The Bermuda Triangle, also known as the Devil's Triangle, is a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean in which a number of aircraft and surface vessels are alleged to have mysteriously disappeared and cannot be explained as human error, piracy, equipment failure, or natural disasters. Popular culture has attributed some of these disappearances to the paranormal, a suspension of the laws of physics, or activity by extraterrestrial beings.
A substantial body of documentation reveals, however, that a significant portion of the allegedly mysterious incidents have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors, and numerous official agencies have stated that the number and nature of disappearances in the region is similar to any other area of ocean.
The Triangle area
The boundaries of the triangle cover the Straits of Florida, the Bahamas and the entire Caribbean island area and the Atlantic east to the Azores; others[who?] add to it the Gulf of Mexico. The more familiar triangular boundary in most written works has as its points somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda, with most of the accidents concentrated along the southern boundary around the Bahamas and the Florida Straits.
The area is one of the most heavily-sailed shipping lanes in the world, with ships crossing through it daily for ports in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. Cruise ships are also plentiful, and pleasure craft regularly go back and forth between Florida and the islands. It is also a heavily flown route for commercial and private aircraft heading towards Florida, the Caribbean, and South America from points north.
The earliest allegation of unusual disappearances in the Bermuda area appeared in a September 16, 1950 Associated Press article by E.V.W. Jones. Two years later, Fate magazine published "Sea Mystery At Our Back Door", a short article by George X. Sand covering the loss of several planes and ships, including the loss of Flight 19, a group of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger bombers on a training mission. Sand's article was the first to lay out the now-familiar triangular area where the losses took place. Flight 19 alone would be covered in the April 1962 issue of American Legion Magazine. It was claimed that the flight leader had been heard saying "We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white." It was also claimed that officials at the Navy board of inquiry stated that the planes "flew off to Mars." Sand's article was the first to suggest a supernatural element to the Flight 19 incident. In the February 1964 issue of Argosy, Vincent Gaddis's article "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle" argued that Flight 19 and other disappearances were part of a pattern of strange events in the region. The next year, Gaddis explanded this article into a book, Invisible Horizons.
Others would follow with their own works, elaborating on Gaddis's ideas: John Wallace Spencer (Limbo of the Lost, 1969, repr. 1973); Charles Berlitz (The Bermuda Triangle, 1974); Richard Winer (The Devil's Triangle, 1974), and many others, all keeping to some of the same supernatural elements outlined by Eckert.
Lawrence David Kusche, a research librarian from Arizona State University and author of The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved (1975) argued that many claims of Gaddis and subsequent writers were often exaggerated, dubious or unverifiable. Kusche's research revealed a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies between Berlitz's accounts and statements from eyewitnesses, participants, and others involved in the initial incidents. Kusche noted cases where pertinent information went unreported, such as the disappearance of round-the-world yachtsman Donald Crowhurst, which Berlitz had presented as a mystery, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Another example was the ore-carrier recounted by Berlitz as lost without trace three days out of an Atlantic port when it had been lost three days out of a port with the same name in the Pacific Ocean. Kusche also argued that a large percentage of the incidents which have sparked the Triangle's mysterious influence actually occurred well outside it. Often his research was simple: he would go over period newspapers of the dates of reported incidents and find reports on possibly relevant events like unusual weather, that were never mentioned in the disappearance stories.
Kusche concluded that
- The number of ships and aircraft reported missing in the area was not significantly greater, proportionally speaking, than in any other part of the ocean.
- In an area frequented by tropical storms, the number of disappearances that did occur were, for the most part, neither disproportionate, unlikely, nor mysterious; furthermore, Berlitz and other writers would often fail to mention such storms.
- The numbers themselves had been exaggerated by sloppy research. A boat listed as missing would be reported, but its eventual (if belated) return to port may not have been reported.
- Some disappearances had in fact, never happened. One plane crash was said to have taken place in 1937 off Daytona Beach, Florida, in front of hundreds of witnesses; a check of the local papers revealed nothing.
- The Legend of the Bermuda Triangle is a manufactured mystery, perpetuated by writers who either purposely or unknowingly made use of misconceptions, faulty reasoning, and sensationalism
When the UK Channel 4 television program "The Bermuda Triangle" (c. 1992) was being produced by John Simmons of Geofilms for the Equinox Programme, the marine insurer Lloyd's of London was asked if an unusually large number of ships had sunk in the Bermuda Triangle area. Lloyd's of London determined that large numbers of ships had not sunk there.
United States Coast Guard records confirm their conclusion. In fact, the number of supposed disappearances is relatively insignificant considering the number of ships and aircraft which pass through on a regular basis
The Coast Guard is also officially skeptical of the Triangle, noting that they collect and publish, through their inquiries, much documentation contradicting many of the incidents written about by the Triangle authors. In one such incident involving the 1972 explosion and sinking of the tanker SS V. A. Fogg in the Gulf of Mexico, the Coast Guard photographed the wreck and recovered several bodies, in contrast with one Triangle author's claim that all the bodies had vanished, with the exception of the captain, who was found sitting in his cabin at his desk, clutching a coffee cup.
The NOVA / Horizon episode The Case of the Bermuda Triangle (1976-06-27) was highly critical, stating that "When we've gone back to the original sources or the people involved, the mystery evaporates. Science does not have to answer questions about the Triangle because those questions are not valid in the first place. ... Ships and planes behave in the Triangle the same way they behave everywhere else in the world.
Skeptical researchers, such as Ernest Taves and Barry Singer, have noted how mysteries and the paranormal are very popular and profitable. This has led to the production of vast amounts of material on topics such as the Bermuda Triangle. They were able to show that some of the pro-paranormal material is often misleading or inaccurate, but its producers continue to market it. Accordingly, they have claimed that the market is biased in favour of books, TV specials, etc. which support the Triangle mystery, and against well-researched material if it espouses a skeptical viewpoint.
Finally, if the Triangle is assumed to cross land, such as parts of Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, or Bermuda itself, there is no evidence for the disappearance of any land-based vehicles or persons. The city of Freeport, located inside the Triangle, operates a major shipyard and an airport which annually handles 50,000 flights, and is visited by over a million tourists a year.