Those who grew up with popular culture of the 70s and 80s may very well regard the notorious Bermuda Triangle as a black hole, where ships and aircrafts mysteriously disappear without a trace. Fictional accounts of incidents in the area offer a variety of explanations, ranging from supernatural portals, remnants of Atlantis, and even alien abductions (popularized by Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Every once in a while, tabloid newspapers exalt the demystification of the Bermuda Triangle, heroically accomplished by yet another group of scientists. So, why is the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle regularly declared as “solved”, but with a different explanation every time? How does one determine the truth about a subject that is historically surrounded by superstition and fictional embellishments?
The Bermuda Triangle is roughly defined by lines drawn between three locations: Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. Besides (and perhaps, despite) being a region known for multiple high-profile ship and aircraft disappearances, the Triangle is a tremendously important transport route. One might be disappointed to find out that the reason for the high number of disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle is not that it is a magical area that swallows up its visitors – rather, it’s a function of simple statistics. The Bermuda Triangle has very busy sea and air traffic, and thus a lot of accidents occur in the area. John Reilly, a historian working for the U.S. Naval Historical Foundation, believes that the rate of disappearance in the Triangle is nothing unusual: “To say quite a few ships and airplanes have gone down there is like saying there are an awful lot of car accidents on the New Jersey Turnpike—surprise, surprise.”
Needless to say, disappearances occur everywhere, not just in the Triangle. A few high-profile disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle are often attributed to supernatural phenomena, despite having very plausible and realistic explanations. For example, the story of “Flight 19” may very well be the catalyst for the Bermuda Triangle’s quick rise to notoriety.
The story of “Flight 19” is as follows: Five planes departed from Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 5, 1945. The pilot of the leading plane, Lieutenant Charles Taylor, reported that both compasses on the plane malfunctioned shortly after takeoff. He then led the other four planes in the wrong direction, ultimately losing radio contact with towers on land. Wreckage of the five planes was never found. It is speculated that Taylor mistook The Bahamas below him for the Florida Keys, thus giving him the impression that both compasses malfunctioned at the same time. The planes eventually crashed into the ocean, after running out of fuel. A thorough investigation by the US Navy initially put the blame on human error by Lieutenant Taylor, but protests by Taylor’s family resulted in a final verdict of “causes or reasons unknown”. This conclusion, initially reached in order to appease the lead pilot’s family, opened itself up to speculation by those who sought out mysteries. In Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the disappearances of the five planes and the crew aboard were described as the consequence of alien abduction. Those who entertain this idea as “fact” need only to seek out other disasters in the Triangle for confirmation bias to establish in their minds that the Bermuda Triangle is exceptionally dangerous.
But if alien abductions are too implausible to be considered a realistic explanation, then where did the disappearing planes and vessels go? The answer can be nowhere other than the ocean. The ocean is a truly vast place – we are still very limited in our ability to find wreckages very deep on the ocean floor, especially if we do not know the precise location of the initial disaster.
Let’s make one thing very clear: the idea that the Bermuda Triangle is plagued by supernatural phenomena is a pure, absurd falsehood. The truth regarding the Bermuda Triangle can be uncovered by a figurative dive beneath the surface – the legend seems to exist purely for entertainment purposes, a modern-day myth fabricated to satiate our desire for unsolved mysteries. The planes of Flight 19, still believed by some to have disappeared due to supernatural phenomena, are lying somewhere on the ocean floor right at this moment; we simply do not know where they are precisely.
By Jim Chen
Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.