The Bermuda Triangle represents one of the most interesting scientific enigmas of our time. It was in 1945 that the authorities were first alerted to the fact that there was something frightening and dangerous about the stretch of ocean between Florida and the Bahamas. Flight 19 – five Avenger torpedo bombers which took off from Fort Lauderdale for a routine two hour patrol over the Atlantic – vanished completely in the area that came to be known as the Devil’s Triangle. A giant Martin Mariner flying-boat, with a crew of thirteen, which was sent to rescue Flight 19, met with the same mysterious fate. At the time the authorities took the view that these disappearances were a rather complex accident, due to a number of chance factors: bad weather, electrical interference with the compasses, the inexperience of some of the pilots and their unfamiliarity with the area. Similar explanations were adopted to explain a number of similar tragedies during the next two decades: the disappearance of a Super-fortress in 1947, of a four-engined Tudor IV in January 1948, of a DC3 in December 1948, of a Globemaster in 1950, of a British York Transport plane in 1952, of a Navy Super Constellation in 1954, of an Air Force Tanker in 1962, of two Stratotankers in 1963, of a flying boxcar in 1965 and of civilian cargo planes in 1966, 1967 and 1973… The total number of human lives lost in all these disappearances was well in excess of two hundred. What lurks out there in the Bermuda Triangle, and just why is it so hungry for mortal souls?
The first person to realize just how ominous the goings-on in the Bermuda Triangle were was a journalist called Vincent Gaddis. It was in February 1964 that his article The Deadly Bermuda Triangle appeared in the American Argosy magazine, bestowing the now familiar name on that mysterious stretch of ocean. Intriguingly, his article contained a long list of ships which had also vanished in the area, beginning with the Rosalie, which had vanished in 1840, long before Flight 19 had gone missing. This suggested that the mystery had older and infinitely darker roots than might have at first been supposed. Gaddis’ theory enters the realm of science fiction when he speculates on ‘space-time continua that may exist around us on the earth, inter-penetrating our own known world’, implying that perhaps some of the missing planes and ships had vanished down a kind of fourth-dimensional plughole! Soon after the publication of his article, Gaddis received a letter from a man called Gerald Hawkes, who told of his own experience in the Bermuda Triangle in 1952.
On a flight from Kennedy Airport to Bermuda, Hawkes’ plane suddenly dropped about two hundred feet. This was not a nose-dive, for Hawkes felt that ‘it was as if a giant hand was holding the plane and jerking it up and down’. He also experienced a complete radio blackout, which was uncharacteristic of an air pocket, if that was what it was. Hawkes concluded that he had somehow been caught in an area ‘where time and space seem to disappear’. Similar phenomena had been observed by students of UFOs, or flying saucers. The flying saucer enthusiasts produced the interesting notion that the surface of our earth has a number of strange ‘vortices’, whirlpools where gravity and extraterrestrial magnetism are inexplicably weaker than usual. If extra-terrestrial intelligences happened to know about these whirlpools, they might well find them ideal for collecting human specimens to be studied at leisure upon a distant planet…
One alternative to the rather outlandish theories of the UFO enthusiasts were the views of the students of the earth mysteries. They identified areas around the world where similar strange disappearances had occurred. There was, for example, another ‘Devil’s Triangle’ south of the Japanese island of Honshu, where ships and planes had vanished. When all of these areas were marked on a map, they appeared to be shaped like lozenges – lozenges that seemed to ring the globe in a neat symmetry, running in two rings, each between 30 and 40 degrees north and south of the equator. There were ten of these ‘funny places’, about 72 degrees apart, which corresponded closely to seismic disturbance areas. Therefore, in the opinion of students of the earth mysteries, if ‘whirlpools’ really caused the disappearance of ships and planes, then they were a perfectly normal physical (rather than metaphysical) phenomena.
Despite these attempts to explain away the Bermuda Triangle’s bizarre powers rationally, it was not long before it once again entered the realm of superstition. Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz (grandson of the man who founded the famous language schools) was published in 1971. It rocketed to the top of the bestseller lists, turning the mystery into a worldwide sensation in the process. One reason for its popularity was that Berlitz launched himself intrepidly into weird and wonderful regions of speculation about UFOs, space-time warps, alien intelligences, chariots of the gods and other such matters. The strangest of his speculations concerned the link between the Bermuda Triangle and the ‘Philadelphia experiment’. This experiment supposedly took place in Philadelphia in 1943, when the Navy was testing some new device whose purpose was to surround a ship with a powerful magnetic field. What has all of this to do with the Bermuda Triangle? Simply that the Philadelphia experiment was said to be an attempt to create a magnetic vortex (like those suggested by the students of the earth mysteries) and that this had the effect subsequently of involving planes and ships in a space-time warp that transported them hundreds of miles.
Understandably, this kind of thing roused sceptics to a fury, and there were suddenly a large number of articles, books and television programmes all devoted to debunking the idea of a ‘Devil’s Triangle’. These mostly took the common-sense approach that the disappearances were all due to natural causes, particularly to freak storms. In many cases it is difficult not to agree that this is indeed the most plausible explanation. But when we look at the long list of disappearances in the area, most of them not even yielding a body or a trace of wreckage, the explanation begins to sound thin. Could there be an alternative explanation which combines common sense with the boldness necessary to recognise that all the disappearances cannot be explained away quite so conveniently?