By Bill Knell
Florida is a state full of legends and mysteries. The Fountain
of Youth was sought after by Pounce de Leon when he arrived there,
in what today is Saint Augustine, on April 2,1513. The Satan Tree
which was said to drip sap that could kill a man was supposed to
exist somewhere deep in Central Florida (it's probably in Disney
World and there's a long line to see it!). The Skunk Ape, named
for its obnoxious odor, is Florida's version of the Yeti or Sasquatch
and has been sited throughout the State. But no Florida mystery
has attracted more attention over the years then The Bermuda Triangle.
Known better to locals as The Devil's Triangle, it's a supposed
triangular area covering thousands of miles where ships, planes
and people simply vanish. Although researchers disagree about the
actual dimensions of the area, most will say that the Triangle stretches
from the east coast of Florida over to Bermuda, down to Puerto Rico
and back up to Florida again.
In all fairness, anyone that has ever taken in the sun on the
Miami or Fort Lauderdale beaches knows how strange the weather in
that area is. One minute it's sunny and warm, the next minute the
wind kicks up and your being pelted with hard rain. It can be cloudy
with rain pouring down on one side of a street, while the other
is sunny and pleasant. It's possible and even likely that the odd
weather conditions and sudden changes in temperature or conditions
has contributed to more then a few ship and aircraft disasters.
But there's more to the story then weird weather.
Missing ships, planes and people are a part of life and the price
some have to pay for travel, but the Triangle has had more then
it's share. No one thinks much about the numbers until some major
disaster or odd disappearance happens. In all, over 1000 people
have vanished without a trace during the last thirty years in the
Triangle. Statistics vary on the numbers of ships and planes missing
and never found, but it's easily in the hundreds.
The area came to the Government's attention in 1945. Flight 19
departed the Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station on December 5, 1945.
Fourteen men in five Avenger torpedo bombers were scheduled to practice
daylight bombing in the Hen and Chicken Shoals, but appeared to
have navigation problems. Radio transmissions intercepted by Lt.
Robert Cox, a flight instructor, indicated the planes may have been
headed in the wrong direction. Cox may have made things worse by
giving one of the Flight 19 pilots directions based on where he
thought they were, instead of their actual position.
By nightfall, the flight was out of communication with the Naval
Air Station. Several rescue aircraft were sent out in response to
the emergency. One was a Martin Mariner flying boat. With several
redundant hulls designed for survival in the water, it was largely
considered unsinkable. Despite this, the Mariner and it's crew vanished.
Some believe it may have caught fire and ditched into the ocean.
A ship's crew reported seeing an explosion or fire in the night
sky near where the Mariner was to rendezvous with other rescue aircraft,
but no trace of the Mariner or it's crew was ever found. Others
say that what the ship hands probably saw were flares associated
with the rescue effort.
Several ships also vanished while searching for Flight 19, but
that's not the strangest part of the story. For days after the Avengers
disappeared, Marines were dispatched in small groups to search Florida's
east coast beaches for any debris or bodies from the missing flight
or rescue crafts that were also presumed lost. A classified military
report on the entire episode was leaked to the press years later
and indicated that during the third day of the search, a group of
ten marines combing the beach near Miami just vanished!
The Marines were never seen again. If a few had gone missing,
one might attribute it to drowning or desertion, but it seems unlikely
that all ten would just not be there anymore. And this isn't uncommon.
More then a few people on pleasure boats have reported having a
conversation with someone on the craft, turning away, then turning
back to find them gone. As in the case of the famed Marty Celeste,
a ship which vanished in 1872, both large vessels and pleasure boats
have been found floating adrift in various parts of the Triangle
with no crew on board.
Without signs of fire, disaster or mishap, passengers and crews
just disappeared from sea worthy ships. It seems ludicrous that
anyone would abandon a ship for no good reason in the middle of
an ocean? Some attribute this to attempts at piracy, but the vessels
were never found looted. Some carried expensive cargo, others were
found with people's purses or wallets on board containing large
amounts of cash. Salvage rights has been another proposed theory
to explain the abandoned ships, but in many cases no one directly
benefited from the discovery of these abandoned vessels.
