Lost in the Bermuda Triangle

The Bermuda Triangle captures the imagination of those who seek an explanation for souls lost over a vast  area off the southeastern coast of the United States. History is riddled with stories of airplane and ship disappearances around the world that left no trace behind, but the Bermuda Triangle stands out as an area that elevates these mysteries to a whole new level.

Sensational journalism in the 1950’s over lost aircraft set the stage for the Bermuda legend. Movies and TV dramas fueled the hype and many still believe that ancient civilizations like Atlantis or alien encounters lie behind the untimely disappearances.

I don’t know where we are. We must have got lost after that last turn.  < One of the last F19 student pilot transmissions >

Real life stories of how airplanes and ships seemingly vanished into thin air will continue to proliferate as long as the victims remain unaccounted for. However, a little science and careful scrutiny of historical records will show that there are explanations for even the strangest of stories.

The Triangle

The area known as the Bermuda Triangle encompasses a region bound by Bermuda, Miami, and Puerto Rico. It covers roughly 440,000 square km.  The number of lost aircraft and ships is minute in comparison to the volume of traffic that passes through this enormous area every day.

Unusual Weather and Currents

Some have proposed that unusual weather phenomena cause the conditions that lose travelers throughout this region, yet this area experiences hurricanes and tropical storms like much of the surrounding region.

The Gulf Stream may partially be at fault in developing strange weather. Tropical storms thrive on the availability of warm moist air and a current of  warm water like the Gulf Stream could be provide that fuel for storm activity. However, there is no scientific explanation to assume that the water mass near Florida behaves any differently further north where the Gulf Stream continues to run its course.

The Marine Environment

There is no apparent marine feature that would impact any of the shipping routes.

The continental shelf extends only a short distance off the coast of Florida where it quickly drops to the deep ocean basin of the Atlantic.

Water depths for most of the triangular area are 19,000 feet (over 5 km deep).

Beyond the relatively flat ocean basin, the Bermuda islands lie about 600 miles east of the North America on a feature called the Bermuda Rise. This rise is a submarine volcanic platform, known as a seamount, that was formed roughly 33 million years ago. Surrounding the seamount is a sea floor that is a much older 123 million years old.

A series of media articles point to recent discoveries yet to be formally announced suggesting the release of methane gas from frozen methane hydrates on the seafloor may have presented a hazard to travelers in parts of the region.  When a methane seep is released in the water column it will rise and expand. On the surface the ocean can appear to be “erupting” which may have lead to the capsizing of ships, yet there are no reports of unusual eruptive behavior of the ocean water.

Magnetic Field

Inspection of the magnetic field anomalies reveals an elevated anomaly in the Bermuda Triangle. However, the anomaly is not a particularly unusual feature as the Earth is filled with similar variations in the field. Anomalies such as these arise from variations in the concentration of magnetite in basalt found in rocks far below the Earth’s crust.

Magnetic field anomalies due to variations in composition of deep crustal material.
Magnetic field anomalies due to variations in composition of deep crustal material. Anomalies are about one thousand times less than the strength of the overall magnetic field of the Earth. (NASA)

Routine flights through this area reveal no unusual magnetic field changes that would alter navigational equipment. After all, the Miami airport is a well-traveled international hub.

Disappearances Explained

Researchers have gone back through historical records and found that pilot error was usually at fault. The famous Flight 19 and disappearance of several accompanying planes was found to be caused by serious pilot error in flying with pre-existing flawed equipment and no timing or  navigational equipment. Changing weather conditions and faulty equipment are common factors with other planes that vanished in the area.

There are several reasons that ships traveling through the Bermuda Triangle never made it to their destination.

Many of them traveled with more cargo than their design specifications leading to catastrophic structural breakup while at sea.

Others broke up due to the nature of the cargo itself, such as the USS Proteus (AC-9) that disappeared in 1941 with a load of corrosive bauxite that would have been very corrosive to interior of the cargo bay.

In almost every case the reports of lost ships can also be attributed to gale force conditions that compromised the ill-fated ships and crew. This article may be updated as new research is released.


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