Where geometry is fate
The Bermuda Triangle has been three sides of trouble from the get-go. The first written record we have of human beings enter-ing this region of the Atlantic Ocean bounded roughly by modern-day Miami, Puerto Rico and Bermuda speaks of mysterious doings. In 1492, days before he landed in the New World, Christopher Columbus recorded in his log that as the Santa Marla passed through, its com-pass began gyrating wildly, a strange light appeared on the horizon and a bolt of fire fell from the sky. In the centuries since, sailors have recounted more tales of unexplainable, sinister happenings in the area. But mariners like to spin yarns, and their superstitions about the area seemed similar to many other sea fables—until Dec. 5,1945. On that day, Flight 19—a group of five Navy Avenger fighter-bombers—took off from the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station. During the routine three-hour training mission, the 14 aviators involved were to practice bombing and low-level strafing off the Florida coast. A few hours later, the mission commander, Lieut. Charles Taylor, radioed back that his compasses weren’t working and he was lost.
After several additional, increasingly garbled distress calls, nothing more was heard. Hours later, a Martin Mariner with 1; crewmen aboard, one of hundreds of aircraft launched to search for Flight 19, also vanished. No wreckage and no bodies were ever found. The mystery impressed a young officer who investigated it, Charles Berlitz. He researched similar incidents for decades, joined by E.V.W. Jones, an Associated Press reporter. In 1950, on a slow news day in September, Jones persuaded his editor to put a story on the wires detailing the mysteries surrounding this part of the ocean. It was the first time that a paranormal explanation was advanced for what had, until then, seemed like a series of tragic accidents. It was far from the last. In 1964, writer Vincent Gaddis coined the term “Bermuda Triangle” for an article in Argosy magazine. Ten years later, Berlitz pulled together all the research he had done since 1945 for a book with the same name; it became a huge best seller.
In the years since, explanations for the disappearances floated before a transfixed public have ranged from the standard (UFO abductions) to the absurd (our favorite: power generators still func-tioning in the sunken city of Atlantis are discharging energy rays). The idea that strange forces lurk in the Atlantic has never quite left the radar screen of our collective imaginations. Believers note that both the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard say the area is one of a handful of places in the world where compasses point to true, rather than magnetic, north—an anomaly that could lead to deadly confusion for ships and planes. Doubters, who prefer actuaries to anecdotes, note that the cold-eyed insurers at Lloyd’s of London declared in the late 199os,”The Bermuda Triangle does not exist … there are just as many losses as in other wide expanses of ocean.” One recent, compelling theory about the Triangle relates to little-understood gas compounds known as clathrates. Similar in appear-ance and chemical structure to ice, these large solids form when gas is released underwater at just the right temperature and pressure. In recent years, vast fields of methane clathrates have been discovered deep in the waters roughly corresponding to the Bermuda Triangle.
Although clathrates are usually stable, rising temperatures can cause them to dissolve, releasing the gas trapped inside, which then rises to the water’s surface. Geochemist Richard McIver theorizes that when clathrate deposits on the ocean floor beneath the Triangle dissolve, the water above fizzes like champagne as the gas is released. Ships passing overhead at that moment could sink, because the water supporting them becomes temporarily less dense. Even airplanes could be affected, as large rising bubbles of gas create turbulence, perhaps asphyxiating pilots—or bursting into flames on contact with hot engines. The Triangle continues to breed questions. One mystery seemed to have been dispelled in May 1991, when the wreckage of five Navy Avengers was found in 600 ft. of water, about io miles from Fort Lauderdale. But the mystery only deepened a few days later, when a check of identification numbers showed that these were not the planes of the missing Flight 19 —even though the Navy had no record of another group of five Avengers being lost in that area.