Five of the most mysterious Bermuda Triangle disappearances

A map showing the approximate location of the Bermuda Triangle, between Bermuda, Florida and Puerto Rico
It's believed that Christopher Columbus faced difficulties while navigating the Bermuda Triangle | Shutterstock

The Bermuda Triangle has been synonymous with strange happenings and mysterious disappearances since the discovery of the Americas. Also known as The Devil’s Triangle, the stretch of ocean between Miami, Bermuda, and Costa Rica is a unique part of the Atlantic Ocean in that it has been the site of more than 50 mysterious disappearances over the last century. Not marked on any commercial maps, the infamous area of mystery is speculated to sit somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million square miles of open water.

Myths and legends of the area aren’t just limited to recent history. Rumours of Christopher Columbus experiencing difficulty with compass navigation and ghost lights date back to the 15th century. What remains unanswered, however, is what is causing so many disappearances? Some have blamed fierce weather conditions, or freak natural disasters, while others have turned to the supernatural to provide answers. Whatever the real reason, there are still countless disappearances that leave experts and internet sleuths scratching their heads and asking what really happens in the Bermuda Triangle? Here are five of the eeriest and most frustrating disappearances that remain unsolved today.

Ellen Austin

In 1881, the Ellen Austin set off from Liverpool destined for New York. Carrying passengers emigrating to America, the ship had been at sea for several weeks when the captain took an unplanned shortcut through the Sargasso Sea. Known for its stormy nature, this route led the Ellen Austin through the Bermuda Triangle. Shortly into the detour, the captain sighted another vessel sailing erratically in the distance. The ship appeared abandoned and was moving unpredictably.

Convinced that it was some form of trap, Captain Griffin of the Ellen Austin kept a safe distance for two days, before ordering a crew to go aboard and investigate why the ship wasn’t responding to their hails.

The unnamed schooner was found to be abandoned with an intact cargo. There was no sign of violence and no indication that there had been a reasonable excuse to abandon the ship. Captain Griffin ordered that a small selection of his crew captain the ship, and that they sail together to New York where it could be salvaged. Shortly after resuming their journey, a heavy storm separated the two ships. When the storm passed and Captain Griffin once again sighted the mysterious ship. He pulled up alongside and found that, once again, it was abandoned with no sign of bloodshed or reasonable damage.

Whether too scared to lose yet more crew, or pressed for time and resources, Captain Griffin opted to leave the ship adrift and continue to New York. The ship and its makeshift crew were never sighted again.

USS Cyclops

On 4th March 1918, collier USS Cyclops set sail destined for Baltimore, Maryland. With no scheduled stops along her route, she was due to arrive in port with a full load of manganese ore on13th March. However, the ship never arrived at her intended destination.

The last transmission received from the ship reported that “Weather Fair, All Well”, and the lack of any wreckage or SOS message has led many to speculate what might have caused the ship and her crew to vanish somewhere in the nine-day window. To this day the disappearance of the USS Cyclops and her crew of 305 remains the largest recorded loss of life in US Naval history.

Witchcraft

The Witchcraft was a 23-foot luxury cruiser that disappeared on the evening of 22nd December, 1967. The boat’s owner had invited his close friend out onto the ocean to look at the Christmas lights over the waters of Miami. The plan was to go a short distance out to sea, switch the engine off, and enjoy the scenery.

At 9pm that night, Miami Coastguards received a distress call that calmly informed them the boat had hit something in the water and would require a tow from less than a mile offshore. The owner indicated that this wasn’t an emergency and that they would fire a flare to let the coastguards know of the boat’s exact location. Less than 20 minutes later, the coastguards reached the point where they believed that the call had been made, but there was no sign of the Witchcraft or the flares. Neither the Witchcraft nor her two passengers were seen again.

Flight 19/PBM Mariner

Perhaps the most notorious of disappearances in the Triangle, the fate of Flight 19 and PBM Mariner has left even the greatest minds reaching for answers. When Flight 19, a group of five Avenger Torpedo bombers, took off from Fort Lauderdale on 5th December, 1945, they had expected their three-hour bombing journey to be just as uneventful as the runs that they had done countless times before.

Shortly after dropping their payload of replica bombs, the patrol began to run into trouble. Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor, an experienced pilot, believed that his compass had started to malfunction, and that Flight 19 had been flying in the wrong direction. Concerned, Taylor contacted another Navy flight instructor who was flying close to the Florida coast. With the weather getting increasingly worse, Taylor went against protocol of pointing a lost plane towards the setting sun. Believing that they were somewhere over Florida Keys, Taylor adjusting the heading in an attempt to navigate the Gulf of Mexico.

Sensing Taylor’s mistake, some of his men challenged his decision to continue northeast and convinced him to turn tale and head back westward. For reasons unknown however, he once again turned the flight back around still concerned that they were somewhere over the Gulf. As the flight flew further away from land, their transmissions became fainter and fainter.

Having flown for more than their allotted time, the crew were starting to get concerned that they wouldn’t be able to correct their navigation before they ran out of fuel. In his final transmission, Taylor told his men that once the first plane dropped below ten litres of fuel, they would all ditch together for a greater chance of rescue. A few short minutes later the transmissions ended.

Certain that the flight had ditched into the ocean, the Navy immediately launched a search and rescue effort. Two Mariner flying boats were scrambled to search for the missing Flight 19, however 20 minutes after taking off one of the Mariner’s disappeared off the radar. Neither the 13 crewmen, 5 pilots of Flight 19, nor the wreckages of any of the aircraft were ever recovered.

Great Isaac Lighthouse

Unlike other disappearances, the Great Isaac Lighthouse mystery is unique in that both lighthouse keepers were stationed on land when they vanished. A barren island, Great Isaac Rock already had a grim history. Local lore told of a ship that wrecked with no survivors except for a single infant. First put into service in the mid-1800s, the lighthouse housed the islands only two inhabitants: its keepers.

On 4th August, 1969, a small boat was launched to check on the lighthouse. Routine calls had gone unanswered. Upon arrival the investigators discovered that the island was empty, and there was no sign of its two guardians. A hurricane had passed over the island shortly before, but the lack of damage to the living quarters raised the question as to why two experienced lighthouse keepers wouldn’t have stayed put where they were safest. Others believe that the pair were caught in a drug smuggling ring, or perhaps they were both kidnapped, but with no evidence of foul play to suggest anything untoward, the fate of both keepers remains a mystery.

This is not the only time that isolated lighthouse keepers have disappeared in the strangest of circumstances, after three men vanished from the Flannan Isles, a small group off the north-western coast of Scotland, in 1900.