Bermuda Triangle Featured

What Is The Bermuda Triangle? Inside The Mysterious Patch Of The Atlantic Where Dozens Of Ships, Planes, And People Have Disappeared

Published December 11, 2023
Updated December 12, 2023

Discover the real stories of calamities, disappearances, and other inexplicable events that have unfolded inside the Bermuda Triangle, the infamous section of the western North Atlantic that's left experts baffled for decades.

According to legend, in 1881 a ship called the Ellen Austin was sailing from Liverpool to the United States when it encountered an abandoned vessel. Opting to salvage the ship and its cargo, the captain sent over a small band of men to commandeer it.

But during the night, the ships were separated — and in the morning, the captain found the vessel abandoned anew, with no trace of his men. This was just one of the many strange stories to emerge from the swatch of ocean known as the Bermuda Triangle.

The legend of the Bermuda Triangle has captivated the world since the 1960s, when the term was first coined in Argosy magazine. But its history of puzzling disappearances and other odd phenomena is far older. In fact, even Christopher Columbus reported some unsettling occurrences as he passed through the Bermuda Triangle en route to the Americas.

So what is the Bermuda Triangle, exactly? Is the Bermuda Triangle real and, if so, is it dangerous? Read on to learn about its bewildering history.

What Is The Bermuda Triangle, And Where Is It Located?

The answer to “what is the Bermuda Triangle” must start with “where is the Bermuda triangle.” But like many things about this strange stretch of ocean, the area’s exact parameters are somewhat murky.

Writer Vincent Gaddis, who coined the term in his article “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle” for Argosy magazine in February 1964, offered the first definition. Gaddis explained that the triangle itself is formed between points in Bermuda, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico — an area covering a sweeping 500,000 square miles in the Atlantic Ocean.

That said, others have described the Bermuda Triangle as being much larger, perhaps encompassing as much as 1.5 million square miles, according to Naval History and Heritage Command.

Bermuda Triangle

Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock VectorIt’s generally agreed that the Bermuda Triangle covers 500,000 square miles of ocean between Bermuda, Florida, and Puerto Rico.

“This area is by no means isolated,” Gaddis wrote in his 1964 article. “The coasts of Florida and the Carolinas are well populated, as well as the islands involved. Sea distances are relatively short. Day and night, there is traffic over the sea and air lanes. The waters are well patrolled by the Coast Guard, the Navy, and the Air Force. And yet this relatively limited area is the scene of disappearances that total far beyond the laws of chance.”

Gaddis added: “The Bermuda Triangle underlines the fact that despite swift wings and the voice of radio, we still have a world large enough so that men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.”

Indeed, within this stretch of sea — whether 500,000 square miles or more — more than 50 ships and 20 airplanes have vanished. Many disappeared under truly bizarre circumstances.

And though Gaddis coined the term “Bermuda Triangle” in the 1960s, the history of odd events in this part of the Atlantic Ocean stretches back as far as Christopher Columbus. The explorer described seeing a strange fireball crash into the sea while he was traveling through the Bermuda Triangle in the 15th century, and wrote in his ship’s log about erratic compass readings in the area.

Since then, scores of people have fared far worse than that. Many have disappeared along with their ships or planes while in the Bermuda Triangle, which according to The New York Times has also come to be known as Devil’s Triangle, Limbo of the Lost, the Twilight Zone, and Hoodoo Sea.

The Strange Disappearances Of Ships, Planes, And People

Of all the ships that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, one has long captured the public imagination: the USS Cyclops, which vanished in 1918.

The Cyclops was traveling between Brazil and the United States with a cargo of 10,800 tons of manganese ore and about 300 passengers and crew. In March 1918, it inexplicably disappeared without sending a distress call or responding to any of the radio messages from nearby vessels.

Uss Cyclops

Public DomainThe USS Cyclops in 1911.

“The weather in the area which the Cyclops was scheduled to traverse… has not been bad enough to warrant the belief that the collier foundered in a gale,” The New York Times reported. “If caught in a storm radio distress calls could have been sent unless the wireless mast went down suddenly.”

To date, no one knows exactly what happened to the Cyclops. Some have suggested that it was destroyed by a German attack, sunk by a giant octopus, or wrecked during a failed mutiny against the ship’s captain.

The wreck of the Cyclops has never been found.

But it’s not only ships that have disappeared. In December 1945, five Navy planes flew from Fort Lauderdale into the Bermuda Triangle for a training mission known as Flight 19. They promptly vanished. To make things even stranger, one of the rescue planes sent to search for them vanished as well. Bewildered Navy officials reported that it was “as if they had flown to Mars.”

