The strange truth about the Bermuda Triangle

It stretches from Bermuda to Puerto Rico to Florida, and it has supposedly swallowed up over 1,000 ships and planes since the 1600s.  Some call it the Devil's Triangle, but it's better known as the Bermuda Triangle. Whether or not you'll find Satan swimming around these waters, well, that's up for debate, but there's no denying this region is full of mystery and lore. But what's the truth behind this body of water, and why do so many people seem to go in but never come out? Well, if you want to solve one of the world's greatest mysteries, then throw on your life jacket as we sail into the strange history of the Bermuda Triangle.

What's the origin of the Bermuda Triangle?

These days, pretty much everyone's heard of the Bermuda Triangle, but when did people start realizing something weird might be happening in the Atlantic? Well, according to The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the first writer to cover this otherworldly region was reporter E.V.W. Jones, who published an article in 1950 detailing all the ships and planes that had disappeared off the Florida coast. For example, he wrote about the Sandra, a 350-foot freighter carrying sailors that disappeared on its way to Venezuela. He also mentioned the 32 passengers who "happily boarded a plane at San Juan, Puerto Rico and flew 1,000 miles toward Miami," unlucky souls who never arrived at their destination.

As for the actual term "Bermuda Triangle," the name first appeared in 1964, when writer Vincent Gaddis published a story called "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle" in the men's fiction rag Argosy Magazine. Still, this real-life Twilight Zone didn't hit the big time until 1974, when Charles Berlitz published a book titled simply The Bermuda Triangle. This 1974 paperback became a bestseller, cementing the Triangle in the public consciousness. And sure, as Live Science points out, Berlitz had some rather unusual ideas about this legendary hot spot, claiming it was somehow linked to the lost city of Atlantis. But hey, this was the '70s. People ate this stuff up, and soon, the Bermuda Triangle had entered into the pantheon of the world's most mysterious places, alongside Roswell and the Grassy Knoll.

The disappearance of the USS Cyclops

In March 1918, the USS Cyclops was carrying around 10,000 tons of manganese ore from Brazil to Baltimore when things took an eerie turn around Barbados. After leaving the Caribbean island on March 4, the ship was never seen again. Despite an extensive search, the US Navy never found a single scrap of metal or any of the 309 people on board.

Some people thought maybe an octopus pulled the Cyclops into the sea. According to Time, a mutiny may have contributed to the ship's disappearance. Evidently, the Cyclops crew had tried to rebel before, as Lt. Commander George Worley was allegedly prone to drinking, walking on deck in his underwear, and chasing after people with a firearm in hand. Did crew try to depose captain? Even if they did, that wouldn't explain where the Cyclops went or why no one sent a distress signal.

But Marvin W. Barrash, author of U.S.S. Cyclops, says the ship suffered from serious engine trouble and wasn't able to move as fast as usual. This was also the first time Cyclops had transferred manganese, which is pretty heavy stuff. Barrash suggests the ship was struck by a powerful storm. It's easy to see how the Cyclops might've capsized or broken apart before sinking down into the depths of the Puerto Rico Trench.

Of course, that's just speculation. As President Woodrow Wilson put it, "Only God and the sea know what happened to the great ship." And possibly whatever dragged it under the water.

The mystery of Flight 19

On December 5, 1945, five Grumman TBM Avengers left Fort Lauderdale for a three-hour exercise. Led by Lt. Charles Taylor, these torpedo bombers (carrying 14 men) were headed into the Atlantic, flying along a triangular path and dropping practice bombs along the way. At first, everything was going smoothly, until the patrol passed over Grand Bahama Island. Suddenly, Taylor thought he was on the other side of Florida, flying through the Gulf of Mexico over the Florida Keys. Disoriented, Taylor began breaking protocol. Instead of heading west like he was trained to do when lost (which would've taken him to land), he took his men further and further northeast, out into the Atlantic, until they vanished for good. Why? Well…

Aliens? Or just low on gas?

Some have suggested perhaps Flight 19 was abducted by aliens a la Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But the truth is that the crew probably ditched their planes after running out of gas. Tragically, none of the 14 men were ever seen again, and the bombers were lost at sea. Making things even more mysterious, a PBM Mariner flying boat sent to find the "Lost Patrol" disappeared as well. None of the 13 men aboard — or the craft itself — were ever discovered.

As to how Taylor got so confused, nobody really knows. However, according to Brian Dunning of Skeptoid, Taylor had actually ditched two planes in the past after losing his bearings. Still, that doesn't explain why he refused to switch over to his rescue radio frequency which would've helped him find his way back to the shore, and it doesn't explain why he ignored his crew when they encouraged him to fly west. When discussing Taylor's actions that day, the Navy Board of Investigation famously said, "We are not able to even make a good guess as to what happened."

