November is here, and you know what that means—National Aviation History Month! Yes, like all good citizens, you undoubtedly wait all year for this fun-filled celebration of great achievements in the history of flight. But as you get together with loved ones during this festive flight-themed season, we want to make sure you don't perpetuate any myths and misconceptions. Ken Jennings, high-flying Jeopardy! whiz, is here all month to correct a lot of common aviation knowledge that's just plane wrong.
The Debunker: Is the Bermuda Triangle a Mysterious Nexus for Air and Sea Disappearances?
Secrets of the pyramids! Chariots of the gods! Bigfoot! Crystals! Roswell! The 1970s were a boom time for all kinds of purportedly Unexplained Mysteries, eagerly embraced by people who would go on to buy all those Time-Life Books series about the paranormal. But no phenomenon was more faddish than the Bermuda Triangle, a strange region of the North Atlantic where, everyone knew, planes and ships were always going missing in eerie and inexplicable ways. In Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, released in 1977, aliens end up taking the blame for the Bermuda Triangle disappearances. Of course! Aliens! It's always aliens.
Today we might think of the Bermuda Triangle as a bit of nautical lore going back centuries—Blackbeard and the Mary Celeste and all that. In fact, the legend was created pretty much out of the whole cloth in 1964 by a freelance pulp author named Vincent Gaddis, who described the triangle's vertices as Miami, Puerto Rico, and Bermuda. He reverse-engineered several incidents over the years, most prominently the U.S. Navy's 1945 loss of the bomber squadron known as "Flight 19", into one mythical narrative. The next decade saw a series of popular best-sellers follow in Gaddis's footsteps by detailing the lethal and mysterious history of this million-square-mile "devil's triangle."
The rush to suggest explanations for the Bermuda Triangle continues today. As recently as 2016, the misnamed Science Channel gulled several newspapers into running stories on their new special that purported to finally "solve" the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, blaming its dangers on the meteorological phenomenon known as "microbursts." But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There's no need to "solve" the Bermuda Triangle if it doesn't actually exist—that is, if the region is not, in fact, a statistical anomaly of weird disappearance. For over forty years, there's been evidence to support that view. Pilot and skeptical author Larry Kusche was the first to debunk the Bermuda Triangle myth in a 1975 book, in which he demonstrated that, first, there were no more incidents there than in other stormy seas worldwide; second, that the incidents of lost planes and ships there were not particularly mysterious; and third, that the work of Bermuda Triangle promoters like Vincent Gaddis and linguist Charles Berlitz was full of exaggerations and outright inventions. Lloyd's of London, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the World Wildlife Fund's Accidents at Sea report all support Kusche's conclusion: we don't need to explain the disproportionate perils of the Bermuda Triangle if they never existed in the first place.
Quick Quiz: What product is the "Golden Triangle" of southeast Asia famous for?
Ken Jennings is the author of eleven books, most recently his Junior Genius Guides, Because I Said So!, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at ken-jennings.com or on Twitter as @KenJennings.