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The Myth of the Bermuda Triangle

Introduction

It may be said that the poser of myths and legends to survive is often more impressive than the actual content of them.  For any number of reasons, fascinations develop from anything immediately inexplicable and, even as time passes and reasonable explanations are offered, the legends somehow grow all the more strong.  This is true of virtually every modern legend still embraced by the public, from the mythic beast Bigfoot to the appearances of unidentified flying objects.  While it is certainly true that  the reasonable explanations vary from legend to legend in number and integrity, that same persistence remains.  If no Bigfoot has ever been captured, and no scientifically valid evidence for one exists, the belief carries on.  People, it seems, are unwilling to let go of a mystery, no matter how disturbing it is, because something in them requires that the mystery never be explained.

This need to believe in myth is not a side issue when such things are discussed, but a critical factor in them, and this relationship is clearly evident in the legends surrounding the area known as the Bermuda Triangle.  For long decades, this section of the Atlantic Ocean has been widely believed to be “haunted,” or somehow possessed of mysterious properties leading to the disappearances of multiple planes and ships.  The legend, as will be examined, began with a single incident in the 1940s and has steadily grown since.  More importantly, the legend lives on despite facts and evidence powerfully disproving any of the “mysterious” claims associated with it.  Ultimately, the only real mystery behind the Bermuda Triangle is why its frightening image remains so important to the world, when logic and facts explode the myth.

Background

If anything truly separates the Bermuda Triangle legend from most others, it is that there is an identifiable beginning to it.  On December 5th, 1945, five Navy Avengers equipped with 14 pilots took off from their Ft. Lauderdale base in Florida on a training mission; they never returned, and subsequent searches revealed no evidence of them (Pendick).  The story was soon enhanced in impact by another, when a BSAA Tudor IV plane disappeared in January of 1948 somewhere within this area.  Nothing of the 25 passengers, 6 crew members, or plane wreckage was ever located. The official investigation concluded that: “What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery” (BBC News).  The myth was firmly set in motion, obviously encouraged by government reports emphasizing the “mystery” of the circumstances.  Over the years, at least 20 other planes and 50 ships have been similarly lost, and each occurrence has been seized upon by the media of the day to promote the sensationalism of the mystery.

This influence of the media can hardly be overstated, no matter anyone’s personal beliefs regarding the real natures of the disappearance.  It began in 1950 with an Associated Press article by Edward Von Winkle Jones, speculating on the losses as perhaps supernatural.  In little time, other journalists contributed more of the same and shaped the myth for the public.  In 1952, George Sand’s article, “Sea Mystery at Our Backdoor,” related the little that was known about the earlier disappearances and first discussed the region as the “triangle”;  American Legion magazine published Allan Eckert’s “The Mystery of the Lost Patrol” in 1964, adding fuel to the mythic fires.  This piece made extraordinary claims, never supported by the alleged sources, indicating something of a governmental cover-up.  Eckert “reported” that a pilot on the 1945 training mission was heard saying that the color of the water below them was wrong, and that “nothing seemed right.”  Eckert also related that Navy officials had declared that this flight had “gone off to Mars”  (UC Santa Barbara).  Given the growing public fascination, it seems likely that such a remark, if truly uttered, was taken completely out of context.

The following decades would reveal what may be called an active interest in viewing this region of the Atlantic as mysterious and deadly.  The interest would gain in strength despite striking lack of concern as to the exact dimensions of the “supernatural” space.   In basic terms, there is no Bermuda Triangle as agreed upon by  either proponents of the myth or actual investigators.  On one level, it is often held that the points of Florida’s southern tip, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico define the triangle; on another, the range is also frequently extended to the Gulf of Mexico, the West Indies, and the Azores.  This translates to “triangles” of between 500,000 and 1.5 million square miles (US Santa Barbara), which larger arenas then allow for a great many more disappearances.  Nonetheless, the idea of a supernatural idea had been implanted, and other writers carried it to new extremes and to wider audiences.  Vincent Gaddis’s article in a 1964 Argosy magazine made its intent clear in its title: “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.”  Gaddis recounted past incidents never explained and argued that only mysterious forces could account for them.  More notably, several later books took advantage of the public fascination, as in Charles Berlitz’ The Bermuda Triangle and Richard Winer’s The Devil’s Triangle, both published in 1974 (US Santa Barbara).  Popular films were adapted from such works, and the mania was truly a cultural phenomenon.  This vaguely defined region of the Atlantic would gain other names, such as the Hoodoo Sea, the Limbo of the Lost, and the Twilight Zone.  To this day, the United States Board of Geographic Names does not recognize any such expanse or triangle (Pendick), but the legend persists as strongly as it ever did.  Seemingly supported by its own history as a legend, the Bermuda Triangle most certainly lives on as a fearful myth in popular culture.

