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The Bermuda Triangle: Urban Legend or Quirk of Nature?

By Edited Dec 9, 2016 1 0

The Bermuda Triangle, also called the Devil’s Triangle, is indeed a mysterious area of the ocean and has elicited a multitude of stories over the centuries of time.  Urban legend dictates the triangle is the source of paranormal activity and extraterrestrial comings and goings, (and takings); while science scoffs at the mere idea of such happenings.  

Where is the Devil’s Triangle? The area associated with the tales of mysterious disappearances and tales of quirky science is located in the Atlantic Ocean off the southeast coast of North America.  If an imaginary triangle were drawn on a map, the points would be Miami Florida; the Bahamas; and San Juan Puerto Rico.

Map of Bermuda Triangle; Source: Wikimedia Commons

Background of the Mysterious Area

Although many only became aware of the existence of the Bermuda Triangle in the 1940s; the strange nature of the area was recorded as early as 1493.[1]  Christopher Columbus wrote in his logs about the confusion of his crew when they came across shallow areas of the sea when no land was nearby and noted the compass readings were wonky (okay, he didn’t use that particular word, but it seems to fit).

One of the more famous tells of mystery concerning the Triangle was the ship the Mary

The Mary Celeste; Source: Wikimedia Commons
Celeste.  In 1872 the ship was found complete abandoned.  The captain, Captain Briggs, his wife, Sarah, daughter Sophia, and crew of seven were no one to be found.  Apparently author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (before writing about his well-known detective Sherlock) wrote about the mysterious disappearance of the crew and subsequently the fiction surpassed the facts of the investigations.

Official documents show the ship left New York on November 7th with a cargo of alcohol used to fortify wine.  On December 5th the Dei Gratia came upon the Mary Celeste and found her sailing out of control.  Knowing Captain Briggs to

Captain Briggs of the Mary Celeste; Source: Wikimedia Commons
be a worthy seaman, and getting no response from hails to the ship, the captain of the Dei Gratia sent some of his crew over to the Mary Celeste.  They found the ship in good sailing condition and the appearance the crew left in a hurry.  Crew’s pipes and oil skin boots were still onboard, but the chronometer (a timepiece or timing device with a special mechanism for ensuring and adjusting its accuracy, for use in determining longitude at sea) and sextant (a navigational instrument using a telescope and an angular scale that is used to work out latitude and longitude) were missing.  The last entry on the ship’s slate showed on November 25th she had been at the island of St. M
Victims of the Bermuda Triangle?; Source: Wikimedia Commons
ary in the Azores.

During the court inquiry of the incident, the leader of the boarding party noted one pump was out of order, the fore hatch and lazarett hatch were off and there was water in-between the decks.  The clock was damaged and the compass destroyed.  The cargo had not shifted and there was no evidence of alcohol consumed by the crew.  The ship’s register and papers were missing along with the chronometer and the sextant navigation book.[3]

The court documents of the inquiry specifically state the galley was a mess and most things on the ship were wet, including the beds of the captain, his family and crew.  The only dry clothes were those contained in a watertight seaman’s chest.[3]  There were no boats attached to the ship though they could not be sure how many should have been there.   Contrary to later stories, there was no blood-stained sword found.  A rusted sword was discovered in its scabbard.[3]  later information revealed nine of the barrels of the cargo were empty and the main halyard (a stout rope) was hanging broken off the side of the ship.[3] Interestingly, the ship’s route was miles and miles away from the Bermuda Triangle, yet the stories persist.

The First World War brought further light on the area.  In 1918 the ship the USS Cyclops and its entire crew of 306 vanished in the location.  At the time, the ship was not engaged in combat and despite extensive searching, there have been no discovery of any evidence the ship wrecked. The ship left Rio de Janeiro in February on its way to Bahia, Brazil and arrived there in four days where it was loaded with a supply of manganese ore.

The ship was bound for Baltimore, Maryland with no scheduled stops.  The ship was close to 3,000 tons over capacity at the time.[3]  Also, it is documented the ship’s engine was in need of repair, but the crew elected to wait until it reached the United States to fix it.  On March 9th the ship was reportedly spotted by a tanker near the coast of Virginia. That evening, a massive storm was recorded in the area of Virginia Cape.[2] The ship never reached Baltimore.  It simply disappeared without a trace.   Many theories arose, but the most common was the ship was a victim of the Bermuda Triangle because that was where it was traveling when it disappeared.

More Unsolved Mysteries of the Area

The 1940s bring many stories about the mysterious happenings in the Devil’s Triangle. Two of the most cited examples in support of the legend of the Triangle are the December 1945 disappearance of Flight 19 and the search plane sent out after it.  Flight 19 was a training squadron of five U.S. Navy torpedo bombers with a crew of fourteen.  Flight 19 left Fort Lauderdale, Florida and after sending several distress messages, simply disappeared.  A seaplane was sent to find the squadron and it too, simply vanished without a trace. (or so goes the story).

The facts which seem to always be left out of the tales include the fact the seaplane sent for search and rescue actually blew up 23 seconds after takeoff.[1]  Facts of the squadron include except for the patrol leader, all of the crewmen were in training.  The leader was ill and had tried to withdraw from the flight.  When his compass malfunctioned soon after takeoff; he chose to use land-marks to navigate.  Though familiar with the land below, a sudden storm made visibility poor and the leader became disoriented.  The squadron was in radio contact with the base, but after some mechanical difficulties, they didn’t switch to an emergency frequency.  Recordings of the flight chatter indicate the leader reported they were heading over the Gulf of Mexico, but some of the crew believed they were actually flying out over the Atlantic Ocean.[1]  No wreckage of Flight 19 has ever been found and perhaps this only serves to fuel the urban tales of the mysterious disappearance.

