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Definition: Bermuda Triangle from Merriam-Webster's Geographical Dictionary

Triangular area in North Atlantic Ocean bet. Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico; site of numerous reported disappearances of planes and ships.


Summary Article: Bermuda Triangle from Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained

An area in the Atlantic where ships and aircraft are alleged to have disappeared.

In the 20th century a belief arose that the roughly triangular area of the Atlantic bounded by Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico was a region in which ships and aircraft mysteriously vanished. Central to this legend was the unexplained disappearance of Flight 19 in this area on 5 December 1945. Later known as the ‘Lost Patrol’, Flight 19 consisted of five US Navy bombers and their 14 crew who set off on a training flight from the airbase at Fort Lauderdale but failed to return. The name Bermuda Triangle was first applied to the area in an article in Argosy, a magazine specializing in fiction, in a 1964 article by Vincent Gaddis (‘The Deadly Bermuda Triangle’). However, it was not until the publication in 1974 of The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz (1914–2003) that the term became very widely known. In his book, Berlitz recounted not only the Flight 19 case but many other strange disappearances of ships and aircraft.

In 1975 a sceptical reply to Berlitz was published by Lawrence Kusche, The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved, in which the author claimed that many of the cases cited by Berlitz were inaccurately reported. Some described incidents that had taken place in areas other than the Bermuda Triangle; some turned out to have explanations and outcomes that Berlitz chose to ignore; some ‘incidents’ had simply not happened at all. However, the idea was too deeply rooted in the popular imagination to be so easily discounted and various explanations were suggested, including alien abduction, freak waves and giant bubbles of methane gas rising from the ocean floor to sink ships and disable aircraft instruments. Several Hollywood movies were made, notably The Bermuda Triangle (1979), either recounting the story of the missing aviators or simply using the Triangle as a handy plot device.

The Flight 19 case is not considered a mystery by the US Navy, which cites radio messages from the flight commander reporting that his compasses were malfunctioning and that he was, in fact, lost. The Navy believes that the aircraft ran out of fuel and were forced to ditch in the open ocean at a location that it was impossible to pinpoint. Believers in the mystery point to the fact that an aircraft sent to search for the missing flight was also lost, but the official explanation blames an exploding fuel tank for the plane’s loss. The failure of the aircraft compasses might also possibly be due to this being an area of natural magnetic anomalies, where compasses point to true north rather than magnetic north. Unless a pilot was aware of this and could compensate for it, extreme navigational errors would inevitably result.

However, while the Bermuda Triangle is an area of the Atlantic that is subject to heavy nautical and aerial traffic, the US Coast Guard maintains that the rate of accidents within it is no higher than in any other comparably busy region. Similarly, the nautical insurance specialists Lloyd’s of London do not consider the area to be so hazardous as to warrant special consideration.

© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2007

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