Reality Disproving the Myth

Before logic is employed to systematically erode the mythical beliefs attached to this part of the Atlantic Ocean, it must first be stated that the legend itself enjoys an advantage no logic may completely counter.  That is to say, the nature of disappearances must always to some extent generate debate.  When ships and planes are lost and never recovered, it is natural that some sense of uncanny forces occur to the popular mind, simply because there is an absence of evidence explaining the losses.  We are left with a known beginning but no end, and this must create at least doubt, as it clearly allows for speculations of the most extreme kinds.  The point here is that, in disproving the mythical components of the Bermuda Triangle, it is necessary to acknowledge that no absolute proof exists on either side of the question.

What does exist, however, is logic, and this may be more than relied upon to set to rest supernatural beliefs on the subject.  To begin, there is the irrefutable matter of the actual space seen as dangerous and mysterious.  Whether or not there is mystery here, there is certainly danger, and this is inevitably due to the simple fact that the area in question is immense.  Even in its most narrow conceptions, the Bermuda Triangle is an impressive stretch of ocean.  Half a million miles is, in a word, enormous, and how this logically counters the myth may be seen by drawing a simple parallel; there is no similar expanse of land in which such a reputation is attached, even though 500,000 square miles of land identified in any part of the populated world must yield many instances of disappearances not explained.  It is inevitable that an imaginary triangle set out over such an arena would present “mysteries” of this kind, just as regions in the North Sea and the Sea of Japan are noted for an unusual number of disappearances (Aym).  Oceanographers and geologists have, in fact, identified a total of 12 such zones of danger around the world, each of substantial size and all reflecting a larger pattern probably connected to the planet’s electromagnetic core (Kusche  14).  In terms of logic, then, two inescapable realities serve to challenge, if not outright, destroy the myth:  there is the sheer size of the triangle’s expanse, and there is its resemblance to known areas of disturbance elsewhere.

Pursuing this pragmatic and geographic approach, other elements demand attention.  To begin, the Bermuda Triangle is one of the most heavily traveled shipping regions in the world, and for industrial, military, and commercial/tourism use (UC Santa Barbara).  In plain terms, the greater the activity, the more likely it is that a measure of that activity will be different, challenged, or even “lost.” A 2006 report concluded, in fact, that the number of disappearances in the region is relatively minor, given the consistently high traffic levels (UC Santa Barbara).  Then, recent scientific evidence offer a logical, if less than sensational, explanation for any unusually high number of plane and ship disappearances in this vast expanse: methane gas.  In The American Journal of Physics,  Professor Joseph Monaghan published his findings in 2010, and his extensive research indicates that large methane bubbles rising from the ocean floor in this area, based on known and significant methane deposits, would greatly threaten both aircraft and ships.  A ship running into the rim of such a methane bubble would lose all buoyancy and immediately sink, as a plane encountering one would likely ignite the gas and cause destruction.  Moreover, the nature of these collisions would in all cases cause the vessels to sink or crash radically, and be lost on the bottom of the ocean floor.  Further supporting the research is that similar pockets of methane of this size have been identified in the other, “mysterious” ranges of the North Sea and the Sea of Japan (Aym).  Monaghan’s work even accounts for the cases wherein ships in the triangle have been found with all on board dead; a near contact with a methane bubble rising from the ocean floor would likely asphyxiate all such persons (Aym).  It may then be logically argued that both the size of the Bermuda Triangle expanse, along with proven presences of volatile and dangerous methane gas deposits, serve to account for a great deal of the “supernatural” disappearances of ships and planes, as well as for the lifeless passengers sometimes found.

One more argument must be made, in terms of geography and science, and it is one even believers in the myth cannot dispute; namely, these are tropical waters, and they are consistently and dangerously unstable.  It is common knowledge that, from late summer to late fall, hurricanes most predictably strike in and from this area.  This is not to say that rogue hurricanes are responsible for the disappearances, even though it has been established that many “mysterious” disappearances occurred actual hurricanes  (Kusche  276).  Nonetheless, such hurricanes are clear and important evidence of the turbulent conditions enabled by the climate and the water.  The Coast Guard receives thousands of distress calls from off the southern Florida coast each year, and these are usually prompted by trouble arising from deceptively calm waters.  What sailors often fail to realize is that the calm seas they see before them belie the potent Gulf Stream emerging from the southwest, which has been known to suddenly and unexpectedly throw ships violently off-course (Pendick).  It is then inescapable that, no matter the inclination to hold to supernatural explanations for the Bermuda Triangle, it is far more likely that the instability of a tropical sea is responsible for any number of otherwise inexplicable disappearances.

