Sunday, March 16, 2014



What do we make of people who simply disappear one day and are never seen again? That’s long been of particular interest to me – so interesting that I’ve penned several books on the subject. As I’ve long noted, there are numerous reasons why people vanish – murder, abduction, suicide and voluntary escapes from reality among them. And then there are the more unnerving cases, where no rational explanation seems to exist. How, or why, do such things happen?

Are they incidents linked to the supernatural, or could there be more mundane explanations for many of them? Over the years, I’ve collected dozens of stories of disappearances that seemed the strangest to me, the most inexplicable and in many cases, the most disturbing. I certainly do not claim to have collected every unsolved disappearance in history (far from it, which is disturbing in itself) and some readers will notice the glaring lack of inclusion in any of my writings for what some believe is a prominent paranormal disappearance mystery spot – the Bermuda Triangle.

The fact that the Bermuda Triangle is missing from all of my books was not an accident on my part. While the area of the Triangle is certainly marked by a number of strange occurrences, I don’t believe there is anything paranormal to it at all. In fact, after years of collecting stories of unsolved vanishings, it become readily apparent that Triangle boasts no more disappearances that other parts of the world’s oceans.

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 disappeared in mysterious circumstances which fall beyond the boundaries of 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, but in many cases, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Documentation shows that many of the incidents have been inaccurately reported or embellished by later authors – something that happens far more often than most of us care to admit.

Of course, this is not to say that there have not been strange disappearances in the area, or that unsolved disappearances don’t exist, it’s just that the mythos surrounding the area is much greater than it deserves to be. 

The boundaries of the Bermuda Triangle are allegedly from the Atlantic coast of Florida to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and on to the mid-Atlantic island of Bermuda. Most of the alleged disappearances are concentrated along the southern boundary around the Bahamas and the Florida Straits.

But just how dangerous is this area? Apparently, not very…

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. If this was some sort of paranormal “wormhole,” wouldn’t disappearances occur much more often?

That would certainly seem to be the case, so how did such stories get started in the first place? The seeds of the Bermuda Triangle legend were first planted by an Associated Press dispatch on September 16, 1950, in which reporter E.V. Jones took note of what he characterized as “mysterious disappearances” of ships and planes between the Florida coast and Bermuda. Two years later, in a FATE magazine article by George X. Sand recounted “a series of strange marine disappearances, each leaving no trace whatever, that have taken place in the last few years” in a “watery triangle bounded roughly by Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico.”

M.K. Jessup picked up some of the stories for his 1955 book, The Case for the UFO, which suggested that aliens were responsible for the disappearances, an idea that was echoed by other authors. It was Vincent H. Gaddis who actually coined the catchphrase that entered popular culture when he wrote an article for the February 1964 issue of Argosy called “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.” Soon, nearly every new book on true mysteries included chapters on the Bermuda Triangle and claims began to be made that the area was populated by an intelligent, underwater civilization, which was stealing ships, plans and people from our world.

The first book to be written about the Triangle was a self-published work called Limbo of the Lost by John Wallace Spencer. It was re-published as a Bantam paperback in 1973 and attracted a huge audience, as did the 1970 documentary, The Devil’s Triangle. Bermuda Triangle fever peaked in 1974 with the publication of The Bermuda Triangle, a major bestseller by Charles Berlitz and J. Manson Valentine. Two other paperbacks, The Devil’s Triangle, by Richard Winer, and No Earthly Explanation, by John Wallace Spencer, also racked up impressive sales.

