The Bermuda Triangle: A Manufactured Mystery

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 153, 2013 November)


The Bermuda Triangle (also known as the Devil's Triangle) is an area of the Atlantic Ocean that is formed by drawing imaginary lines from Miami to the Bermuda Islands, from the Bermuda Islands to Puerto Rico, and from Puerto Rico back to Miami.

Proponents of the Bermuda Triangle claim that this area of the Atlantic has an unusually high incidence of maritime and air disasters that indicate the presence (depending on who you care to believe) of hostile aliens, Atlantian crystals, or extra dimensional vortices.

The purpose of this essay is to examine the evidence with the view to determining the veracity of these claims.

Media Origins

The alleged mystery of the Bermuda Triangle began with an Associated Press dispatch (16/09/1950) in which reporter E.V.W. Jones wrote of ships and planes mysteriously vanishing between the Florida coast and Bermuda. Fate magazine then published an article in 1952, in which George X. Sand made similar claims.

Once the concept of mysterious disappearances in the Atlantic had been created, it wasn't long before other people began to expand upon the idea. For example, in his book The Case for the UFO, M.K. Jessup suggested that aliens were responsible, a view echoed in The Flying Saucer Conspiracy (1955) by Donald E Keyhoe and Stranger than Science, by Frank Edwards.

The idea that strange forces were at work was given additional impetus by Vincent Gaddis, creator of the term "Bermuda Triangle", whose article The Deadly Bermuda Triangle appeared in Argosy (February, 1964), much of which was published later as The Triangle of Death in chapter 13 of his book Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea (1965). This account was followed by John Wallace Spencer's book Limbo of the Lost (1969). However, probably Charles Berlitz's bestseller The Bermuda Triangle (1974) provided the greatest publicity for the claims of Triangle proponents.

Examining the Evidence

Having given a brief outline of the development of the idea that the Bermuda Triangle is a place of mysterious happenings, I shall now examine the evidence to see if it supports the assumption that strange forces are at work.

Probably the most well known piece of so called evidence (and apparently the basis for Jones' 1950 dispatch) is the disappearance of Flight 19 — a group of five Avenger torpedo bombers that vanished on the 5/12/1945 during a routine practice mission, and that of a Martin Mariner aircraft (Training 49) during the subsequent search for the lost planes.

No one doubts the reality of this tragedy, however, was it due to the operation of mysterious forces, or is a more prosaic explanation likely?

The Navy Board of Investigation into the disaster arrived at two basic conclusions concerning the cause of Flight 19's disappearance:
1    Equipment Failure — Flight Leader Lt. Charles Taylor's compass failed, a fact established by Lt. Robert Cox through radio communication with Lt. Taylor (the other Avengers were not equipped with working navigational equipment).

2    Human Error — Lt. Taylor became disorientated, thinking that some islands he sighted indicated he was in the Florida Keys (as it turned out, he was in the Bahamas), and flew north thus heading further out to sea.

It is important to remember that in 1945 there were no Global Positioning Satellites. In order for a pilot to know where he was, it was essential for him to know his starting point, how long and how fast he had flown, and in what direction. Without a working compass Lt. Taylor and his trainees were in serious trouble, and this was compounded by the fact that Taylor, although an experienced pilot, was not totally familiar with the Bahamas, the direction Flight 19 was to take.

Rescue aircraft were sent out, however, no one had a clear idea of exactly where Flight 19 was (ComGulf Sea Frontier Evaluation Center calculated an approximate position east of New Smyrna Beach, Florida). Furthermore, rescue efforts were also hampered by bad weather and radio interference caused by atmospheric conditions. Tragically, the Avengers ran out of fuel, crashed into rough seas and, at 14,000 pounds empty, would have gone straight to the bottom.

Finally, it has often been claimed that in Lt. Taylor's radio transmissions he says words to the effect that the ocean looks strange and that they (whoever "they" are) look like they're from outer space. This is then claimed as evidence that either the pilots of Flight 19 found themselves caught in a dimensional vortex, or were abducted by aliens. Records of the radio transmissions, however, show no such comments being made.

