Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Bermuda Triangle

Whatever force exists in the Triangle affects craft and crew whether on, over or under the water. The weirdest Triangle incident of all occurred on December 5, 1944, while World War II was still raging. Five torpedo bombers took off from the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station. It was a routine patrol intended to last two hours. The planes were within easy radio contact of their base. The day was clear and sunny. The planes, each carrying a crew of three (pilot, radio operator, and gunner) were in perfect condition. Each man wore an inflatable life jacket, and each plane carried a raft.
     The planes left at 2 P.M. At 3:45 P.M, when they were supposed to be returning to base, the patrol leader radioes, "We seem to be off course...we cannot see land...repeat, we cannot see land..."
     When asked for his position, the reply came, we don't know which way is west. Everything is wrong...even the ocean doesn't look as it should."
     Even with a defective compass, the patrol leader should have been able to fly into the setting sun on a clear day. Why couldn't he see the sun?  The tower operators heard the men talking with increased panic. A new pilot took over the radio phone. At 4:25 P.M. the new leader was in the middle of a sentence..."Looks like we are entering white water. We're completely lost!"
     Then contact was lost. That was the last ever heard of the five planes.
-- Raymond Schuessler, writing in Robert Hendrickson's The Ocean Almanac

The story of Flight 19 is one of the most chilling in Bermuda -- or Devil's -- Triangle lore. Tales of ships, sailors, and aircraft disappearing in this area of the North Atlantic go back centuries, some say all the way to Christopher Columbus. Ships disappear, sometimes reappearing later missing all crew. The schooner Ellen Austin supposedly disappeared with two different crews then reappeared before vanishing for good with a third in 1881. Nuclear submarines and yachts vanish, satellite images are scrubbed, strange weather phenomena occur. With the 1974 publication of The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz and the subsequent movie based on the book, the Triangle has become not only a mystery, but an obsession to some.

Famous cases. Shuessler claims that "[at] least 100 ships and planes and 1,000 sailors and pilots during the last 30 years" have disappeared in the Triangle, but that "[ships] have been dropping out of sight in this area for centuries." Besides Flight 19 and the Ellen Austin, some of the more celebrated cases include:

  • Cyclops, 1918. The largest ship ever lost in the Triangle, the US Navy collier (coal vessel) was more than 500 feet long and carried a crew of more than 300.
  • Carroll A. Deering, 1921. The vessel was found abandoned and stuck in the sand near Cape Hatteras. Half-eaten meals were still on the tables in the mess, lights were on, there was no sign that anything was wrong. Locals later claimed to hear strange noises and see strange lights coming from the wreck.
  • La Dahama, 1935. The crew was rescued from the damaged ship by another vessel, then both crews watched the vessel sink. The vessel was found later, floating, off Bermuda.
  • Nereus, 1941. A sister ship to the Cyclops.
  • Proteus, 1941. Another sister ship of the Cyclops

Causes. What is the cause of these mysterious goings on? Explanations abound, from the mundane to the truly strange. Atlantis, space aliens, psychic sea monsters, and gateways to strange dimensions all get blamed. Many natural explanations from human error, to compass various, to undersea eruptions of "methane hydrates" are also put forth. This last was the topic of a recent posting on a LinkedIn discussion board used by maritime business professionals, hardly a hot-bed of crackpot conspiracy theorists.

Is there really a Bermuda Triangle? Schuessler claims that "Lloyds of London knew back in the 1600s that losses in the Triangle surpassed anything on other sea routes." But the maritime insurance giant told Fate magazine in 1975 that the incidence of insurance payoffs was no greater in the Triangle than in any other part of the ocean and the cost of insurance for ships transiting the area was no higher than those sailing elsewhere. The US Coast Guard also says that the number of ship, yacht and aircraft rescues is not out of proportion in the Triangle area compared to other areas it services.

The Discovery Channel has an interesting "tour" of the Triangle here.

See the US Navy's take on the Triangle -- which it calls "an imaginary area" -- here.

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