The heart of the Bermuda Triangle mystery seemed to revolve around the alleged “scores” of vessels that had vanished in the region. Among the most notable were:

Flight 19
United States Navy Flight 19 was a training flight of TBM Avenger bombers that went missing on December 5, 1945 while over the Atlantic. The squadron's flight path was scheduled to take them due east for one hundred and twenty miles, north for seventy-three miles, and then back over a final one hundred and twenty-mile leg that would return them to the naval base. The flight, however, never returned. The impression is given that the planes encountered unusual phenomena and anomalous compass readings, and that the flight took place on a calm day under the supervision of an experienced pilot, Lt. Charles Carroll Taylor. Adding to the intrigue is that the Navy's report of the accident was ascribed to "causes or reasons unknown." Adding to the mystery, a search and rescue Mariner aircraft with a thirteen-man crew was dispatched to aid the missing squadron, but the Mariner itself was never heard from again. Later, there was a report from a tanker cruising off the coast of Florida of a visible explosion at about the time the Mariner would have been on patrol. While the basic facts of this version of the story are essentially accurate, some important details are missing. The weather was becoming stormy by the end of the incident, and naval reports and written recordings of the conversations between Taylor and the other pilots of Flight 19 do not indicate magnetic problems.

Mary Celeste
The mysterious 1872 abandonment of the brigantine Mary Celeste is often but inaccurately connected to the Triangle (perhaps in an effort to give credibility to the Triangle by placing a real-life mystery there), the ship having been abandoned off the coast of Portugal. The event is possibly confused with the loss of a ship with a similar name, the Mari Celeste, a paddle steamer that hit a reef and quickly sank off the coast of Bermuda on September 13, 1864.

Ellen Austin
A ship called the Ellen Austin supposedly came across an abandoned vessel and attempted to salvage it in 1881. A crew was placed on board and the derelict was sailed for New York. According to the stories, the derelict disappeared while en route. A check of Lloyd's of London records proved the existence of a ship called the Meta, built in 1854. In 1880, the Meta was renamed Ellen Austin. There are no casualty listings for this vessel, or any vessel at that time, that would suggest a large number of missing men placed on board a ship that later disappeared.

USS Cyclops
The incident resulting in the single largest loss of life in the history of the United States Navy, not related to combat, occurred when USS Cyclops, under the command of Lt Cdr G. W. Worley, went missing without a trace with a crew of three hundred and nine men, sometime after March 4, 1918, after departing the island of Barbados. Although there is no strong evidence for any single theory, many independent theories exist, some blaming storms, some capsizing, and some suggesting that wartime enemy activity was to blame for the loss.

Theodosia Burr Alston
Theodosia Burr Alston was the daughter of former United States Vice President Aaron Burr. Her disappearance has been cited at least once in relation to the Triangle. She was a passenger on board the Patriot, which sailed from Charleston, South Carolina, to New York City on December 30, 1812, and was never heard from again. Both piracy and the War of 1812 have been offered as explanations and her ship was well outside the Triangle when it vanished. Once again, a prominent personality was included in the stories of the Triangle in order to give the location more credibility.

Joshua Slocum
The same thing was done with Joshua Slocum and his famous ship, the Spray. The once-derelict fishing boat was refitted as an ocean cruiser by Joshua Slocum and used by him to complete the first ever single-handed circumnavigation of the world, between 1895 and 1898. In 1909, Slocum set sail from Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, bound for Venezuela. Neither he nor the Spray were ever seen again. There is no evidence they were in the Bermuda Triangle when they disappeared, nor is there any evidence of paranormal activity.

Carroll A. Deering
A five-masted schooner built in 1919, the Carroll A. Deering was found hard aground and abandoned at Diamond Shoals, near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on January 31, 1921. Rumors at the time indicated the Deering was a victim of piracy, possibly connected with the illegal rum-running trade during Prohibition.

Douglas DC-3
On December 28, 1948, a Douglas DC-3 aircraft, number NC16002, disappeared while on a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Miami. No trace of the aircraft or the thirty-two people onboard was ever found. From the documentation compiled by the Civil Aeronautics Board investigation, a possible key to the plane's disappearance was found, but barely touched upon by the Triangle writers: the plane's batteries were inspected and found to be low on charge, but ordered back into the plane without a recharge by the pilot while in San Juan. Whether or not this led to complete electrical failure will never be known.

