By Patrick Mondout
Geographically, the Bermuda Triangle is the area triangulated by
southern Florida, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico in the Atlantic Ocean. In pop
culture terms, the Bermuda Triangle is the area where you hope your boss
attempts to try out his new single-engine airplane. That is, the Bermuda
Triangle is infamous as an area where many ships and planes have
"disappeared" without a trace. The same crowd that would have
you believe an alien spacecraft crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico in
1947 have their own theories for the disappearances which range from time
warps to alien abductions to supernatural powers. Most of them are also
trying to cash in on their theories. In the Super70s, many of them did.
Were did all this madness begin? It starts with the
"mysterious" disappearance of Flight 19. In the afternoon of
December 5, 1945, a group of five Navy bombers, led by Lieutenant Charles
Taylor, sets out on a training mission from the Naval Air Station at Ft.
Lauderdale, Florida. At about 4:00 p.m., or almost two hours after
takeoff, radio contact was lost with the Avenger bombers and they were
never heard from again. A search plane was sent to find the wreckage but
also mysteriously disappeared. That's six planes and 27 men missing
without a trace. Upon further review, it turns out that mysterious
disappearances in this area date back hundreds of years. In fact,
Christopher Columbus had problems with his compasses when he went through
this area. Must be aliens or supernatural forces at work, right?
Pseudo-Science to the Rescue!
Nature does not like a vacuum. And the vacuum of explanations
surrounding Flight 19 and other disappearances was filled with books,
magazine articles, and television documentaries in the Super70s. A book
titled "The Bermuda Triangle" appeared in 1974 which claimed the
disappearances were the result of supernatural forces. Later that year, an
"expert" in a TV documentary claimed that the planes were still
there but were locked into place by a force created by a UFO.
Still others claimed it was the work of Satan. Theories from Edgar Cayce
would have been conspicuous by their absence in a field like this.
Fortunately, the Mystic Mr. Cayce did not disappoint. Cayce claimed the
long-lost city of Atlantis was located within the Bermuda Triangle and
that energy beams from powerful crystals within Atlantis caused problems
the navigational systems of the missing ships and planes. As Carl Sagan
used to sarcastically say, "perhaps."
The Truth is Out There
It turns out that the last radio transmission from the planes of Flight
19 mentioned trouble with the navigational equipment and that they were
lost. That the trainer and his four trainees could get lost due to faulty
navigational equipment in stormy weather should surprise no one. That the
planes, which were off course and potentially lost in the 30,000 ft deep
Puerto Rican Trench (the deepest part of the Atlantic Ocean) were never
found in the 200,000 square mile search area should also not come as a
surprise. It also turns out that the search plane, a Mariner - which
had the nickname "The Flying Gas Tank" because of its tendency
to explode during flight - crashed not long after takeoff and never made
it anywhere near the Bermuda Triangle. The Navy grounded all other
Mariners shortly thereafter.
As to the question of the navigational equipment failure, the Bermuda
Triangle area is one of the two places on earth where a magnetic compass
points towards true north (instead of toward magnetic north).
"Compass variation" is the difference between the two and the
amount of variation changes by as much as 20 degrees as one
circumnavigates the earth. If the crew fails to compensate for compass
variation, they will end up far off course and in deep trouble (and
possibly deep water). In case you are wondering, the other place on earth
where magnetic compasses point towards true north is off the east coast of
Japan. This area is called the "Devil's Sea" by Filipino and
Japanese seamen and is also known for its mysterious disappearances.
The true believers will tell you that more than 20 airplanes and 40
ships have been lost in this area. Those figures are truly
remarkable. Remarkably low, in fact, when you consider that they Coast
Guard responded to over 8,000 distress signals from that area during 1973
alone! If you cast the story just right in a TV documentary, play
the right spooky music, and show WWII bombers disappearing into the fog,
you can convince millions of innocent coach potatoes just about anything.
Such documentaries and their literary equivalents were not in short supply
during the Superstitious Super70s.