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How Did the Bermuda Triangle Myth Begin?

Abhijit Naik
Is the Bermuda Triangle in the North Atlantic Ocean really as mysterious as it is claimed to be? When we tried to trace the origin of the Bermuda Triangle mystery, we stumbled upon quite a few discrepancies which make it obvious that the alleged mystery is just a myth groomed by exceptional storytelling abilities of some self-proclaimed Triangle experts.
When we talk about urban legends, it is difficult to ignore the Bermuda Triangle (aka the Devil's Triangle), approximately 1.3 million sq mi area of the North Atlantic Ocean, notorious for the allegedly mysterious disappearances of ships and aircraft.
The Bermuda Triangle is a textbook example of how natural events can be given a hue of the supernatural, and turned into a full-fledged hoax―with a little creativity and a gullible audience at your disposal.
The myth of the Bermuda Triangle has come into existence over the course of the last few decades, and that is obvious because such myths seldom originate overnight; but instead gradually develop over the course of several years ... and sometimes centuries.

Bermuda Triangle: Beyond the Conspiracy Theories

Right from the disappearance of the 165m long USS Cyclops, which vanished without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle in March 1918, to the Flight 19 incident, wherein five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger bombers (and a Mariner aircraft) disappeared in December 1945, this region has some of the most unbelievable events to its credit.
But as they say, "if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't," a little bit of investigation and you realize that the so-called Bermuda Triangle mystery is nothing, but a box full of exaggerated claims.
The Flight 19 incident, for instance, turned out to be a simple case of human error, wherein the pilots lost the track of their position due to bad weather, kept circling over the ocean, and eventually went down when their fuel tanks became empty.
Similarly, if you note that the Mariner aircraft, which went as a part of the search and rescue operation, and eventually disappeared, was notorious for technical snags, you realize that its disappearance was not at all mysterious.
We don't really need to resort to some paranormal phenomenon or blame the aliens for these disappearances, when we have obvious reasons, like rough weather prevailing in the tropical waters (USS Cyclops incident) and human error (Flight 19 incident), at our disposal.
The number of actual disappearances in the Triangle is not at all surprising, if you take into consideration:
  • the size of the demarcated Bermuda Triangle area in the North Atlantic,
  • the fact that it lies in the tropical waters wherein rough weather, typically characterized by the presence of thunderstorms and water spouts, is not a rare phenomenon
  • the presence of the jet streams, easterlies and the Gulf stream in this region
  • the heavy flow of traffic that this region is subjected to. 
More importantly, these natural explanations also help us do away with the theories of methane hydrates and magnetic forces which sound scientific, but are actually baseless.

Origins of the Bermuda Triangle Myth

So how did the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon come into existence and, more importantly, how did it become so popular if there is nothing mysterious about it?
This so-called mystery began with a series of articles that were published in various newspapers and magazines in the 1950s, and was further fueled by several books and documentaries which followed throughout the 20th century into the 21st.
But obviously, the authors didn't make any attempt to investigate the incidents that they were speaking about. If they had done so, they would have known that the demarcated region of the North Atlantic Ocean was as dangerous as any other part of the Tropics.
So who were these people who contributed to the mystery.... or should we say the hoax of the Bermuda Triangle?
It is not possible to pinpoint one individual in particular with many people contributing to the rise of this myth. However, there do exist some people who had a major role to play in its rise. One such person was E. V. W. Jones, whose article titled 'Sea's Puzzles still Baffle Men in Pushbutton Age' put the Bermuda Triangle into the spotlight.
In this article, which was written for Associated Press (AP) and published in the Miami Herald on 17th September, 1950, Jones spoke about the mysterious region in the North Atlantic wherein ships and aircraft disappeared without leaving any trace.
To support his claim, he enlisted some accidents which occurred in this part of the Atlantic between 1945 and 1950, including the disappearance of five torpedo planes which took off from the Navy's Fort Lauderdale air station on 5th December, 1945 (Flight 19 incident), a British airliner (the Ariel), and a British plane (the Star Tiger).
In 1952, yet another article about the mysterious disappearances of vessels and aircraft in the North Atlantic appeared - this time in the October issue of the Fate magazine, a United States based magazine about paranormal phenomena.
In the article titled 'Sea Mystery at Our Back Door', author George X. Sand linked the absence of airplanes and ships to the supernatural, thus becoming the first person to put forth the concept of supernatural mysteries in the Bermuda Triangle and make it sound all the more mysterious.
It was this very article by Sand which introduced the world to the demarcated region between Florida, Puerto Rico, and the islands of Bermuda, which we know today as the 'Bermuda Triangle'.
While a few more articles giving brief accounts of disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle followed over the course of time, the alleged mystery once again shot to fame in 1962 with an article that was published in the American Legion Magazine.
The article, titled 'The Lost Patrol' by Allen W. Eckert, stressed on the Flight 19 incident i.e. the 1945 incident involving the five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger bombers wherein 14 people lost their lives. In his article, Eckert published what were believed to be the last words of the flight leader, wherein he said:
"We are entering white water, nothing seems right. We don't know where we are, the water is green, no white"

