Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I have some nerve just showing my face, in wheeling

Map of the popularly-held dimensions of the Bermuda Triangle; recent claims by researchers alude to a more "trapezium" shape, extending back into the Gulf of Mexico and down into the Caribbean Sea.

The Bermuda Triangle (also known as Devil's Triangle) is a nearly half-million square-mile (1.2 million km2) area of ocean roughly defined by Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Bermuda Triangle has become popular through representation by the mass media, in which it is a paranormal site in which the known laws of physics are violated and altered.

While there is a common belief that a number of ships and airplanes have disappeared under highly unusual circumstances in this region, the United States Coast Guard and others disagree with that assessment, citing statistics demonstrating that the number of incidents involving lost ships and aircraft is no larger than that of any other heavily traveled region of the world [1]. Many of the alleged mysteries have proven not so mysterious or unusual upon close examination, with inaccuracies and misinformation about the cases often circulating and recirculating over the decades.

The triangle is an arbitrary shape, crudely marking out a corridor of the Atlantic Ocean, stretching northward from the West Indies, along the North American seaboard, as far as the Carolinas. In the Age of Sail, ships returning to Europe from parts south would sail north to the Carolinas, then turn east for Europe, taking advantage of the prevailing wind direction across the North Atlantic. Even with the development of steam and internal-combustion engines, a great deal more shipping traffic was (and still is) found nearer the US coastline than towards the empty centre of the Atlantic. The Triangle also loosely conforms with the course of the Gulf Stream as it leaves the West Indies, and has always been an area of volatile weather. The combination of distinctly heavy maritime traffic and tempestuous weather meant that a certain, also distinctly large, number of vessels would founder in storms. Given the historical limitations of communications technology, most of those ships that sank without survivors would disappear without a trace. The advent of wireless communications, radar, and satellite navigation meant that the unexplained disappearances largely ceased at some point in the 20th Century. The occasional vessel still sinks, but rarely without a trace.

American journalist Vincent Gaddis in the 1960s renamed this region from "The Devil's Triangle" to "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle," but the shortened version "Bermuda Triangle" is far more common.

Other areas often purported to possess unusual characteristics are the Devil's Sea, located near Japan, and the Marysburgh Vortex or the Great Lakes Triangle, located in eastern Lake Ontario.


The cover of the 1977 Panther paperback edition of Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle

First citations

The first mention of disappearances in the area was made in 1951 by E.V.W. Jones as a sidebar on the Associated Press wire service regarding recent ship losses. Jones' article notes the "mysterious disappearances" of ships, airplanes and small boats in the region, and ascribes it the name "The Devil's Triangle". It was next mentioned in 1952 in a Fate Magazine article by George X. Sand, who outlined several "strange marine disappearances". The term "Bermuda Triangle" was popularized by Vincent Gaddis in an August 1964 Argosy feature.

Popularized by Berlitz

The area achieved its current fame largely through the efforts of Charles Berlitz in his 1974 book The Bermuda Triangle (right) and its subsequent film adaptation. The book recounts a long series of mysterious disappearances of ships and aircraft, in particular the December 1945 loss of five U.S. Navy Avenger torpedo bombers in the infamous Flight 19 incident.

The book was a bestseller and included several theories about the cause of the disappearances, including accidents due to high traffic volumes; natural storms; "temporal holes"; the lost empire of Atlantis; transportation by extraterrestrial technology; and other natural or supernatural causes.

Skeptical responses

The marine insurer Lloyd's of London has determined the "triangle" to be no more dangerous than any other area of ocean, and does not charge unusual rates for passage through the region. Coast Guard records confirm their conclusion.

Skeptics comment that the disappearance of a train between two stops would be more convincing evidence of paranormal activity, and the fact that such things do not occur suggests that paranormal explanations are not needed for the disappearance of ships and airplanes in the far less predictable open ocean.

Kusche's The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved

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. He 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 that Crowhurst had fabricated the accounts of his voyage and had probably committed suicide. Another example was the ore-carrier Berlitz recounted 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 attributed to the Bermuda Triangle's mysterious influence actually occurred well outside it.

Kusche came to several conclusions:

The number of ships and airplanes reported missing in the area was not significantly greater, proportionally speaking, than any other part of the ocean.

In an area frequented by tropical storms, the number of disappearances that did occur was neither disproportionate, unlikely, nor mysterious.

The numbers themselves had been exaggerated by sloppy research. A boat listed as missing would be reported, but not necessarily its eventual, if belated, return to port.

The circumstances of confirmed disappearances were frequently misreported in Berlitz's accounts. The numbers of ships disappearing in supposedly calm weather, for instance, did not tally with weather reports published at the time.