So many passenger planes

On January 30, 1948, an Avro Tudor IV aircraft called the Star Tiger was headed to Bermuda from the Azores. Owned by the British South American Airways (BSAA), this plane never made it to its destination, disappearing without a trace and claiming the lives of 31 people. Making things even more mysterious, the authorities investigating walked away dumbfounded, saying, "What happened in this case will never be known, and the fate of Star Tiger must remain an unsolved mystery."

Several months later, on December 28, DC-3 Flight NC16002 left San Juan for Florida. About six hours into the flight, Captain Robert Lindquist radioed the Miami tower, saying he was 50 miles away. But as you might've guessed, the plane didn't show up, and nobody ever saw DC-3 Flight NC16002 and its 32 occupants ever again. Then, just a few days afterward, on January 17, 1949, another Avro Tudor IV aircraft operated by the BSAA — the Star Ariel — winked out of existence along with the 20 people aboard. So why did these three aircraft disappear?

Where have all the passengers gone?

Well, according to Tom Mangold of BBC, the Star Tiger was suffering from a broken heater, so to keep the plane warm, the pilot decided to fly at 2,000 feet. Unfortunately, this — coupled with strong headwinds — would have caused the plane to lose a lot of fuel, and chances are good the Star Tiger simply ran out of gas. Since it was flying so low, the pilot was probably unable to save the plane or call for help in time. And as Mangold points out, the Star Ariel possibly met a similar fate, as the heaters in Avro Tudor IV planes were notoriously unreliable. The reporter theorizes the heater might've sparked a fire, and without any sort of alarm system or automatic fire extinguisher in place, the crew wouldn't have realized they were in trouble it until it was far too late.

As for DC-3 Flight NC16002, Damien Rollins of The Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle notes the plane was in bad shape before it took off, suffering from electrical problems that could've messed up both its compass and radio. So Captain Lindquist wouldn't have gotten the message from air traffic control that the winds had changed, and it's possible the plane was pushed at least 50 miles off course without the captain realizing it. In other words, when he radioed in with his position just off the Miami coast, it's likely he was actually further away than he thought. Then, similar to the Star Tiger, the plane probably ran out of gas and crashed into the sea, where it was devoured by the Atlantic.

The May 2017 disappearance

Unfortunately, the Bermuda Triangle returned to the news pretty recently when a twin engine MU-2B aircraft (similar to the one pictured above) went missing on May 15, 2017. The plane was being piloted by Nathan Ulrich, founder of a scooter company called Xootr, and it was carrying Jennifer Blumin, CEO of Skylight Group (an organization providing event space for the fashion industry), plus her young sons, ages three and four. The group had been vacationing in Puerto Rico, but on their return to Florida, the plane lost contact with Miami Traffic Control, going silent three hours after takeoff.

Soon, teams went out to search for the missing plane. Shortly afterward, debris from a MU-2B aircraft turned up a few miles east of Eleuthera, Bahamas. Sadly, none of the people aboard the plane were discovered, and the Coast Guard called off the search on May 19. There's still no word on how the plane went down, although the Coast Guard says there isn't any evidence of bad weather. However, by all accounts, Nathan Ulrich was an "excellent pilot" who flew planes in the Coast Guard Auxiliary from 2005 to 2014. While there aren't a lot of answers, it seems the craft probably suffered some sort of mechanical failure as it flew over the Bermuda Triangle, becoming yet another disaster in a long-line of maritime tragedies.

The methane gas theory

Researchers across the globe have long tried to solve the riddle of the Bermuda Triangle. Naturally, some theories are a bit outlandish, but one that doesn't sound completely insane involves a whole lot of bubbles.

According to Russian scientists like Igor Yeltsov, deputy head of the Trofimuk Institute of Petroleum-Gas Geology and Geophysics, it's possible there's solidified methane gas under the Bermuda Triangle. Thanks to the ocean's pressure, the methane deposits have turned into an ice-like substance known as gas hydrates. If this stuff starts decomposing and falling apart, it can create gas bubbles that rise to the surface. In turn, the bubbles could possibly capsize a ship. As Yeltsov explained to The Siberian Times, all this gas "makes the ocean heat up, and ships sink in waters which are infused with huge amounts of gas. This leads to the air becoming supersaturated with methane, creating an extremely turbulent atmosphere, leading to aircraft crashes."

As proof, researchers point to giant craters discovered in Siberia and the Barents Sea, claiming these massive holes were created by methane gas explosions. And according to a 2003 study in the American Journal of Physics, methane gas bubbles could possibly cause a ship to lose its buoyancy and start drifting towards Davy Jones' locker. However, this isn't a widely accepted theory, and some scientists say bubbles from methane hydrates would actually cause a boat to rise, not sink. When it comes to hard proof, it looks like the methane theory is running out of gas.

Rogue waves and microbursts

Some scientists have wondered if massive waves in the Bermuda Triangle sometimes tip ships over, washing boats into oblivion. Really, it's not a crazy theory, and it has the support of several scientists who point to the Gulf Stream as the cause of these devastating rogue waves.

