For decades arguments have raged about the disappearance of the famous Flight 19 in what became known as The Bermuda Triangle. Is it an area where the normal laws of physics simply don't apply? Could, under the sea, lie the ancient and mythical city of Atlantis? Are alien forces at work? Might it just be all one giant watery hoax or is a government cover-up in operation? Limbo of the Lost. The Twilight Zone. The Hoodoo Sea. The Devil's Triangle. The Graveyard of the Atlantic. The vast three sided segment of the Atlantic Ocean bordered by Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Fort Lauderdale, Florida has had many names and didn't acquire its most famous nickname until 1964, two decades after the famed disappearance of Flight 19. Robert Todd Carroll's Brief History of the Devil's Triangle notes that legend of the Bermuda Triangle truly begins with the flight's disappearance. Five Navy Avenger bombers mysteriously vanished while on an apparently routine training mission vas did a rescue plane sent to search for them; six aircraft and 27 men, gone without a trace. Or that's what we're led to believe...

The Vanishing

The Bermuda Triangle has long been full of mysteries. More than 100 ships and planes have vanished there since 1945 and lost with them have been more than 1,000 lives. But the mysteries most certainly didn't start there - we've been aware of them for at least two centuries. At least six ships vanished in the 1800s without leaving any trace at all; four were American warships and one was a British training ship with 290 men aboard. But it was with increasing sea transportation and the development of the airplane that saw disappearances dramatically increase - more than 40 ships were swallowed up between 1900 and 1945. Some were sailing ships, others were steamers and at least three aircraft disappeared before Flight 19 set off. The tale of Flight 19 starts 50 years ago on December 5, 1947. Five Avenger torpedo bombers lifted into the air from the Naval Air Station at Ft Lauderdale, Florida at just after 2PM. It was a routine flight, nothing more, a practice mission with the flight's crew comprised of students except for the commander, Lt. Charles Taylor. The mission called for Taylor and his group of 13 men to fly due east 56 miles to Hens and Chicken Shoals to con- duct practice bombing runs. When they had completed this, the flight plan stated that they were to fly a further 67 miles east, then turn north for 73 miles and finally fly back to base - a distance of 120 miles. This course would take them on a triangular path over the Atlantic Ocean. After about an hour and a half after the flight had set off, Lt. Robert Cox picked up a radio transmission from Flight 19. Lt. Taylor indicated that the compasses were not working correctly but believed himself to be flying somewhere over the long chain of islands that make up the Florida Keys. Cox urged the crew to head northwards towards Miami so Taylor would have confirmation of his position. In that transmission were the first inklings that something was going desperately wrong with the flight. Today's military and commercial planes are fitted with plenty of equipment that ensures it's almost impossible to become lost if a crew uses the technology correctly. For example, by coordinating oneself by attuning to a set of Global Position Satellites that orbit the Earth, a flight can know its exact position. 50 years ago, however, planes flying over sea had to know their starting point, how long and how fast they had flown and in what direction. If a pilot made a mistake with any of these figures, he was lost. Although no one would deny that Taylor was an experienced pilot, there appeared to be some confusion which has led investigators to believe that he was flying further away from the base. It is strange, however, that communications between the base and Flight 19 were intermittent at best. What was influencing the plane's transmissions? But at almost six PM, almost four hours after the flight had taken off, a fix on the weakening signals was managed but it was too late to save Flight 19. Communications had deteriorated so badly that the information could not be passed on. The last transmission from Flight 19 was received at 7:04PM. Planes searched the night but to no avail. Flight 19 had disappeared. The Navy's original investigation concluded that the accident had been caused by Lt. Taylor's confusion. The lieu- tenant's mother, however, refused to accept that her experienced pilot son had caused the accident and finally had the Navy change the report to read that the disaster was for 'causes or reason unknown'. This may have spared the mother's feelings, but it may have blurred the facts of the case. So where is Flight 19? In 1991 five Avengers were found off the coast of Florida by the salvage ship Deep Sea. Further examination, however, showed that they were not Flight 19. The resting place of the planes and their crew - if there is one - is still a secret only known to the Bermuda Triangle.

Triangle Fever

The saga of Flight 19 is the most repeated story about the Bermuda Triangle - but it's far from the only one. During the past 100 years, more than 20 planes and 50 ships have met their demise in the Bermuda Triangle. The term Bermuda Triangle was coined in 1964 by Vincent H Gaddis in the magazine Argosy. Although 'Triangle Fever' peaked in the mid-1970s, there have been many 'practical' explanations of the area's so-called paranormal influence. The matter of the amount of disappearances is not in doubt - the cause always is. Skeptics attempt to disprove the mystery by claiming that the strong currents in the region, that it is the Gulf Stream forcing a large portion of the Bermuda Triangle's tides to flow directly north which would throw many ships off course and further out into sea. Also pointed out is the large discrepancy between Magnetic North and the North Pole in the region - something that Christopher Columbus on his historic journey noted in his journals. But this explanation simply is not enough for some people. Surely there are many places in the world with dangerous currents and directional difficulties? Why is the Bermuda Triangle host to so many accidents? Among the theories is the belief that aliens are a possible reason and that alien technology is influencing the paths of ships and aircraft as many of the early reports of the Triangle believed. There is also the often repeated notion that there is an undersea Earth base for aliens who use their technology to confuse vessels that stray too close to their home. There are also theories concerning 'vile vortices' that are passages into the fourth dimension where airplanes 'fall up' and UFOs appear.