Tbm Avenger

Naval Air Station Fort Lauderdale MuseumThe pilots of Flight 19 were flying planes like these when they disappeared.

In another haunting case, a schooner called the Caroll A. Deering ran aground in North Carolina in 1921 — without its crew. Eerily, they’d reportedly left behind a fully prepared meal in the galley, as if they’d been about to sit down to eat.

Perhaps one of the strangest disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle happened in 1969, when two keepers at Great Isaac Lighthouse in the Bahamas suddenly vanished without a trace.

Though some have attributed their disappearance to a storm that passed through the area, others think that the supposedly mystical forces of the Bermuda Triangle had something to do with it.

Why Is The Bermuda Triangle Dangerous?

Over the years, many theories have been put forward to explain why so many ships and planes — and even lighthouse keepers — have disappeared in this part of the Atlantic Ocean in the past 500 years.

As the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes, most tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean pass through the Bermuda Triangle, which makes it a particularly treacherous part of the ocean for ships (especially before modern weather forecasting). What’s more, the volatile Gulf Stream can cause violent changes in weather conditions.

Another theory posits that “rogue waves” — massive swells that can grow up to 100 feet — could have easily swallowed ships like the Cyclops. And as Encyclopedia Britannica reports, storms in the Bermuda Triangle come from multiple directions, which makes these waves even more likely.

Hurricanes In The Bermuda Triangle

National Hurricane CenterA graphic showing hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean — and crossing the Bermuda Triangle — between 1851 and 2019.

Yet another theory suggests that the cause of all the disappearances can be found much deeper in the ocean. The New York Times reported that some scientists believe huge deposits of methane gas could be behind the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon. Eruptions of the gas could displace water, causing ships to sink. And because the gas is flammable, it could even collide with an airplane mid air and cause it to explode.

Then again, the disappearances could be due to something else entirely

Theories About UFOs, Atlantis, And Sea Monsters

Given the strange number of disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle, it’s perhaps unsurprising that some have suggested that there may be a supernatural explanation for this phenomenon.

Some believe that aliens might have abducted the missing sailors and pilots. This theory states that aliens have used the Bermuda Triangle as some kind of “portal” to Earth, and that they use the abducted people and ships to better understand humankind. Indeed, a similar theory suggests that this part of the ocean could be some kind of wormhole.

Others have postulated that a sea monster could account for the inexplicable disappearances of ships and planes.

“Usually a wooden bucket or a cork life preserver identified as belonging to a lost ship is picked up after a wreck, but not so with the Cyclops,” Santa Fe magazine reported after the ship’s disappearance, according to HISTORY. “She just disappeared as though some gigantic monster of the sea had grabbed her, men and all, and sent her into the depths of the ocean.”

But perhaps the strangest theory is that the Lost City of Atlantis might have something to do with the Bermuda Triangle. This theory suggests that the sunken city uses “crystal energies” to bring down ships and planes.

Experts, however, have dismissed ideas like these as nonsense.

Is The Bermuda Triangle Real?

Ship Caught In A Storm

Wellcome ImagesMany of the missing ships in the Bermuda Triangle may have fallen victim to storms, which occur frequently in the area.

According to NOAA, there’s nothing supernatural about the Bermuda Triangle. In fact, NOAA points out that the Bermuda Triangle doesn’t officially exist.

“[N]o official maps exist that delineate the boundaries of the Bermuda Triangle,” NOAA explains. “The U. S. Board of Geographic Names does not recognize the Bermuda Triangle as an official name and does not maintain an official file on the area.”

What’s more, the mysteries of some ships said to have disappeared in the area, like the SS Cotopaxi, have been solved. The wreck of the Cotopaxi was found nearly a century after it mysteriously vanished — outside of the Bermuda Triangle. Experts say it simply sank during a storm. No sea monsters or aliens involved.

So what is the Bermuda Triangle? At the end of the day, it seems to be nothing more than a stretch of sea, no more treacherous than any other.

“The ocean has always been a mysterious place to humans, and when foul weather or poor navigation is involved, it can be a very deadly place,” NOAA explains. “There is no evidence that mysterious disappearances occur with any greater frequency in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other large, well-traveled area of the ocean.”


After reading about the planes, people, and ships that disappeared in the Bermuda triangle, go inside the strange disappearances within the so-called Alaska Triangle. Or, look through the stories of some of the creepiest ghost ships to be found on the high seas.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.