DeFlip Side #127: Into the Bermuda Triangle

DeFlip Side #127: Into the Bermuda Triangle.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

And tonight, we sail into the Bermuda Triangle! Well actually, you won’t, but I will. Or rather I did, a couple of weeks ago. But nevertheless I’ve sailed into the Bermuda Triangle!

Now gather round and hear my bone-chilling tale…

The morning was sultry when I arrived at the pier in New Jersey. There my ship waited, huge, imposing, floating on the waves much the way a brick doesn’t. Celebrity was the name scrawled across her bow. Aye! A black omen for my ill-advised trip into the maw of the watery unknown. I climbed aboard with foreboding in my heart and my worst fears were soon confirmed when the deck steward plied me with not one mimosa, but two. And thus began my harrowing journey!

Listen, I don’t care what you’ve heard about the Bermuda Triangle. The place is a non-stop party. All the way to Bermuda and back, it was nothing but sun, swimming, snorkeling and kayaking. Oh, and drinking. Let’s not forget the drinking! Rum Swizzles trade hands with enough frequency to be Bermuda’s unofficial currency. But no ghost ships manifested off the port bow. No dimensional vortexes opened to swallow us into oblivion. And not one UFO buzzed by to say hello—though I did see some gnarly lightning storms over the Sargasso Sea.

So how did the Bermuda Triangle get such a nefarious reputation? Well let’s back up and define just what the Bermuda Triangle is, exactly.

The points of the Triangle are traditionally located at Miami to the West, Cuba to the South and Bermuda to the North, and the 400,000 square miles of the Atlantic encompassed within are purported to be the site of more unexplained ship and airplane disappearances than anywhere else in the world. But long before the Triangle was thus identified, that broader region of the Atlantic had a dark reputation for seafarers, due mainly to the unusual nature of the Sargasso Sea.

The Sargasso Sea is bordered by strong ocean drifts and currents, like the Gulf Stream. It’s a calm eye that lazily rotates at the center of these competing Atlantic flows. The area is so calm that it was known as the Doldrums and many ships—stranded windless for weeks—were eventually abandoned. So there’s no wonder that by the late 1890s a naval survey counted more than 1,600 derelict vessels making eerie, solitary circuits around the Sargasso’s perimeter. That’s a hell of a lot of ghost ships for superstitious sailors to avoid.

The intersection of the Bermuda Triangle and the Sargasso Sea looks like a Vulcan IDIC (IDIC inset top right)

But it’s important to note that the Bermuda Triangle lies mostly to the southwest of the Sargasso Sea, with only its topmost point jutting into the calm oval, like some giant Vulcan IDIC. And our modern fascination with this specific area didn’t begin until the mid-Twentieth Century.

The many disappearances of both ships and planes in the region was first noted in a 1950 news article. Another article in 1952 was the first to lay out the parameters of the Triangle and suggest that supernatural forces may be at work. Both stories focused heavily on two specific incidents that are probably most responsible for catapulting the Triangle to modern-day infamy.

The first was the disappearance of the USS Cyclops in March 1918. After delivering a load of ore to Rio de Janerio, the Cyclops started on its return voyage to Baltimore with 306 passengers aboard. But they never made it. The Cyclops vanished, and no wreckage has ever been found. To this day the disappearance of the Cyclops crew remains the single largest loss of life in US Naval History not involving combat.

The second incident was the disappearance of Flight 19 in December of 1945. Flight 19 was actually a squad of five Grumman Avengers conducting routine navigation and combat training exercises. Upon finishing their last bombing runs, the squad experienced navigational problems, with pilots reporting that they didn’t know where they were. Shortly after that, all contact was lost and the 14 airmen were never seen again. In an even stranger twist, one of the rescue planes that followed also vanished, with 13 people aboard.

The legend of these disappearances and others grew in the pulps, until the late 60s and early 70s saw a string of popular books that advanced every crackpot theory you’ve ever heard about the Bermuda Triangle—from alien abductions to dimensional gateways to technology from the sunken city of Atlantis. As a result, the Bermuda Triangle is now synonymous with the supernatural in the American consciousness. And Science Fiction has helped perpetuate this notion.

The Cyclops was featured in an episode of Quantum Leap; and when the aliens landed at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, they returned the abducted airmen of Flight 19. And that’s all well and good from an entertainment standpoint. But even as we write off these supernatural explanations as fiction, it doesn’t negate the fact that these are real people who have disappeared, seemingly without a trace. The question remains: what the hell happened to all of them?

As it turns out, many of these so-called mysterious disappearances actually had simple explanations once later researchers followed up on them. And others assert that the rate of disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle is no greater than anywhere else in the world, that the myth is largely a byproduct of sensationalism and yellow journalism.

But that just isn’t true, according to one current researcher. In his 2003 book, Into The Bermuda Triangle, author Gian Quasar claims that 75 airplanes and many dozens of boats have disappeared in the Triangle since 1990 alone. Quasar also claims to have compiled the largest private repository of reports and official maritime documents—some 350 cases—completely documenting disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. And what makes him stand apart from your garden-variety quack is that he has striven to separate the real-world phenomenon of the Bermuda Triangle from the hokey myths that have grown up around it. Here he is in a recent radio interview:

“There’s a lot of oddities in the area, and it’s hard to get people to understand that because the Triangle has been so maligned by debunkers since the 1970s because they come up with strawmen arguments… something supernatural or whatever. And I speak of nothing of the kind. I’m speaking of very tangible ships and aircraft with lots of people on board that exist in registers and we know they are gone. They have vanished. And they have vanished in circumstances that are not normal accidents.”

Lending him further credibility is the fact that he has also come up with an extremely plausible explanation about the fate of Flight 19 that has nothing to do with the Triangle, but which posits that the planes actually crashed in the vast Okefenokee Swamp on the Florida/Georgia border.

His speculation about the mystery of the Triangle? Something called electric fog—a rare natural phenomenon, a mist or cloud generated by electromagnetic disturbances that engulfs a ship or aircraft and travels with it. Think St. Elmo’s Fire on steroids. Electric fog can cause disorientation, equipment malfunctions and perhaps even time distortions.

Or so claims pilot Bruce Gernon, who says that one of these funnel shaped mists threw him into a vortex that caused him to travel a half hour and 100 miles forward in space and time in the course of three minutes. Charles Lindburg also reported a strange magnetic fog that inexplicably messed with his instruments over the Florida Straights. And why would Lucky Lindy lie?

Okay, I admit—this whole electric fog thing sounds like we’re veering right back into crazytown. But as far-fetched and Science Fictiony as it sounds, at least it’s a stab at a finding a natural explanation to the legitimate mystery of the Bermuda Triangle without falling back on mystical Atlantians or little green men.

In any event, I’ll leave those striving for a credible answer to grasp at their own straws. I’m using all mine to suck down Rum Swizzles.

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The quote from Gian Quasar used in this episode is courtesy of Just Energy Radio, hosted by Dr. Rita Louise. Many thanks to Dr. Louise for her comprehensive interview.

Visit Just Energy Radio, and listen to the full interview below.