The year 1948 brought several more stories of disappearance into the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.  A DC-3 carrying 27 passengers, and a four-engine Tudor IV airplane with 31 passengers were among the claimed victims of the mysterious waters.  The fifties saw more “victims” including the American freighter, the SS Sandra in 1952; a British York transport plane with 33 passengers in 1952; a U.S. Navy Lockheed Constellation plane with 42 aboard in 1954; and a U.S. Navy seaplane with a crew of ten in 1956.[1]  In the 1960s disappearances in the area included a  the Marine tanker Sulphur Queen with 39 crewmen, the nuclear powered

The Bow of the USS Scorpion; Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy, Source: Wikimedia Commons
submarine Scorpion with a crew of 99,[1] U.S. Air Force tanker with a crew of eight and a Jamaican fishing boat with 40 people aboard.[4] In the 70s, the Triangle was said to have claimed a French freighter and a German freighter, the Anita, and her crew of 32.[1]  Disappearances in those waters have continued into the 21st century even with the advanced technology available. However, the last data on the subject was around 2004.[4]

Theories, Urban Legend, and Scientific Facts

The area’s name didn’t come about until 1964 when Vincent H. Gaddis wrote an article for Argosy magazine and claimed numerous ships and planes had disappeared in the area without any explanation. It is from this, the urban legend picked up steam fueled by the expansion of the article a year later in Gaddis’ book Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea (1965); and further fueled by a National Geographic Society news release which brought attention to the book and subsequently inspired a multitude of newspaper articles about the area. Numerous other books came to light over the next few years, as well as the documentary, The Devil's Triangle, adding additional fuel to the urban legend fire.

Theories abound regarding the mysterious waters and air of the Triangle. They include time warp, extraterrestrial activity (or an intelligent advanced race of people already living here under the sea or in the space around the area), the lost city of Atlantis, strange magnetic fields, unusual chemicals in the waters, and a hole in the sky.[1]  It matters not to some that scientific facts can refute many of the theories.  They hold on to the few unexplained details.

In his published work in The Bermuda Triangle—Mystery Solved Larry Kusche from Arizona State University, shows from his research into the claims, many of the incidents take place during horrible storms or were later explained with facts.  Once this book came out and explained most of the incidents, the legend began to die down; however, there are those who continue to believe in paranormal reasons.

Scientifically, the area is one of two places on Earth where a magnetic compass does point towards true north (true north is the direction in which the north pole is located along the Earth's rotational axis; magnetic north is the direction toward which the compass needle points).  The other spot referenced is Devil’s Sea in the Pacific Ocean. (also known as the Dragon’s Triangle and the Formosa Triangle).  It is located off the east coast of Japan.

Extreme Weather Conditions; Source Wikimedia Commons
In addition, the weather in the area is highly unpredictable and can create short intense storms that go undetected by weather satellites (or any other satellite for that matter).  The Gulf Stream running through the Triangle is a powerful current and easily erases any evidence of a disaster. Sandbars and deep trenches in the ocean floor help create constant flux when they interact with the powerful currents and leave uncharted hazards in their wake.

One scientific theory proposed by Russian oceanographer, Vladimir Azhazha, suggested the mystery could be solved by the generation of infrasound during conditions such as storms or other weather conditions.[5]  Infrasound is inaudible to humans and can be magnified such that it would be a force strong enough to destroy ships and planes. Azhazha believed the infrasonic waves are amplified in the Bermuda Triangle by conditions such as changes in water temperature and a strong undersea river

The Atlantic Trench; Photo courtesy of the U.S Geological Survey, Source: Wikimedia Commons
running opposite from the ocean currents.[5]  Though this theory has not been tested (they didn’t feel a need since most of the incidents had been explained), scientists do concede the scientific details are accurate for the region.

It all comes down to known facts versus what some choose to believe.  It is much more entertaining to some to think the Bermuda Triangle holds a secret we have yet to figure out;  plus, the entertainment industry will continue to play on the urban legend of the mystery of the Devil’s Triangle.  It will sell many more tickets than the facts.  Can anyone who watched Close Encounters of the Third Kind forget the pilots exiting the spaceship on Devil’s Tower?  On the other hand there are still those incidents that haven’t been explained.  The Bermuda Triangle may just hold a few secrets yet to be uncovered.  Keep eyes peeled if daring to travel through the Devil’s Triangle—you may go on a longer (or shorter) journey than you planned.

 

The copyright of the article The Bermuda Triangle: Urban Legend or Quirk of Nature? is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Triangle, The
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Bibliography

  1. Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained (2003) "The Bermuda Triangle." Encyclopedia.com. 7/06/2013 <Web >
  2. Jim Watt "Mary Celeste –Fact not Fiction." Mary Celeste.net. 7/06/2013 <Web >
  3. "The USS Cyclops Unsolved Mystery." Greatest Unsolved Mysteries. 7/06/2013 <Web >
  4. Sally Painter "Recent Disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle." Love to Know Paranormal. 7/06/2013 <Web >
  5. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. 2001 "Bermuda Triangle." Encyclopedia.com. 7/06/2013 <Web >

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