Star Tiger and Star Ariel
G-AHNP Star Tiger disappeared on January 30, 1948 on a flight from the Azores to Bermuda and G-AGRE Star Ariel disappeared on January 17, 1949, on a flight from Bermuda to Kingston, Jamaica. Both were Avro Tudor IV passenger aircraft operated by British South American Airways.

SS Marine Sulphur Queen
The Marine Sulphur Queen, a T2 tanker converted from oil to sulfur carrier, was last heard from on February 4, 1963 with a crew of thirty-nine near the Florida Keys. The Marine Sulphur Queen was the first vessel mentioned in Vincent Gaddis' 1964 Argosy Magazine article, but he left it as having "sailed into the unknown," despite the Coast Guard report that not only documented the ship's badly-maintained history, but declared that it was an unseaworthy vessel that should never have left port. Other authors embellished the story even further, making it a part of Triangle lore.

Raifuku Maru
One of the more famous incidents that allegedly occurred in the Triangle took place in 1921, when the Japanese vessel Raifuku Maru went down with all hands after sending a distress signal which allegedly said, "Danger like dagger now. Come quick!" or "It's like a dagger, come quick!" This has led writers to speculate on what the "dagger" was, with a waterspout being the likely candidate. In reality, the ship was nowhere near the Triangle, nor was the word "dagger" a part of the ship's distress call, which was actually “Now very danger. Come quick.” The ship actually left Boston for Hamburg, Germany, on April 21, 1925 and got caught in a severe storm and sank in the North Atlantic with all hands.

Connemara IV
This vessel was a pleasure yacht that was found adrift in the Atlantic south of Bermuda on September 26, 1955. It is usually stated in the stories that the crew vanished while the yacht survived being at sea during three hurricanes. The 1955 Atlantic hurricane season lists only one storm coming near Bermuda towards the end of August, hurricane "Edith;" of the others, "Flora" was too far to the east, and "Katie" arrived after the yacht was recovered. It was confirmed that the Connemara IV was empty and in port when "Edith" may have caused the yacht to slip her moorings and drift out to sea.

Unfortunately, the articles and books on the subject showed little evidence of original research and it was obvious that each of the chroniclers were merely re-writing each other’s work. In 1975, Lawrence David Kusche, a research librarian from Arizona State University, published a devastating debunking of the Triangle with a book called The Bermuda Triangle Mystery—Solved! He called it a manufactured mystery and did the archival digging that many other writers had neglected. Weather records, reports of official investigators, newspaper accounts and other sources showed that Triangle literature had played very loose with the evidence. 

In the book, he 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. Also, in an area often hit by tropical storms, the number of disappearances that did occur was not disproportionate, unlikely or mysterious. Oddly, though, most of the Triangle writers failed to mention such storms.  He also found that the number of disappearances 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 mentioned. Other disappearances that were cited never occurred at all. For example, one plane crash was said to have taken place in 1937 off Daytona Beach, Florida, in front of hundreds of witnesses but a check of the local papers revealed nothing.

Other, official sources supported Kusche’s findings. In April 1975, Lloyd’s of London noted that, according to their records, four hundred and twenty eight vessels had been reported missing throughout the world since 1955. “Our intelligence service,” officials at the legendary insurance company wrote, “can find no evidence to support the claim that the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ has more losses than elsewhere. This finding is upheld by the United States Coast Guard whose computer-based records of casualties in the Atlantic go back to 1958.”

In the wake of these statements, only silence was heard from the proponents of the Bermuda Triangle mystery. They were unable to mount a credible defense and because of this, the claims that the area was an authentic anomaly began to suffer. Despite occasional reappearances in supermarket tabloids and the long memories of paranormal buffs who read about the region when they were first getting interested in the unexplained as children, the Bermuda Triangle survives as only a footnote in the history of passing sensations.

Or at least that’s how it should be…

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