Methane hydrates

Main article: Methane clathrate

An explanation for some of the disappearances focuses on the presence of vast fields of methane hydrates on the continental shelves. A paper was published in 1981 by the United States Geological Survey about the appearance of hydrates in the Blake Ridge area, off the southeastern United States coast. Periodic methane eruptions may produce regions of frothy water that are no longer capable of providing adequate buoyancy for ships. If this were the case, such an area forming around a ship could cause it to sink very rapidly and without warning. Laboratory experiments have proven that bubbles can, indeed, sink a scale model ship by decreasing the density of the water.

Hypothetically, methane gas might also be involved in airplane crashes, as it is not as dense as normal air and thus would not generate the amount of lift required to keep the airplane flying. Low levels of methane have also been shown to cause an aircraft engine to stall when added to the intake of air.

Famous incidents

Flight 19

Main article: Flight 19

One of the best known Bermuda Triangle incidents concerns the loss of Flight 19, a squadron of five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo bombers on a training flight out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on December 5, 1945. According to Berlitz, the flight consisted of expert Marine Corps aviators who, after reporting a number of odd visual effects, simply disappeared, an account which isn't entirely true. Furthermore, Berlitz claims that because the TBM Avenger bombers were built to float for long periods, they should have been found the next day considering what were reported as calm seas and a clear sky. However, not only were they never found, a Navy search and rescue seaplane that went after them was also lost. Adding to the intrigue is that the Navy's report of the accident was ascribed to "causes or reasons unknown".

While the basic facts of Berlitz's version of the story are essentially accurate, some important details are missing. The image of a squadron of seasoned combat aviators disappearing on a sunny afternoon is inaccurate. Rather, it was a squadron of lost, inexperienced flight trainees forced to ditch their out-of-fuel airplanes into unknown stormy waters in the dark of night. As for the Navy's report, it is claimed that the original report blamed the accident on the commander's confusion (Lt. Taylor abandoned his airplanes twice in the Pacific after getting lost returning to his carrier), but the wording was changed in deference to the wishes of his family.

Another factor to consider is that the TBM Avenger Aircraft were never designed for crash-landing into water. Wartime experience in the Pacific showed that an Avenger aircraft would sink very quickly if landed on the water. Especially with novice pilots at the helm, an Avenger would be very difficult to land on calm water, let alone the perilous rough seas in the Bermuda Triangle.

Star Tiger

Another well-known loss is that of a four-engine Tudor IV airliner named Star Tiger, in the predawn hours of January 31, 1948. Piloted by Captain B. W. McMillan, the airliner, which carried twenty-nine passengers and crew on board, had left hours earlier from Santa Maria, Azores, one of numerous scheduled fuel stopover points on its route from London, England to Havana, Cuba. While approaching Bermuda, McMillan made the expected contact with Kindley Field, the next stopover, requesting a radio bearing to calibrate his navigation systems and ensure he remained on course. With the response indicating that the plane was slightly off course, its position was corrected after Bermuda relayed a first-class bearing of 72 degrees from the island. At this point, with Star Tiger less than two hours flight away, McMillan gave confirmation of an ETA of 05:00 hours, an hour late due to strong headwinds; no further transmission from the aircraft was ever received.

Armed with precise reports of the plane's last known position, rescue operations were launched after the craft was determined overdue for arrival; but no trace of the aircraft was ever found.

In the report issued soon thereafter by the Civil Air Ministry, numerous hypotheses as to what might have occurred during the flight's final two hours are given, before each being subsequently rejected: "There would accordingly be no grounds for supposing that Star Tiger fell into the sea in consequence of having been deprived of her radio, having failed to find her destination, and having exhausted her fuel." "There is good reason to suppose that no distress message was transmitted from the aircraft, for there were many radio receiving stations listening on the aircraft's frequencies, and none reported such a message." "...The weather was stable, there were no atmospheric disturbances of a serious kind which might cause structural damage to the aircraft, and there were no electrical storms." It was ruled that the aircraft could not have gone off course, as the broadcast bearing from Bermuda, with winds prevailing, would have brought it within thirty miles of the island: "The aircraft could hardly have failed to find the island in a short time, in the conditions of visibility which prevailed." Engine difficulty was ruled out as a likely cause, since at such late stage in the flight, without the added weight of extra fuel aboard, the aircraft might have been flown safely on three, or even two, engines instead of the four it had. The probability of the aircraft entirely losing three engines in the course of under two hours was considered absurd.

Faced with the accumulation of evidence, or perhaps lack thereof, the board of investigation addressed the loss of the Star Tiger with remarked eloquence: "In closing this report it may truly be said that no more baffling problem has ever been presented for investigation. In the complete absence of any reliable evidence as to either the nature or the cause of the accident of Star Tiger the Court has not been able to do more than suggest possibilities, none of which reaches the level even of probability. Into all activities which involve the co-operation of man and machine two elements enter of a very diverse character [sic?]. There is an incalculable element of the human equation dependent upon imperfectly known factors; and there is the mechanical element subject to quite different laws. A breakdown may occur in either separately or in both in conjunction. Or some external cause may overwhelm both man and machine. What happened in this case will never be known and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery."