Concerning the missing Martin Mariner: These aircraft had reputations as "flying bombs" because their unpressurized cabins often contained gas fumes. The crew of the SS Gaines Mill reported observing an explosion shortly after the Mariner had taken off, and found what looked like aircraft debris in the water at the site (bad weather prevented any from being recovered). A reasonable conclusion is that a spark ignited fuel vapors and caused a catastrophic onboard explosion.

Believers often cite other disappearances, such as those reported in Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle. Is this good evidence for their belief that mysterious phenomena are at work? In 1975, Larry Kusche, a librarian at Arizona State University began researching the claims made by Triangle proponents, and published his own book on the subject: The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved. He discovered that hardly any serious research had been conducted; rather, most authors on the subject simply repeated the accounts of various incidents and uncritically reiterated the unsupported speculations of others.

Indeed, many claims that a particular vessel had vanished in "calm seas" were shown to be false — they had in fact been lost during a raging storm, and in other cases the wreckage was discovered and the cause of the tragedy known, refuting claims that the craft had "mysteriously vanished". Furthermore, other serious researchers on the subject have shown that many of the disasters occurred well outside the Triangle.

For example:

o    The Atlanta — The ship was on course for England when lost, which means she was headed away from the Triangle.

o    The Bella — She was lost off the coast of Sao Roque, Brazil, which is about 2,000 miles south of the Triangle.

o    The British York Transport — The aircraft was lost on a flight between Azores and New Foundland in 1953. It would never have entered the Triangle.

o    The Cyclops — Lost off the coast of New Jersey during a storm.

o    The Freya — The ship was never in the Atlantic Ocean. It went down off the western coast of Mexico, which is in the Pacific Ocean.

o    The Globemaster Airplane — Went down off the coast of Ireland in 1950.

o    The Raifuku Maru — Lost in a severe storm off the coast of Manhattan Island, New York.

o    The Mary Celeste — Found abandoned near the Azores, a group of islands in the North Atlantic that are nowhere near the Triangle.

o    The USS Scorpion Nuclear Submarine — Sank and found near the Azores.

Finally, the maritime accident records of Lloyd's of London do not support the idea that the Bermuda Triangle deserves its notoriety as an exceptionally dangerous place.

Realistic Explanations

No one doubts that the ocean in the vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle can be treacherous, or that ships and aircraft have come to grief in and around this area. However, the US Coast Guard attributes these incidents to a combination of environmental factors and human error:

o    Compass Variation — The area is one of two places (the other is located off the east coast of Japan, and is called the "Devil's Sea" by Japanese and Filipino sailors) where magnetic compasses point to true north, rather than magnetic north. If a navigator does not account for this compass variation, then he can end up far off course and in serious difficulties.

o    The Gulf Stream — Being swift and turbulent, it can quickly erase evidence that a disaster has occurred.

o    Unpredictable Weather — The Caribbean-Atlantic weather is unpredictable by nature, with sudden local thunderstorms and water spouts a very real danger for mariners and pilots.

o    Ocean Floor Topography — The emergence of new navigational hazards is rapid due to the interaction of strong ocean currents with the extensive shoals, deep marine trenches and the many reefs found in the area.

o    Human Error — Many pleasure craft sail the waters between Florida's Gold Coast and the Bahamas. It is not uncommon for journeys to be undertaken in unsuitable craft by inexperienced sailors ignorant of the area's hazards.


On the basis of the available evidence it appears that the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle is no mystery at all. Rather, belief that some unusual force is active appears to have arisen through poor journalism that exaggerated accounts of various disasters, and the willingness of people to uncritically believe them.

Of course no one can prove that aliens or remnants of Atlantis are not operating within the Bermuda Triangle, nor can it be shown that there are no such things as dimensional vortexes. However, the burden of proof rests with those who make the claim that these or other exotic factors are responsible for the various sea and air disasters. To date proponents of such hypothesis have failed to present sound evidence in support of their beliefs and, as a result, their views continue to remain unproven.


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