Moving from natural forces to those man-made, there is an increasing body of research revealing pragmatic factors as behind the vanishings associated with the triangle.  Some famous cases have been challenged by investigation, along with a renewed emphasis on realities largely ignored in the past.  To begin with, those flight disappearances of the 1940s prompting the modern myth occurred in an era when air traffic in the region was far more risky than it is today.  As mentioned earlier, the 1945 disappearance of the Star Tiger was a major component is establishing the myth, but it must be remembered that this was a British South American Airways (BSAA) Tudor craft.  More exactly, it was a British plane taking a route from London, and this was a perilous journey in the 1940s; in three years, the BSAA lost five planes on this route, usually due to poor design or lack of sufficient fuel (BBC News).  Moreover, deeper investigation into the official report reveals facts greatly going to explicable causes for the disaster.  It has been ascertained, for example, that the plane in question had a faulty compass, as well as an unreliable heater.  It is likely that, to keep the plane warm, the pilot flew at a low altitude, which burns fuel more quickly.  Then, it was noted that the Star Tiger’s approach to Bermuda was both off-course and over an hour late, as the report also refers to unusually strong headwinds.  All of this has led investigation to conclude that the “mysterious” disappearance of the Star Tiger in 1945 was more likely the result of faulty equipment, unforeseen weather conditions, inadequate fuel, and a pilot’s unfortunate decision to fly low, leaving virtually no altitude in which to maneuver in a crisis situation (BBC News).  It must as well be emphasized here that these realities were within the original report, and the reasonable assumption is that a mysterious disappearance was more favorable to the BSAA organization that these facts.

In his 1995 work, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery – Solved, Lawrence Kusche takes a highly expansive view of the entire history of both the myth and the known realities of the subject.  Kusche, in fact, by no means dismisses the myth outright; he goes to great lengths to offer testimony supporting it from Columbus’s first documenting of strange seas in the area to dozens of specific accounts of ship and plane disappearance in the following centuries.  Each case is described in detail and researched as completely as possible, and this leads the author to an interesting – and extremely logical – conclusion.  He ultimately asserts that no single theory may account for the disappearances associated with the triangle because, logically, only a variety of explanations may serve to disprove it.  His approach is expressed here because it completely adheres to logic, in that a multitude of very different accidents or catastrophes as occurring in one region are most likely due to a multitude of causes.  On one level, Kusche’s research explodes specific myths, as in the legend of the Marine Sulphur Queen, a tanker lost off the Florida coast in 1963; at the time, the loss was sensationalized by the media as a mystery, while the facts revealed in the Coast Guard report clearly cite the ship as having had a dangerously weak structure and severe weather conditions (Kusche 276).  Other factors powerfully challenge any substance to supernatural explanations.  For instance, many documented losses of ships attributed to the triangle refer only to ships passing through it; the disappearances are by no means linked to the region.  This relates to the legendary inability to find evidence of the missing vessels; as ships and planes are lost sight of, there is no real sense of where they may have gone under, and search parties have far too immense an area to cover.  Lastly, there is the unfortunate fact that those writing about the Bermuda Triangle are typically not scrupulous in regard to uncovering actual information, or in their inclusions of disasters into this arena.  It was long held, for example, that the ship, the Globemaster, was a casualty of the triangle, when in fact its wreckage was discovered off the coast of Ireland in 1951 (Kusche  276).  When all of the myriad factors regarding the ocean expanse known as the Bermuda Triangle are taken into account, along with the elements going into the preservation of the myth, such as media carelessness or deliberate obfuscation of facts, the reality remaining is that there there is no logical reason whatsoever to suppose that supernatural or mysterious forces are at play.

Conclusion

Untold volumes, articles, and films have been devoted to the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.  In no uncertain terms, it has consistently captured the public imagination, enduring and even growing in strength over the years.  Then, it is certainly true that planes and ships have been lost within this large and vaguely defined space.  It may well be that a primal fear of the ocean is in part responsible, and that people are disinclined to seek real answers when those answer would challenge needed belief systems.  A careful examination of the subject, however, nonetheless reveals a truly logical conclusion.  Climate conditions, human error, faulty equipment, specious reporting, along with a very real probability of magnetic and geothermal properties with the ocean, all combine to provide reasonable explanations accounting for the “mysteries.”  Furthermore, there is the shattering blow to the myth that other sections of oceans around the world evince similar hazards.  When all is said and done, in fact, the true mystery behind the Bermuda Triangle is why its frightening reputation remains so important to the world, when logic and facts explode that reputation as a myth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Aym, T.  “How Brilliant Computer Scientists Solved the Bermuda Triangle Mystery.”  Salem-      News, 2010.  Web.  <http://www.salem-news.com/articles/august062010/bermuda-   triangle-ta.php>

BBC News.  “Bermuda Triangle Plane Mystery Solved.”  (Sept. 2009).  Web.

<http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8248334.stm>

Kusche, L. D.  The Bermuda Triangle Mystery – Solved.  New York: Prometheus Books, 1995.    Print.

Pendick, D.  Savage Seas: The Devil’s Triangle?  PBS Online. (2012).  Web.

<http://www.pbs.org/wnet/savageseas/captain-side-bermuda.html>

Rosenberg, H. L.  “Exorcizing the Devil’s Triangle.”  Sealift 6 (June 1974): 11-15.  Web.

<http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq8-3.htm>

UC Santa Barbara Department of Geography.  The Geography of the Bermuda Triangle.  (Sept.

 

2010).  Web.  <http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/events/department-news/758/the-geography-of-

the-bermuda-triangle/>