While it's true that the story of Flight 19 has become serious
convoluted and exaggerated over the years, we still have the missing
aircraft, ships and people that had been a part of that training
flight and the subsequent rescue effort. Every few years someone
tries to find one or more of the missing ships or planes and claims
a fantastic discovery.
In the early 1990's, UNSOLVED MYSTERIES made a big deal of someone
finding one of the torpedo bombers on the ocean floor. The number
painted on the body of the bomber even seemed to match that of one
of the missing planes. But on closer examination, and much to their
dismay, the serial number on the engine did not match any of those
from Flight 19 and the supposed matching number of the plane was
actually from another flight.
Torpedo Bombers weren't just used for training missions. By the
end of World War II, they were obsolete aircraft and became targets
themselves. There could be literally hundreds of torpedo bombers
lying fairly intact on the bottom of the ocean in the Bermuda Triangle.
Some were slightly damaged during shooting or bombing practices,
while others were just allowed to sink if missed during training
sessions, but none so far found have proven to be from Flight 19.
It took a disaster of equal or greater magnitude to prove how strange
the Triangle really is.
Despite warnings not to launch because of chilly conditions,
the Space Shuttle Challenger took off from Kennedy Space Center
on January 28, 1986 and exploded over the ocean. In an effort to
find out what went wrong, a search for pieces of the shuttle was
launched that may well have been the greatest military and government
search effort ever conducted. After searching what amounted to ten
thousand square miles of ocean bottom, they found all the bodies
of the astronauts and most of the shuttle. In all this searching,
not one aircraft or ship that had ever vanished mysteriously in
the Triangle was located. Many known wrecks and a few unknown ones
were found, but nothing else.
What is the Triangle? A giant sea sink hole? Time Warp? UFO base?
Energy vortex? I don't have the answer to that question. Rather
then speculate on theories or use any more space re-telling Triangle
stories you've probably already read or heard about, I'll share
my own Triangle experience with you in the hope that it may add
to the truth, and not distract from it.
My first visit to Florida was in the Spring of 1966 when I was
just ten years old. Talk of the Triangle was at a lull in those
days. Although I had already been reading non-fiction books about
the paranormal for about a year by that time, the topics were usually
ghost or UFO related. None, that I can recall, had specifically
mentioned Triangle events or disappearances. When I arrived in Fort
Lauderdale with my parents for a two week vacation, I did so without
any knowledge of the strangeness associated with the region.
We stayed in a Fort Lauderdale hotel, just across the street
from the beach. The only strange thing that happened to me during
the first few days of our vacation was waking up in the morning
to find Spring Break college students passed out everywhere just
outside of our efficiency suite. I mean they were just lying on
the ground, sleeping in chairs and under the stairs. It was upsetting
and a bit scary, but nothing compared to what I was about to deal
Near the end of our first week, my parents got a call from the
front desk. The hotel was offering free Bahamas weekend trips to
guests. The trip included two days and one night free at a hotel,
plus a luxurious charter flight to and from the Islands. The object
was to get people there for gambling. Although my folks weren't
big on gambling, they thought the trip might be fun and made reservations
for the last weekend of our vacation.
Too busy having fun in the hotel pool and at the beach, I didn't
give the trip much thought until about a few days before the flight.
I had always had a sort of sixth sense when it came to certain things.
I would hear a song playing in my head before turning on the radio,
then the song would be on the radio. The same with television. I
would start thinking about a certain movie or a favorite episode
of some TV series and it would be on when I started watching. It
would be easy to through all that up to revolving music and TV schedules
and even chance, but sometimes it's scary how right I could be about
The view from the balcony of the hotel was spectacular! It afforded
a wide panorama of the Atlantic Ocean. Large and small ships could
be seen traveling back and forth all day, while surfers gave it
their best on small waves headed in towards the beach. But the early
evening was my favorite time to look out over the water. Things
quieted down and I found the sound of waves crashing against the
shore to be soothing. But two days before the Bahamas weekend trip,
I looked out at the ocean that evening and felt very troubled. The
feeling grew stronger the next morning. Not wanting to upset my
folks, I said nothing as they headed out to the beach. I stayed
inside having had just a bit too much sun over the past week and
I watched TV and enjoyed the air conditioning, while occasionally
peeking out the front window to laugh at the college guys who were
making complete fools of themselves down in the pool in an effort
to pick up girls. I didn't look out toward the ocean. Despite these
diversions, my thoughts always returned to the upcoming weekend
trip. When I began to think about not going, I felt some peace.