Alongside the disappearance of these five planes, Eckert also stressed on the disappearance of the Mariner aircraft which was sent as a part of the search and rescue mission.
All this information contributed to the popularity of the Devil's Triangle. Though neither Jones, nor Eckert, made any attempt to reveal that the five TBM Avenger bombers which disappeared were on a training mission or that the Mariner aircraft was notorious for technical snags it experienced frequently.
If they had, the Flight 19 incident would have been reduced to yet another aviation disaster, instead of the trademark Bermuda Triangle incident which features in virtually every write-up and documentary about the Triangle today. As with any other mystery, even the Bermuda Triangle mystery continued to sensationalize with time.

Contributions by Vincent Gaddis and Charles Berlitz

In February 1964, Argosy―a magazine of masterpiece fiction, published an article titled 'The Deadly Bermuda Triangle' which was written by Vincent Gaddis. In his article, Gaddis cited a pattern of strange events in this region. It was Vincent Gaddis who coined the phrase 'Bermuda Triangle'.
In 1965, Gaddis published his research on the Triangle in form of a book titled the 'Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea'. In this book, Gaddis enlisted nine separate accidents which occurred in this region, with extensive details about each of them.
While the 'Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea', written by Vincent Gaddis, was the first book on Bermuda Triangle, it was eventually followed by numerous other books, including the 'Limbo of the Lost' by John Wallace Spencer in 1969, 'The Devil's Triangle' and 'The Devil's Triangle 2' by Richard Winer in 1974 and 1975 respectively.
'Into the Bermuda Triangle: Pursuing the Truth Behind the World's Greatest Mystery' by Gian J. Quasar in 2003.
While all these books, and a documentary released in 1971, did contribute to the popularity of the Bermuda Triangle hoax, the credit for actually sensationalizing this hoax to an extent that the whole world took a note of it goes to Charles Berlitz.
It was Charles Berlitz's 1974 bestseller, 'The Bermuda Triangle', which gave this mystery a serious boost, such that instantaneously the whole world was aware of this place which gobbled gigantic ships and aircraft―even before the crew realized what was happening.
No other work on Bermuda Triangle was as sensational as that of Berlitz. Right from Christopher Columbus' log records, wherein Columbus speaks about unusual events he experienced, to the Flight 19 incident and other recent incidents.
Simply put, Berlitz's book had everything required to make Bermuda Triangle a worldwide sensation―which it actually did, but only until Larry Kusche came into the picture.

Critical Analysis by Larry Kusche

In 1975, the Bermuda Triangle once again shot to fame with the release of Larry Kusche's critical take on this mystery―'The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved'. Unlike the previous authors like Charles Berlitz and Vincent Gaddis, Larry left no stones unturned and investigated all the claims that were made by them.
"the legend of the Bermuda Triangle is a manufactured mystery, perpetuated by writers who either purposely or unknowingly made use of misconceptions, faulty reasoning, and sensationalism."
Larry noticed a 'strange' pattern wherein ships which never left the port, aircraft which never took off and accidents which happened in some other part of the Atlantic, found a place in these books about the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle.
Loopholes like Berlitz going to the extent of attributing the disappearance of Mary Celeste to the Devil's Triangle, when this ship never passed through the region, made it clear that there was nothing unusual about the Bermuda Triangle.
It may come as a surprise for many but the radio transmissions of Flight 19 leader, which have become an integral part of the sensational literature on the Bermuda triangle, are not even mentioned in the official reports of the Navy Board of Investigation.
The myth of the Bermuda Triangle became even more evident with the U.S. Navy refusing to identify any such region in the Atlantic, and oceanographers citing that accidents in this region were not at all rare as a result of weather conditions prevailing here.
Interestingly, the Bermuda Triangle is not the only place which is notorious for such disappearances of ships and aircraft. The Dragon's Triangle, off the coast of Japan, is also known for such mysterious disappearances of military vessels and aircraft.
While that may not be intriguing any more, the fact that even this region owes its popularity to none other than Charles Berlitz and his storytelling, surely is!