run followed by a triangular course east and north, a distance of 120 miles. But about 90 minutes after leaving the base, the squadron found itself in trouble. Taylor sent a radio transmission reporting that his compasses were malfunctioning, and it soon became clear he was hopelessly disoriented. As night fell and a storm approached, communications faded and finally stopped, presumably when the planes ran out of fuel and plunged into the sea.
One of two Martin Mariner search planes that went to look for the missing squadron also disappeared, though there were reports of an explosion after it took off, and airplane debris was spotted nearby. Nothing was seen of Flight 19, however. The Navy, pressured by Taylor’s family, cited “causes or reasons unknown” for the disaster, rather than pilot error. In subsequent decades, the story of Flight 19 became the focus of Bermuda Triangle speculation, which heightened after Charles Berlitz’s sensational bestseller of 1974, The Bermuda Triangle. Flight 19’s planes and pilots even enjoyed a reappearance in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
One of the most lauded books on the Bermuda Triangle attempts to lay such fantasies to rest. The Bermuda Triangle — Solved was written by Arizona librarian Larry Kusche, who in 1975 decided to investigate claims put forward by the plethora of articles and books on the Triangle’s unsolved mysteries. Digging into contemporary accounts and other primary sources, he discovered factual material other writers had overlooked or ignored, much of it pointing to entirely rational explanations for unusual events. His book catalogs his findings, offering in-depth detail about some of the myth’s highlights and ultimately refuting many outlandish claims.
Surprisingly, Bermuda has never made much of the legend, even as a potential tourist attraction. Eponymous cocktails took the name, and several island companies pay tribute to the folklore with “Triangle” monikers, including retail stores, a scuba outlet, a now-defunct microbrewery, and at least one investment company (though one might question the wisdom of linking a financial entity with connotations of disappearance and disaster). Indeed, Tourism Department officials have qualms about marketing the Bermuda Triangle to the world at large, despite calls from some in the industry for Bermuda Triangle-themed travel ads, a museum, or boat tours.
© Rosemary Jones from Moon Bermuda, 2nd Edition