The Bermuda Triangle is a large area of ocean between Florida, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. Over the last few centuries, it’s thought that dozens of ships and planes have disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the area, earning it the nickname “The Devil’s Triangle.” People have even gone so far as to speculate that it’s an area of extra-terrestrial activity or that there is some bizarre natural scientific cause for the region to be hazardous; but most likely, it’s simply an area in which people have experienced a lot of bad luck—the idea of it being a “vortex of doom” is no more real than Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.
The Bermuda Triangle’s bad reputation started with Christopher Columbus. According to his log, on October 8, 1492, Columbus looked down at his compass and noticed that it was giving weird readings. He didn’t alert his crew at first, because having a compass that didn’t point to magnetic north may have sent the already on edge crew into a panic. This was probably a good decision considering three days later when Columbus simply spotted a strange light, the crew threatened to return to Spain.
This and other reported compass issues in the region gave rise to the myth that compasses will all be off in the Triangle, which isn’t correct, or at least is an exaggeration of what is actually happening as you’ll see.
The Bermuda Triangle, also called the Devil’s Triangle, is an imaginary area that can be roughly outlined on a map by connecting Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and the Bahamas, an island chain off the coast of the United States. Within that triangular area of the Atlantic Ocean have occurred a number of unexplained disappearances of boats and planes. Additionally, readings on directional devices do not operate normally inside the triangle.
The term “Bermuda Triangle” was first used in an article written by Vincent H. Gaddis for Argosy magazine in 1964. Gaddis claimed that several ships and planes had disappeared without explanation in that area. The article was expanded and included in his book, Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea (1965), where he described nine mysterious incidents and provided extensive detail. Many newspapers carried a story in December of 1967 about strange incidents in the Bermuda Triangle after a National Geographic Society news release brought attention to Gaddis’s book. The triangle was featured in a cover story in Argosy in 1968, in a book called Limbo of the Lost (1969) by John Wallace Spencer, and in a documentary film, The Devil’s Triangle, in 1971. Charles Berlitz’s 1974 bestseller The Bermuda Triangle marked the height of the disaster area legend, but some of its sensationalized claims were quickly proved inaccurate.
As early as 1952, George X. Sands had noted in a report in Fate magazine that an unusually large number of strange accidents had occurred in the region associated with the Bermuda Triangle. That many of the accidents in the area are intriguing, and that the area does have some natural conditions that sailors and pilots need to be aware of, has not been challenged. However, neither statistics nor documented evidence indicates that the number of accidents is unusually high or without explanation.
In March 1918, during World War I, the USS Cyclops vanished in the Bermuda Triangle. That ship may have been a casualty of war, but the December 1945 disappearance of Flight 19, a training squadron of five U.S. Navy torpedo bombers, became the most notorious of disappearances associated with the Bermuda Triangle. The squadron left Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with 14 crewmen and disappeared after radioing in several distress messages. A seaplane sent in search of the squadron also vanished. Those two airplane disappearances were frequently cited as the Bermuda Triangle legend grew during the 1960s and 1970s.
Few of those stories included telling details. All of the crewmen of Flight 19 were in training, for example, except for their patrol leader, who had tried to withdraw from his flight duty that day because he was feeling ill. After his compass malfunctioned soon into the flight, the flight leader decided to navigate by land-marks below on the islands of the Florida Keys, with which he was familiar. Visibility became a problem because of a sudden storm, and the leader became disoriented. Flight 19 was still in radio contact with the Fort Lauderdale air base, but after some mechanical difficulties they failed to switch to an emergency frequency. Radio recordings indicate that some of the crew believed they were heading out over the Atlantic Ocean, instead of the Gulf of Mexico as their leader reported.
A search plane took off and was claimed to have disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle with Flight 19. The plane actually blew up 23 seconds after takeoff. Wreckage from Flight 19 has never been recovered.
The Gulf Stream that runs through the Bermuda Triangle area is swift and turbulent, and can quickly erase evidence of a disaster. The unpredictable Caribbean-Atlantic weather can suddenly change into thunderstorms or create waterspouts. Many short and intense storms build up quickly and dissipate quickly, undetected by satellite surveillance. The ocean floor has shoals around islands as well as some of the deepest marine trenches in the world. The interaction of the strong currents over reefs promotes a constant flux and the development of new, uncharted navigational hazards.
These factors can confuse even experienced sailors. A large number of pleasure boats travel the waters between Florida’s coast and the Bahamas. The U.S. Coast Guard receives more than 8,000 distress calls per year, averaging more than 20 per day from that area, often from sailors who have run out of gas.
The Bermuda Triangle claimed more than 1,000 lives during the twentieth century. That averages to about 10 per year, a figure similar to other areas of high water traffic or volatile natural conditions. Scientific evaluations of the Bermuda Triangle have concluded that the number of disappearances in the region is not abnormal and that most of the disappearances have logical explanations. Paranormal associations with the Bermuda Triangle persist, however, in the popular imagination.