National Geographic has described the Gulf Stream as a "river within the ocean," about 50 miles wide as it winds its way through the Atlantic. According to David Feit of NOAA's Marine Prediction Center, this fast-moving, warm current could possibly create "unexpectedly high waves." He theorized that, "If wave heights are eight feet outside of the Gulf Stream, they could be two or even three times higher within it." Some other scientists have concurred.

However, there's another theory about what might cause these aquatic disturbances. In April 2016, the Science Channel claimed that microbursts — powerful downdrafts — could destroy planes, flip ships, or create devastating waves. Of course, it's important to note that while presenting its case, the Science Channel misrepresented the claims of several scientists (according to Snopes), making it seem like they were claiming microbursts were definitely responsible for Bermuda Triangle disappearances, when it reality, they were just throwing it out there as a possibility while commenting on a natural phenomenon that occurs around the world.

The crazy compass theory

If you're familiar with the Bermuda Triangle, then you've heard about the compasses. It seems every time somebody tries to sail across this mysterious body of water, the instruments in their ships go haywire, and their compasses forget all about the laws of nature. As a result, many pilots and captains have allegedly vanished into the nothingness, all thanks to a little needle that can't get its act together.

So what's up with this compass craziness? Many people believe the Triangle is one of the few places in the world where a compass points to true north as opposed to magnetic north. In turn, this anomaly sends sailors into a tizzy, leading to wrecked ships and lost lives. Well, that's what a lot of people claim, anyway. 

As it turns out, when it comes to compasses, the Bermuda Triangle isn't weirder than any other place in the world. According to Benjamin Radford of the Skeptical Inquirer, the US Navy once declared these compass claims inaccurate, saying it hasn't really been happening like that since the nineteenth century. The US Coast Guard has made a similar statement, saying, "Although the world's magnetic fields are in constant flux, the 'Bermuda Triangle' has remained relatively undisturbed. It is true some exceptional magnetic values have been reported within the Triangle, but none to make the Triangle more unusual than any other place on Earth." In other words, this is just one of those facts that Bermuda Triangle researchers get wrong … or it's all part of a military cover-up, right?

Tornadoes, Atlantis, and time portals

For every semi-scientific theory about the Bermuda Triangle, there are five that sound absolutely nuts. Take Ed Snedeker's tornado theory, for example. According to this psychic, the region is full of invisible tornadoes, zipping back and forth, and sucking up everything in their path. 

Others claim that underneath the Triangle's eerie waters, you'll find the lost city of Atlantis. And down in that city, there are powerful crystals once used to harness energy by the ancient Atlanteans. Unfortunately, the crystals destroyed the city, and now they're zapping ships and planes with energy waves, causing lots of modern-day destruction.

Other theories suggest the Bermuda Triangle acts like a doorway into new dimensions. Some say the area opens up into the pits of Hell, but according to Ivan T. Sanderson, the Triangle is one of 12 spots around the world known as "vile vortices." Other sites include the North Pole and the Devil's Sea. As Sanderson explains, these vortices act as portals into other worlds. Bruce Gernon, on the other hand, claims these wormholes will actually send you through time.

According to Gernon, he was once flying from Bimini to Florida when he found himself in a "strange cloud with almost perfectly round edges." Once he entered this "electronic fog," he realized he was inside a tunnel that was spinning counterclockwise. And when he came out the other side, Gernon determined he was right by Miami, only he'd gotten there 30 minutes sooner than he should have. As you've probably guessed, scientists don't really give folks like Gernon, Snedeker, or Sanderson a lot of attention. The truth behind the Triangle is far less exciting than any of these wacky conspiracy theories.

The truth about the Triangle

While it's fun to discuss wormholes and microbursts, the real explanation for the Bermuda Triangle is much more shocking. So what's the truth behind the most mysterious region on Earth? Well, as it turns out, the Bermuda Triangle doesn't actually exist.

That's right. The Bermuda Triangle was an idea invented and propagated by writers like E.V.W. Jones, Vincent Gaddis, and Charles Berlitz. In other words, it's what debunker Larry Kusche calls a "manufactured mystery." There's no denying that planes and ships have gone missing in this area, but as pointed out by Skeptoid's Brian Dunning, the disappearance rates inside the Triangle are on par with any other spot in the world frequented by so much traffic. And as far as unexplained phenomena go, the Triangle doesn't have any more out-of-the-ordinary occurrences than similar spots around the globe.

Need more convincing? Well, if you visit the Coast Guard's official site, you'll find a little blurb that reads, "In a review of many aircraft and vessel losses in the area over the years, there has been nothing discovered that would indicate that casualties were the result of anything other than physical causes." In fact, the site goes so far as to say that, "The Coast Guard does not recognize the existence of the so-called Bermuda Triangle."

Really, it all boils down to one simple fact. The Bermuda Triangle isn't any creepier than anywhere else in the world…it just has a really good PR team.