The Bermuda Triangle, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has become a symbol of mystery and intrigue in pop culture.
It's often spoken of in hushed whispers by backwater conspiracy theorists who are convinced that it's a devilish portal to hell.
Over 900 deaths have been attributed to it, as well as the disappearances of over 70 ships and aircraft in the last 70 years. But according to modern science, the Triangle is no more deadly than any other location at sea.
The Bermuda Triangle is a 1,300,000 to 3,900,000 square kilometre stretch of ocean that lies between Florida and Puerto Rico. The Triangle is surrounded by myths, thanks to its reinterpretation in pop culture as a deadly and haunted location.
According to popular theories, the first recorded mention of the Bermuda Triangle's mysterious, ship-sinking ways, came about in a 1950s edition of the Miami Herald. Writer E. V. W. Jones penned a dramatic thinkpiece about a location south of Bermuda that had allegedly swallowed several ships:
"It's a small world? No, it's still the same vast globe the ancients knew, with the same misty limbo of the lost.
We think it is small because of speeding wheels and wings and the voice of radio which comes out of the void. A mile is only a minute's travel by wheel or a few seconds flight — but it is still a mile.
The miles add up to a vast unknown into which a hundred and more persons have flown or sailed within brief memory, to be swallowed up just as ships were swallowed in the old sailing days."
Jones goes on to detail several disappearances associated with the location, including sailing vessel The Sandra - a 100-metre-long freighter which sailed from Miami to Savannah with around 300 tonnes of insecticide, and disappeared soon after. Five torpedo planes, two planes and "135 persons who went forth confidently into a world they thought small" are mentioned specifically as being swallowed by the un-named location near Bermuda.
The article, archived on the web, is also accompanied by the below diagram, which marks out the locations and pattern of the disappearances, in a rather familiar triangle shape.
Two years later, another article, "Sea Mystery At Our Door" by Fate journalist George X. Sands furthered the myth of the Bermuda triangle with detailed descriptions of missing ships and speculation about how the mysterious disappearances could have occurred.
"How could five bombers, each with its own crew and radio facilities, disappear from the face of the earth without even flashing a single message of explanation? It was hardly logical to assume that the planes had collided in mid-air, killing all the crew members simultaneously," Sands wrote.
His doubt over the events, as well as his belief that the events were somehow freakish or decidedly uncommon contributed to the supernatural myth surrounding the Bermuda Triangle — a myth that was reinforced by several other articles throughout the 1960s and 1970s in pulp magazines like America's Argosy. These stories were also adapted into several novels during this time, including works by John Wallace Spencer, Vincent H. Gaddis, Richard Winer and Charles Berlitz, all of which helped to spread the myth.
It's worth mentioning that while all origins of the Bermuda Triangle myth point towards the initial Miami Herald report (which has been substantiated by historical records of missing and destroyed ships) subsequent adaptations and interpretations contain information that hasn't been verified, so the myth around the location has become increasingly muddy. Some of the disappearances that have been verified can be found here, but others remain the stuff of myths and legend.
But the story doesn't end there. While the 1970s and 1980s were a growth period for rampant rumours and speculation about the Bermuda Triangle because of its increasing fictionalisation in pop culture, reassessing it from the lens of modern science and rational explanation led to some compelling reasons for the documented disappearances. Importantly, these disappearances are ongoing, with at least five planes on average still going missing from the Bermuda Triangle per year.
Australia's own Dr Karl Kruszelnicki told news.com.au in 2017 that he believed he'd solved this exact mystery. Kruszelnicki believes that disappearances in the Triangle come about because of a combination of human error, and the naturally dangerous task of navigating oceanic waters.
“According to Lloyds of London and the US coast guard, the number of planes that go missing in the Bermuda Triangle is the same as anywhere in the world on a percentage basis,” Kruszelnicki told news.com.au. This is an important point, as the Bermuda Triangle is one of the highest traffic shipping regions in the world. It's said to cover over 3,900,000,00 square kilometres of ocean, and vessels from all over the world use it as a passage to the U.S. The reason for the high number of disappearances is purely statistical and logical, according to this theory.
When Gizmodo Australia contacted Kruszelnicki, he provided further details via e-mail. "There is a lot of sea and air traffic in the Bermuda Triangle, because it’s warm and near the USA. The ocean is up to 8 km deep, so if a ship or plane goes down, the chances of finding it are very small. So a relatively large number of ships/planes have gone missing," Kruszelnicki explained. "But compared to the traffic, the percentage of ships/planes that have gone missing is roughly the same as anywhere else in the world."
In 2018, another theory surfaced, via documentary series The Bermuda Triangle Enigma, where scientists addressed the theory of the Triangle creating "rogue waves" that sent ships astray.
Run by scientists from the University of Southampton, this theory was tested via large scale machine that re-created the theorised monster waves. Dr Simon Boxall explained to news.com.au that these rogue waves were likely caused by the meeting of three storm surges in the vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle, creating deadly conditions. While this is the latest theory, it's sure not to be the last.
When we asked Dr Karl Kruszelnicki if the popular 'alien origin' theory had any legs to stand on, despite his own (more scientific) explanation, he was happy to entertain the idea. "Thanks to Quantum Mechanics, you cannot be 100% sure of anything," Kruszelnicki explained via email. "But the chances of Alien Involvement in the Bermuda Triangle is roughly equal to your chances of being kicked to death by a duckling." So, rather unlikely, we'd suppose!
While the disappearances at the heart of the Bermuda Triangle continue to occur, and despite some solid scientific theories, there will probably always be speculation about the nature of the region and exactly why it's such a magnet for death and destruction. A combination of interest in Hollywood's B-grade movies and the increasing pop culture-fiction of the Bermuda Triangle through media like Charles Berlitz's The Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle novel (as well as "sub-optimal levels of Critical Thinking Ability", as Kruszelnicki puts it) will only grow the myth long into the future.
Dr Karl’s Random Road Trip Through Science, a new AR-compatible book from Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is available now.
This article has been updated since its original publication.