Bermuda Triangle Demystified
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Ceylon Today Features
For decades and possibly for centuries, the Bermuda Triangle has been an area fogged with the mist of mystery. Scores of aircraft and ship disappearances in rather bizarre circumstances in the Bermuda Triangle - also known as the Devil’s Triangle - have led many to come up with different theories in attempts to debunk the mystery behind it. These explanation theories vary from being scientific and semi-scientific to supernatural and paranormal. Although it is considered an enigma for years, scientists now believe that the biggest mystery surrounding the Bermuda Triangle is that there is no mystery at all to begin with.
What is Bermuda Triangle?
Bermuda Triangle is a region in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean, loosely defined as the area that falls within the imaginary triangle formed when the three points; Florida, Bermuda Island, and Puerto Rico are connected. According to Britannica Encyclopaedia the exact demarcations of the Bermuda Triangle is not definitely agreed upon with the surface area of the triangle varying from 1,300,000 to 3,900,000 square kilometres.
It does not appear in any world map and the US Board on Geographic Names does not recognise the Bermuda Triangle as an official region in the Atlantic Ocean. Tropical storms and hurricanes are frequent in the Bermuda Triangle and the Gulf Stream - a strong ocean current which is known to cause sharp changes in weather - also passes through the Bermuda Triangle. The deepest point of the Atlantic Ocean - the Milwaukee Depth (8,380 metres) - is also located inside the Bermuda Triangle.
Origins of the Bermuda Triangle
Although scientists may have debunked the whole ‘mystery’ behind the Bermuda Triangle - which we will get into later on - the enigmatic reputation the imaginary triangle gathered, is not something completely fabricated. The iconic playwright William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is believed to have been based on a real-life shipwreck that took place in the general area which we now identify as the Bermuda Triangle, giving it a notorious reputation as early as early 1600s.
Christopher Columbus in his records during his voyage in search of the ‘new world’ mentions a huge ball of fire that flew across the night sky and fell into the ocean. A few weeks later he had witnessed strange lights appeared in the distance and also erratic compass readings. According to the records he was sailing through the area we now know as the Bermuda Triangle when he experienced all these anomalies.
The phrase ‘Bermuda Triangle’ was coined by Vincent Gaddis in 1964 when he wrote an article titled, ‘The Deadly Bermuda Triangle’ to the pulp magazine, Argosy, linking the famous disappearance of Flight 19 and other similar incidents to the Bermuda Triangle. Inspired by Gaddis’s article, many authors subsequently wrote fiction based on the Bermuda Triangle, further popularising its mysterious nature. One such book is Richard Winer’s 1974 classic, The Devil’s Triangle but the most popular book centred on the Bermuda Triangle has to be Charles Berlitz’s book The Bermuda Triangle. Published in 1974, the book went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide and was published in different 30 languages.
Disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle
On 5 December 1945, a group of five bomber flights disappeared over the Bermuda Triangle. Soon after the flights lost contact with the ground control, another aircraft - a ‘flying boat’ carrying flammable gasoline vapours in its bilges - was dispatched in search of Flight 19 and its 14 airmen and 13 crew members. The flying boat also didn’t make it back as it was assumed that it had exploded mid-air. The exact cause of the loss of Flight 19 is much-debated, even now after 75 years.
In March 1918, the collider ship of US Navy USS Cyclops and the 306 people onboard disappeared without a trace off Barbados on its route to Baltimore, Maryland. The ship was carrying 11,000 tonnes of manganese ore and the disappearance of it and its crew marks the single largest loss of lives in US naval history not directly involving combat.
In late July of 2015, Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen - two 14-year-old boys - went on fishing trip in their 19-foot boat and disappeared. Despite the 15,000 square nautical mile search conducted by the US Coastguard no trace of the boys was found. A year later their boat was found off the coast of Bermuda but the boys still remains undiscovered.
In July last year a twin-engine small aircraft carrying four people on board, including two boys, went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. The plane was flying from Puerto Rico to Florida.
While there are so many such incidences of disappearances linked to the Bermuda Triangle no one knows exactly how many of them have actually happened within the triangle. The common estimate is about 50 ships and 20 aircrafts, which is a very modest number in comparison with all the cases allegedly linked to the Bermuda Triangle.
Theories behind Bermuda Triangle
There are many different theories the experts have come up with to solve the Bermuda Triangle mystery, some of which are labelled as conspiracy theories for their level of absurdity. One such theory is that the Bermuda Triangle is where the lost undersea city of Atlantis is, although it is unclear how this theory proves all the disappearances. Another theory links alien activities in the area with all the disappearances, which again raised quite a few sceptical eyebrows.
A rather scientific and yet a far-fetched theory brings out the possibility of methane bubbles causing all the shipwrecks. These bubbles which build on the seabed can expand up to half a mile in width and 150 feet in depth, and can cause some serious eruptions when they burst on or closer to the surface. However, the odds of a bubble bursting somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle and a ship being there at that exact time is astronomical and even if it was to happen, this theory still doesn’t explain how aircrafts go missing in the triangle.
The Bermuda Triangle is believed to be one of the two places on the Earth in where the compasses point to the geographical north (the true north) rather than the magnetic north. As a result, when passing through, the navigation equipment of ships and planes could tend to malfunction, resulting in veering off the course and even crashing or sinking. The problem with this rather plausible theory is that in 1800s scientists have discovered that the agonic line (the imaginary line where magnetic north and the true north aligns) shifts every year. Although it did pass through the Bermuda Triangle at some point in history, it is no longer there and rather, goes through the Gulf of Mexico now.
No mystery at all
While trying to give explanations as to what goes down in the Bermuda Triangle sounds like a fascinating subject, the bigger and broader picture many of these theorists fail to or opt not to see is a rather dull and ‘no-fun’ one. The Bermuda triangle is one of the busiest shipping and flying routes in the world which sustains a heavy daily traffic of trans-Atlantic ships and planes. When incidents of disappearances do get reported from the area once in a way, they attract extra media attention purely because they involve the name the ‘Bermuda Triangle’. In reality, the frequency of these happenings is no higher than any other region of the world. In fact, when taking only the Atlantic region into consideration, the Bermuda triangle does not have greater frequency of disappearances than in any other comparable region of the Atlantic Ocean.
In 2013 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conducted a study of maritime shipping lanes and determined that the Bermuda Triangle is not even among the world’s 10 most dangerous bodies of water for shipping. Moreover, the maritime insurance giants Lloyd’s of London and the US Coastguard do not recognise the Bermuda Triangle as a risky area to fly or sail through.
However, it is undeniable that there is a large number of incidents of planes and ships disappearing, involving the Bermuda Triangle. This can easily be explained as the area is one of the busiest maritime routes in the world. It is located closer to one of the wealthiest parts of the world which understandably makes the maritime traffic in the area heavier in comparison. Although the frequency of disappearances is low in the Bermuda Triangle, the high amount of traffic the area witnesses makes the number of such incidents appear much higher than the other similar parts of the world and the bad reputation of the Bermuda Triangle attracts much unnecessary media spotlight to these incidents, creating the illusion of something is wrong in the area.
According to researchers who have probed deep into the ‘unsolved’ disappearances involving the Bermuda Triangle, almost all of them can be explained by nothing more supernatural than plain old human error and bad weather. In the absence of knowledge and fact-checking the speculation naturally grows, which has been the case with the Bermuda Triangle for the longest.
Although the scientists now adamant that there is nothing of supernatural origins involving the Bermuda Triangle, it might take another few years, perhaps decades, for the people to completely shed the veil of mystery that they themselves have incorporated with the Bermuda Triangle.