The Atlantis Theory

Others believe that the Bermuda Triangle is caused by the lost great city of Atlantis, sunk thousands of feet below the water's surface. The belief in the advanced state of Atlantean technology (often ascribed to the building of South American temples, the Egyptian pyramids and ascribed influences on early human civilizations) leads to the perspective that whatever is left of Atlantis is some- how causing these mysterious disappearances with long- abandoned machinery. There are those people that see the Bermuda Triangle as another infamous government cover-up and/or a secret base area. They argue that wouldn't the US government - considering the debate on the existence of Area 51 - also have other bases, probably dotted around the world? Some Triangle watchers argue that at some time or another the US government came across alien technology which enabled them to go deep underwater - to at least 20,000 feet - in a very cheap and easy way. The ships and planes that have disappeared may be due to them disturbing or even seeing the government base who had to eliminate all those who witnessed its existence. Yet it is with such sensational hypotheses that the Bermuda Triangle mystery is treated as something as a joke, leading many to the conclusion that sensationalizing authors and the media coverage of the late 1960s and 1970s that did not include skeptical investigation are responsible for the legend of the Bermuda Triangle. Skepticism is fine, but at thetruth we want to seek out the truth with an attitude of openness. We are ready to believe but we'd also like proof.

Case Closed?

'The US Board of Geographic Names does not recognize the Bermuda Triangle as an official name and does not maintain an official file on the area' states the pompous Internet message board of the US Coast Guard HQ and the Naval Historical Center. Seems a little too close to 'Deny Every- thing' for this writer. This government representative argues that in the past that extensive yet futile Coast Guard searches prompted by search-and-rescue cases such as Flight 19 or the trace- less sinking of the Marine Sulphur Queen in the Florida Straits have lent credence to the popular belief in the mystery and the supernatural qualities of the Bermuda Triangle. Paranormal phenomena are dismissed and 'practical' solutions to the mysteries are those that focus on environmental conditions and those that cite human error. The Bermuda Triangle is one of the few places on Earth that a magnetic compass does point towards true north. Normally, it should point towards magnetic north. The amount of variation changes - and sometimes as much as 20 degrees as a ship or aircraft circumnavigates around the globe. Without compensating, a navigator could find himself far off course and in serious trouble. The Bermuda Triangle has at least two counterparts in other areas of the world. An area called 'The Devil's Sea' by Japanese and Filipino seamen, which is located off the east coast of Japan, also exhibits the same magnetic characteristics and is also known for its mysterious disappearances. Also, in China in 1995, some 50 scientists surveyed southwest Sichuan Province's notorious high-elevation Black Bamboo Ravine, or Heizugou, where people and livestock have vanished. The Beijing-based Xinhua News Agency reported that scientists believe rotting plants found in the cold, humid region give off a poisonous gas, "suffocating people and making them fall into the abyss". The experts also explained that the magnetic field at Heizhugou "is so strong that it is likely to disable com- passes and cause plane crashes". Sound familiar? Except for the magnetic field part, the Black Bamboo Ravine is similar geologically with Yellowstone's Death Gulch and Java's Poisoned Valley.

Breaking Wind

Oceanic flatulence. You read that right. Oceanic flatulence is believed to be the true cause of the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. We're not joking. Forget ETs, UFOs, time travel, Atlantis, even plain old boring magnetic forces. The sea bed 'breaking wind' is the latest scientific 'truth'. One suddenly doesn't know what to believe... are reports of the mysterious disappearances just a load of old gas? While studying gas hydrates back in 1984, the late Dr Donald Davidson, a Canadian scientist, proposed the above theory which has gained much ground over the years. Bit of a science lesson now: at enormous pressures and low temperatures (as at the bottom of the ocean), water and gas molecules form gas hydrates. The compounds, it is argued, resemble ice but the water molecules form cages around gas molecules - such as methane. These solid hydrates retain their stability until conditions such as higher temperatures or lower pressures cause them to decompose. When they do decompose, they release enormous amounts of trapped gas. Disappearances of ships and aircraft passing over these 'blowouts' can then be explained. The sea could turn very violent very suddenly, into a mass of froth that could sink any ship in the area. As the methane rises, an airplane flying through the gas would experience engine failure - or worse: a spark from the engine could turn the aircraft into a flying fireball. No one took much notice of these theories until new information concerning blowouts of naturally occurring gas hydrates emerged in 1990. Solving the tantalizing mystery has come no closer - for 'traditional' scientists - than the work done by marine geologists from the University of Wales, Cardiff in 1996. They believed that the results from drilling the ocean floor in the Bermuda region held the answer to the enduring mystery. Following Dr Davidson's theories, they have found evidence of the frozen methane gas.

The Bottom Line

So are the paranormal theories just a load of old gas? The Bermuda Triangle has generated thousands of debates between psychic phenomena experts and 'traditional' science ever since Flight 19 disappeared. For over 50 years the public's imagination has run riot, sometimes through lack of understanding, sometimes through media hype, trying to explain the disappearance of dozens of ships, yachts and planes off the coast of Florida. Yet the scientific community's protestations have been very loud and paranormal theories concerning the Bermuda Triangle have been sneered at and derided. Going over the evidence, it could seem that orthodox scientists have been determined to prove that the Bermuda Triangle holds no paranormal influence at all. Yet, overall, it is their theories that seem to be the most logical solutions, not those concerning the paranormal. It is well known that human error is nearly always the answer when dealing with equipment failure. The Bermuda Triangle has many violent, unpredictable and sudden weather changes that could surprise many an unwary navigator. The idea of trapped methane gas being released from 20,000 feet below sea-level may seem far-fetched but the theories of Dr Davidson have been physically studied, not merely hypothesized. But thetruth knows that life isn't always logical and straight- forward. There may have been a media hype about the disappearances but that will never mean orthodox scientists will know all the truth. They know only one truth - so far. Don't forget: no one has explained the reason why at least three areas of the planet Earth have mysterious magnetic forces at work. Why is that...?