Mary Celeste

While it is true the Mary Celeste (earlier the Amazon) is a famous incident involving a missing ship, it is a common misunderstanding the Triangle was involved. The Mary Celeste never actually went near the Bermuda Triangle.

Cinematic depictions

An episode of Disney's DuckTales (episode #27: "Bermuda Triangle Tangle") left Scrooge a prisoner in the mysterious Sargasso Sea after a search for his missing ships.

One episode of Quantum Leap featured Sam as a pilot flying through the triangle. Mysterious ghost ships and odd transmissions from planes that went missing 20 years ago are featured.

One episode of Rocko's Modern Life featured the main characters going on a cruise which ended up in the Bermuda Triangle. Chaos ensues as the young become old, old become young, and a strange airplane-like alien appears.

A season 6 The X-Files episode, aptly named "Triangle", featured a Bermuda Triangle storyline about a 1939 luxury liner that appeared in the present day.

On December 5, 2005, the Sci Fi Channel began broadcasting its three-part series called The Triangle. This series features a theory on electromagnetic disruptions and space-time holes. This series was then shown in the UK on BBC1 over the 27-29th May 2006.

In an episode of Nickelodeon's The Fairly Odd Parents, Timmy's most dangerous wishes are transported to an island in the Bermuda Triangle. Jorgan Von Strangle gives the reasoning that it is so dangerous, nobody would be crazy enough to go there.

A 1978 film entitled The Bermuda Triangle.

In a 1978 episode of Scooby-Doo titled "A Creepy Tangle in the Bermuda Triangle", the gang enters the Triangle on a ship helmed by an evil captain and becomes involved in many mysterious incidents.

The 2001 film Lost Voyage is about a ship which was lost in Bermuda Triangle and returns after 30 years.

In the 1977 television series The Fantastic Journey, the main characters traveled through different places and times trying to escape the Bermuda Triangle.

In a 2006 episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius titled "The Evil Beneath", Jimmy and his friends travel to a region called the Bahama Quadrangle.

In the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind an alien spaceship returns the crew members of Flight 19, along with many other missing humans, to Earth at Devil's Tower, Wyoming. The Avenger airplanes themselves are returned earlier, in the middle of the night to the Sonora Desert in pristine working condition, a large ship is also returned to the Gobi desert.

In the 1991 film The Addams Family, Abigail Craven tries to pass off her son Gordon as the long-lost Uncle Fester, explaining his long absence with an onset of amnesia after a vacation in the Bermuda Triangle.

In an episode of the 1987 animated series The Real Ghostbusters titled "Venkman's Ghost Repellers", the Ghostbusters become trapped in a region akin to the Bermuda Triangle off the coast of New York - the New Jersey Parallelogram.

Cultural references

Barry Manilow sang a UK no. 15 hit in 1981 titled "Bermuda Triangle".

Fleetwood Mac had a song called "The Bermuda Triangle" on their 1974 album Heroes are Hard to Find.

DC Comics' Paradise Island city-state, controlled by Amazons and the home of Wonder Woman, is located there.

The Marvel Comics series Skull the Slayer was set in a world inhabited by people who had been swallowed by the Triangle, which was actually a trap created by aliens.

Milton Bradley released a board game named Bermuda Triangle in 1975.

Buckethead released an album named Bermuda Triangle in 2002.

Starlord, a British comic book, ran a story called "Planet of the Damned", which portrays the triangle as a vortex in space and time leading to a hostile planet where survivors struggle against the alien environment. The story relies on a number of documented disaperances for its background. The story began 13 May 1978.

Jaws author Peter Benchley wrote a novel called The Island in which a journalist investigates the Triangle and discovers the disappearances are the work of pirates — specifically the descendants of buccaneers who live isolated from civilization and raid shipping to survive. In 1980, the book was made into a film directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Michael Caine.

The narrator of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Diary often refers to any item which has disappeared as having been "Bermuda triangulated".

The British playwright Snoo Wilson won the John Whiting Award in 1978 for his dramatic fantasy The Glad Hand in which a South African millionaire hires actors to perform scenes from the history of the American West in an oil tanker while it sails through the Bermuda Triangle, in the hopes of summoning up the Anti-Christ for a shoot-out.

Hardrock band Vengeance released an album named Back From Flight 19 in 1997.

70's and 80's New Wave rock group Blondie's album Plastic Letters featured the song "Flight 45 (Bermuda Triangle Blues)" about the mysterious disappearance of a aircraft which was "leaving for some fun in the hot tropic sun, back next Monday."


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