Everyone loves a good mystery and none have puzzled mankind more than the Bermuda Triangle. A loosely defined triangular area that covers between 500,000 and 1.5 million square miles in the North Atlantic Ocean between Florida, Puerto Rico and Bermuda, the Devil’s Triangle has claimed the lives of hundreds of people in unexplained circumstances for centuries.
One of the most travelled shipping lanes in the world — with all manner of private and commercial ships and aircraft passing through on a daily basis — the Bermuda Triangle has been a hive of unsolved disappearances and inexplicable occurrences dating as far back as 1492, when Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to the New World. The explorer reported erratic compass readings and described seeing a great flame of fire crash into the ocean one night, with strange lights appearing in the distance some weeks later. Since then, 75 planes and hundreds of ships have gone missing in the Triangle.
The first recorded tragedy in the region occurred in 1800, when the USS Pickering and its 90 crew members disappeared. On March 4, 1918, carrying 10,800 tons of manganese ore, the USS Cyclops and its some 300 passengers and crew members completely vanished. No distress call was sent and the ship was never found, making it the single largest loss of life in US Navy history not related to combat.
On December 5, 1945, a squadron of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers undertaking training suffered problems with their navigation systems over the Triangle and disappeared off the face of the planet. It’s believed the 14 airmen of Flight 19 got lost and were forced to ditch into the ocean, although no wreckage has ever been found. The following day, a Martin PBM Mariner patrol bomber sent out to search for Flight 19 also vanished. A few years later on December 28, 1948, a Douglas DC-3 airliner containing a three-person crew and 29 passengers travelling from San Juan to Miami disappeared mid-flight. Even as recent as February 2017, a Turkish Airlines flight bound for Havana was forced to turn back after suffering electrical problems over the mysterious waters.
The disappearance of Flight 19 was very well documented and sparked a keen interest in the Triangle, with journalists quick to report mysterious happenings in the region. But it wasn’t until 1964 that the infamous stretch of sea got its name when Vincent Gaddis coined the term “Bermuda Triangle” in a cover story for Argosy magazine in 1964. Gaddis was adamant supernatural elements were behind the disappearances and expanded on his ideas in his wildly inaccurate but entertaining book Invisible Horizon: True Mysteries of the Sea.
Soon, every man and his dog had a theory as to why the Bermuda Triangle had become the poster location for unexplained activity. Paranormal writer Charles Berlitz claimed the lost city of Atlantis was at the bottom of the sea and leftover technology from the missing civilisation affected navigational equipment. Others claimed the Bermuda Triangle was a wormhole sucking up passing aircraft and vessels, while a long-held theory states aliens are behind it all.
Conspiracy theories aside, most of the disappearances can be explained. The territory covered by the Triangle is notorious for violent weather, and many ships and planes have gone missing during hurricanes and storms. The Gulf Stream also passes through the Atlantic Ocean and can cause large waves and shifting currents, forcing some ships to drift off course and become submerged. Most tellingly, human error is cited in official inquiries as the main reason for any loss in the Triangle. And as far as the US Coast Guard is concerned, “No extraordinary factors have ever been identified.”
And yet, until a definitive reason can be given for every disappearance, the Bermuda Triangle will continue to be shrouded in mystery, with alien abductions still up for discussion.