The Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle
By Sandrine Ceurstemont
Over the past century, hundreds of ships and planes have gone missing in a mysterious stretch of water in the Atlantic Ocean called the Bermuda Triangle. Is there a scientific explanation for these disappearances?
Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda are prime holiday destinations boasting sun, beaches and coral seas. But between these idyllic settings, there is a dark side: countless ships and planes have mysteriously gone missing in the one and a half million square miles of ocean separating them. About 60 years ago, the area was claiming about five planes every day and was nicknamed the Bermuda Triangle by a magazine in 1964. Today, about that many planes disappear in the region each year and there are a number of theories explaining what could be happening.
The Bermuda Triangle, a stretch of water between Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Florida, has been the site of many plane and ship disappearances.
Twins George and David Rothschild are among the first passengers to have experienced bizarre effects in the Bermuda Triangle. In 1952, when they were 19 years old, the two naval men had to make an emergency trip home on a navy light aircraft, north over the Florida Keys, to attend their father’s funeral. “We had been flying for probably 20 or 30 minutes when all of a sudden the pilot yelled out that the instruments were dead and he became very frantic,” says George Rothschild. He had lost his bearings, and not only did he not know where he was, he also had no idea how much gas was left in the fuel tanks. After what seemed like hours, they landed safely in Norfolk, on the Florida coast.
Some speculate that it had nothing to do with the location, but rather the instruments that were available at the time. Pilot Robert Grant says that back in the 1940s, navigating a plane involved a lot of guesswork since they relied completely on a magnetic compass to guide them. “Dead reckoning” was used, which means that pilots would trust their compass and then estimate how the wind would influence their planned flight path to remain on track. “No matter what your mind tells you, you must stay on that course,” says Grant. “If you don’t, and you start turning to wherever you think you should be going, then you’re toast.”
The landscape of the island of Bermuda is quite unique: it is a remote coral reef precariously perched on a massive extinct volcano. Fisherman Sloan Wakefield, who knows the waters of the Bermuda Triangle very well, thinks that the weather could be responsible for some of the disappearances. “Because the island is a dot in the Atlantic Ocean, it gets weather from everywhere and it can change in a heartbeat. One minute, you can be looking at good weather, and the next moment you’ve got a low front coming through,” he says. He has already seen 15 to 20 foot (4.6m to 6m) waves on the sea.
An image of Tropical Storm Harvey, which hit Bermuda in August 2005.
Hurricanes are common in the Bermuda Triangle area. In the Atlantic Ocean, they typically originate off the African coast and thrive off the moisture of the warm, tropical waters. Hurricane records from the past 100 years have shown that they often head west for the United States but swerve into the waters of the Bermuda Triangle at the last minute. Jim Lushine, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Centre in Miami, Florida studies the weather in the Bermuda Triangle and says that there are more hurricanes in that particular area than in any other in the Atlantic basin.
But thunderstorms in the area can be just as dangerous. In 1986, a historic ship called the Pride of Baltimore vanished from radar screens while it was in the Bermuda Triangle, making a trip from the Caribbean to Baltimore. About four and a half days later, the wreckage and eight survivors were found and they revealed that the ship had been hit by a microburst: 80 mile per hour winds emanating from a freak thunderstorm. It happened so quickly that the crew didn’t have time to make a distress call. “The ship was sunk in the downburst, unfortunately with a great loss of life,” says Lushine. “Similar downbursts are probably responsible for some of the sunken ships in the Bermuda Triangle.”
Even more unpredictable than thunderstorms are waterspouts. These can be caused by tornadoes that move out to sea or rotating columns of air that drop from thunderstorms, creating a vortex of spray. When the moisture condenses, it forms a twisting column that connects the sea to the clouds. Jim Edds, an amateur fisherman who chases and films waterspouts for fun, says that if you are out at night and a tornado-like waterspout develops – the really big, strong ones with high velocity – it can flip your vessel over.
Seismic activity at the bottom of the ocean can also be an explanation for disappearing ships. Scientists have discovered that huge bubbles of methane gas can violently erupt without warning from the ocean floor and at least one oil rig is thought to have sunk because of this phenomenon. Ralph Richardson, the director of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, claims that a large pocket of gas could surround a ship, causing it to lose buoyancy and disappear without warning.
At the U.S. Navy’s research centre in California, Bruce Denardo, an expert in fluid dynamics, has proved that bubbles from methane gas eruptions could be responsible for vanishing ships in the open ocean. Water pressure causes objects to float, and the deeper the water, the greater the pressure exerted to keep the object floating at the surface. If bubbles from methane are introduced, they lower the density of the water. They take up space, but the volume of water stays the same, causing the buoyant force to decrease. In an experiment with a ball in water, Denardo can demonstrate that the ball sinks deeper and deeper down in water as the amount of bubbles increases, until it reaches a critical point where it sinks completely. “If a ship were to take on enough water, it would sink to the bottom and stay there,” says Denardo.
Credit: Les Bossinas, NASA
An artist’s representation of a spaceship entering a wormhole.
A mysterious time warp?
Others have more far out explanations for the Bermuda Triangle disappearances. Property developer Bruce Gernon claims that on December 4th 1970, when he flew from the island of Andross in the Bahamas to Florida, he experienced a distortion in space time. He had made the same trip on many occasions, but he claims that his journey that day was much faster than usual. “I noticed a huge U-shaped opening in the clouds, but as I approached it, the top of the opening closed and it became a horizontal tunnel that appeared to be 10 to 15 miles long,” he says. “When the aircraft entered the tunnel, some lines, which I call time lines, appeared which were rotating counter-clockwise. It was difficult to keep it level and concentrate on the other end of the tunnel which was aiming directly for Miami.”
Gernon claims that when he came out of the tunnel, it closed fast behind him and he was surrounded by a strange fog. His instruments had stopped working and Air Traffic Control had no radar trace of his plane until they realized that it was actually over Miami beach. Given the time they had been flying, they should still have been about 45 minutes away from Miami. After researching what could have happened, Genon is now writing a book about his experience. “I have come to the conclusion that we experienced a space time warp of a hundred miles in thirty minutes,” he says.
Is this scientifically feasible? About 80 years ago, Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity which claimed that huge spinning objects could distort space and time in their surroundings. Although NASA researchers have now found signs that black holes and neutron stars appear to warp space time, it is still a far cry from concepts introduced by science fiction like wormholes, or tunnels in space time that provide travellers with an express route between different dimensions and great distances.
Explanations for the vanishings in the Bermuda Triangle are all still theories. But especially for people who have witnessed bizarre events in this area, there is a strong desire to find some answers. One author, Gian Quasar, has been investigating every single plane and ship disappearance in the Bermuda Triangle and has listed every case on a massive internet database at http://www.bermuda-triangle.org/. With initiatives like this and further research, perhaps the mystery will come to a conclusion.