The mysterious disappearance of Air France Flight 447 over the Atlantic recently has once again brought into focus the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. There are believers who reason that though the disaster took place at the Eastern North Atlantic Ocean and the Bemuda Triangle is in the Western North Atlantic Ocean, there is no ‘solid wall’ dividing the two. They feel that when the aircraft was negotiating the thunderous zone with strong turbulence, it might have got thrown out of its flight route and got sucked into the triangle. Or, maybe the Bermuda Triangle itself shifted a bit. Now that the debris of the aircraft have been found and many bodies recovered, the triangle angle to the air tragedy can be ruled out. Nevertheless, one cannot resist the temptation of having a relook at one of the biggest legends of our times.
Exploring the legend of the Bermuda is like having a peep down two tunnels that stand juxtaposed. While the first one gets you sucked into the myth, mystery, the paranormal and bizarre happenings inside the triangle, the second will convincingly tell you about the futility and irrationality of the myth surrounding it. The Bermuda Triangle or the Devil’s Triangle is an imaginary area located off the southeastern Atlantic coast of the United States of America which is noted for a high incidence of unexplained disappearances of ships and aircraft. The apexes of the triangle are generally believed to be Bermuda; Miami, Florida; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The modern legend of the Bermuda Triangle began soon after five US Navy torpedo bombers Flight 19 vanished on a routine training mission over the Atlantic on December 5, 1945. A large Mariner flying boat sent to search for the missing aircraft also failed to return. No trace has ever been found of the six planes of 27 crew members. In 1991, the salvage ship Deep Sea claimed to have found the Avengers — off the coast of Florida. However, on examination it was found that they were not Flight 19. The final resting place of the planes, and their crew remains the ultimate mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.
Based on it and other disappearances, the myth of the triangle has grown so much that film, TV serials have been made, theories propagated, books written, making the triangle the biggest mystery of our time. Talking about disappearances, the single largest loss of life in the history of the US Navy not related to combat occurred when the ship USS Cyclops went missing without a trace with a crew of 309 sometime after March 4, 1918, after departing the island of Barbados. Although there is no strong evidence of any single theory, many independent theories exist, some blaming storms, some capsizing and some suggesting that wartime activity was to blame for the loss.
On another occasion, on December 28, 1948, a Douglas DC – 3 aircraft, number NC 16002, disappeared while on a flight from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Miami. No trace of the aircraft comprising 32 people on board was ever found. However, after investigations it was found that 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. The other disappearances include SV Spray — a fishing boat, SS Marine Sulphur Queen, Raifuku Maru, Connemara IV, among others.
Triangle writers used a number of supernatural theories to explain the events. One explanation pins the blame on leftover technology from the lost continent of Atlantis. Sometimes connected to the Atlantis story is the submerged rock formation known as the Bimini Road off the island of Bimini in the Bahamas, which falls within the triangle. Believers describe the formation as a road, wall, or other structure. The electromagnetic anomalies in the area, they say, are linked to advanced technologies under the water in the Bermuda Triangle that are still active. This goes to ancient mysteries, and perhaps ancient astronauts, about powerful Atlantean crystal technology developed being buried beneath the ocean floor when Atlantis sank into the sea due to cataclysmic events over 10,000 years ago. Then, there is the Comet Theory which proposes that a comet, of unknown composition, crashed on Earth nearly 11,000 years ago and embedded itself in the area of the Bermuda Triangle, beneath the ocean floor. If such an object exists there, it could still possess electromagnetic properties that we don't entirely understand causing the anomalies in the Bermuda Triangle.
There are also writers who attribute the events to the UFOs. The UFO theory was first propagated by MK Jessup who linked the disappearances to the alien intelligence in his book The Case for the UFO. The view was also echoed by Donald Ekyhee who is noted for his The Flying Saucer Conspiracy of 1955. Frank Edwards who wrote Stranger than Science agreed with the theory of aliens having a local hangout in the triangle as well. The UFO idea was immortalized by Steven Spielberg in his film Close Encounters of the Third Kind which featured the Flight 19 as alien abductees.
Besides the theories, it is the personal bizarre and supernatural experiences of individuals which have added to the magnanimity of the Bermuda myth. While it was Charles Berlitz who was responsible for creating the myth of the Bermuda through his book The Bermuda Triangle, it was Larry Kusche, a research librarian from Arizona State University who challenged Berlitz’s theories and wrote the book The Bermuda Triangle Mystery – Solved in 1975. This is perhaps the only book that approaches the topic rationally, rather than as another great unsolved mystery of our time. Approximately 60 of the best known cases are examined in an unusual, but very clear and logical style. Kusche relates each incident as had been told over the years. He then includes snippets from articles and reports that show what was written at that time. Kusche then discusses the incident, pointing out flaws in the story. He concludes by stating that the legend of the Bermuda Triangle is a ‘manufactured mystery’ — perpetuated by writers who either purposely or unknowingly made use of misconceptions, faulty reasoning, and sensationalism.
One of the more credible theories seems to belong to Dr Richard McIver, who centres his explanation on the presence of methane hydrate. Methane hydrate was first encountered in the 1920s and 1930s in the early days of the American and Soviet gas industries.
Methane hydrate has been found to exist in huge quantities in many parts of the sea floor and is concentrated in some places on continental slopes such as the Bermuda Triangle. The structure of the molecule of methane hydrate is such that it facilitates the capturing of a large amount of gas. If this were to break-up, then even a small area could cause a large gas release.
Sediment piles on continental slopes have the tendency to accumulate on the slopes of the edge of continental plates. But it is unstable and can tumble down. When this happens, it can cause the removal of the hydrate layer, releasing the methane gas trapped below. Methane gas bubbling up through the sea will cause an area of decreased density; ships will lie lower in the water and will be swamped by the least wave; also methane gas when mixed with air in the correct proportions is highly explosive. This could account for the mysterious disappearances of both ships and aircraft.
Another explanation given for the disappearances is the presence of The Gulf Stream. It is an ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, and then through the Straits of Florida, into the North Atlantic. In essence, it is a river within an ocean, and like a river, it can and does carry floating objects. It has a surface velocity of up to about 2.5 metres per second. A small plane making a water landing or a boat having engine trouble will be carried away from its reported position by the current.
Wild weather is another rationale given for the happenings. Hurricanes and thunderstorms are common in the Bermuda Triangle area. Even more unpredictable than thunderstorms are waterspouts. These can be caused by tornadoes that move out to sea or rotating columns of air that drop from thunderstorms, creating a vortex of spray. When the moisture condenses, it forms a twisting column that connects the sea to the clouds.
On compass variations, rationalists say that it has been inaccurately claimed that the Bermuda Triangle is one of the two places on earth at which a magnetic compass points towards true north. Normally a compass will point toward magnetic north. The difference between the two is known as compass variation. The amount of variation changes by as much as 60 degrees at various locations around the World. If this compass variation or error is not compensated for, navigators can find themselves far off course and in deep trouble. Although in the past this compass variation did affect the Bermuda Triangle region, due to fluctuations in the Earth's magnetic field this has apparently not been the case since the nineteenth century.
Interestingly, despite the logical explanations provided by various experts, the myth of the triangle continues to grow. Call it people’s passion for the supernatural or a mystery manufactured by the greedy and powerful mass media, the legend of the Bermuda Triangle will stay in the public consciousness for a long time to come. It is said that Christopher Columbus was the first person to document something strange in the triangle in his log book dated October 11, 1492. The fact that the Bermuda Triangle evokes awe even after five centuries of intense debate, speaks volume about its mystery and legend.