Chalk it up to the built in protective instinct that all children
have, but there was no way I was going to take that trip.
After baking in the sun for a few hours in the morning, my parents
came in for lunch. I wanted to speak right up, but decided to wait
until after the meal. Then I told them. "I don't want to go
on that trip to the Bahamas." It was simple, direct and honest.
My folks were shocked! It was unlike me to be so defiant. Even though
they wondered why, I had no answers to offer. At ten years of age,
it was tough to put feelings that you didn't understand into words.
Despite attempts to change my mind and an insistence that I was
going, I assured my parents that nothing was going to get me on
that plane. By the day of the trip, my folks gave up. Maybe they
were afraid I would freak out during the flight or were just two
exhausted from a vacation filled with activities to be bothered
with the trip. Either way, they made me the fall guy claiming that
I had ruined the family's one chance to see the Bahamas. Fortunately,
my folks went out on Friday evening to a show in the hotel and I
didn't have to hear about it all night. I stayed up late Friday
watching old movies on TV and felt the best I had in days.
Although I was normally up with the sun, six o'clock came and
went without me the next morning. My parents hadn't come in until
after one thirty, so they wouldn't be getting up early that day
either. The phone rang just around eight o'clock. I woke up, but
couldn't drag myself out of bed fast enough to answer it. My father
woke up and took the call. It was the front desk. There was a short
conversation that I couldn't hear, then my dad went back to bed.
Once I was awake, it was hard for me to go back to bed. After
making a pit stop in the restroom, I headed for the TV. Our efficiency
suite was divided enough to allow me to watch TV, close the door
to the room where my parents were sleeping and not disturb them.
I loved those Saturday morning superhero cartoons! The phone rang
again around ten o'clock, but my father answered it again before
I could. By eleven, both my parents were up. There seemed to be
a long discussion going on, but I couldn't tell what was being said
and just figured they were making plans for our departure on Monday
Lunch was an unusually muted affair. No one really spoke except
to lay out a few plans for the rest of the day. Clouds gathered
throughout the afternoon, so we decided to spend it at the movies
instead of the beach. Although I wanted to see a monster flick,
we ended watching THE SINGING NUN. If there was a hell, I wanted
the producer of that film to go there! After the movie, we stopped
at a fast food place and brought some back to the efficiency. There
still wasn't much conversation.
That evening I went to a small game room just off of the hotel
lobby to play pinball and some other games of the period. There
was a lot of activity in the lobby. Police came and went, and people
were calling to ask about friends and relatives staying at the hotel.
After about an hour of listening to the front desk conversations
with one ear and hearing the bells and whistles of the pinball game
with the other, I figured what had happened.
It seems that the charter plane carrying those who went on the
weekend trip to the Bahamas had vanished! It carried passengers
who were guests at a number of area hotels, including ours. About
eight guests from our hotel had been aboard. I figured out later
that the first early morning phone call to our room had been to
see if we were in or had taken the flight, while the second was
to find out if we knew any others that might have passed on the
My parents were the type of people who were not up to speed with
pop culture or anything out of the ordinary. To them, The Beatles
were either bugs in our garage or a passing fad. Tom Jones was about
as wild as it got for their taste. I had to buy any books about
the paranormal with my own allowance money because they thought
such material was junk. The first time that ROSEMARY'S BABY aired
on TV, my folks wouldn't let me watch it and actually confiscated
the small TV I had in my bedroom to be sure that I wouldn't. I was
thirteen at the time! Given all that, I knew that the incident with
the plane would just never get discussed, and it never did.
I still can't explain what happened or why I didn't want to get
on that plane. When I think about it, I'm reminded of any number
of stories I've heard about people obeying a sense of doom and missing
a flight or not keeping an appointment, only to find it saved their
lives. But that's the real mystery of The Devil's Triangle. Despite
our best efforts to explain it all away with science, coincidence
or a closer examination of the facts, the place keeps throwing things
in our face that are a little stranger then our ability to fully