Bermuda Triangle: Behind the Intrigue

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
Updated December 15, 2003

On a sunny day 58 years ago, five Navy planes took off from their base in Florida on a routine training mission, known as Flight 19. Neither the planes nor the crew were ever seen again.

Thus was a legend born. The Bermuda Triangle is an area roughly bounded by Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. No one keeps statistics, but in the last century, numerous ships and planes have simply vanished without a trace within the imaginary triangle.

Unusual features of the area had been noted in the past. Christopher Columbus wrote in his log about bizarre compass bearings in the area. But the region didn't get its name until August 1964, when Vincent Gaddis coined the term Bermuda Triangle in a cover story for Argosy magazine about the disappearance of Flight 19. The article stimulated a virtual cottage industry in myth-making.

Many exotic theories have been propounded to explain what happened to the missing travelers.

The disappearances have been attributed to the machinations of enormous sea monsters, giant squid, or extra-terrestrials. Alien abductions, the existence of a mysterious third dimension created by unknown beings, and ocean flatulence—the ocean suddenly spewing great quantities of trapped methane—have all been suggested as culprits.

The reality, say many, is far more prosaic. They argue that a sometimes treacherous Mother Nature, human error, shoddy craftsmanship or design, and just plain bad luck can explain the many disappearances.

"The region is highly traveled and has been a busy crossroads since the early days of European exploration," said John Reilly, a historian with the U.S. Naval Historical Foundation. "To say quite a few ships and airplanes have gone down there is like saying there are an awful lot of car accidents on the New Jersey Turnpike—surprise, surprise."

Lieutenant A. L. Russell, in the U.S. Coast Guard's official response to Bermuda Triangle inquiries, writes: "It has been our experience that the combined forces of nature and the unpredictability of mankind outdo science-fiction stories many times each year."

Disappearance of Flight 19

The legend of the Bermuda Triangle will be forever tied to the fateful flight that took place on December 5, 1945.

Flight 19 originated at the U. S. Naval Air Station in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Five TBM Avenger Torpedo Bombers carrying 14 men took off at roughly 2:10 in the afternoon that day on a routine navigational training mission.

Led by instructor Lieutenant Charles Taylor, the assignment was to fly a three-legged triangular route with a few bombing practice runs over Hen and Chickens Shoals.

Continued on Next Page >>




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