Saturday, November 03, 2007

BOOK: Adi-Kent Jeffrey, "The Bermuda Triangle"

Adi-Kent Thomas Jeffrey: The Bermuda Triangle. London: Star Books / W. H. Allen & Co., 1975. (1st ed. was New Hope, PA: New Hope Publishing, 1973.) 352398280. 143 pp.

The Bermuda Triangle, as is well known, is an area in the western Atlantic that is supposedly the site of an unusually large number of unexplained ship and airplane accidents, or, to put it more accurately, disappearances. Some dispute this claim, saying either that the number of such accidents is not unusual (given the large amount of traffic in the area), or that the accidents that are often cited by Triangle supporters are in fact not really that difficult to explain. The Triangle supporters, on the other hand, of course claim that something unusual indeed is going on and cannot be explained otherwise than by this or that kooky paranormal phenomenon.

I personally have no opinion about whether the number of disappearances in the Triangle is unusually high or not (after all I don't have any data on this subject), and I can't accept explanations that resort to paranormal phenomena. I am, however, under the impression that at least some genuinely unusual and hard-to-explain accidents did take place, and I'm simply curious about them, although I don't doubt that if an explanation would eventually be found, it would always turn out to be fairly mundane rather than paranormal.

Anyway, the golden age of the Bermuda Triangle was, unsurprisingly, the 1970s — a decade generally noted for its fascination with the paranormal. That's when the best-known book on the subject was published, The Bermuda Triangle (1975) by Charles Berlitz. I read it quite some time ago, several times in fact, and enjoyed it tremendously. Of course you cannot take Berlitz' explanations in the least bit seriously — the Atlantis, Edgar Cayce, UFOs, the Philadelphia Experiment, time travel, nothing is too flaky for him to consider as a possible explanation for the Triangle incidents. But regardless of that, his book was a great read, and his descriptions of the airplane and ship disappearances were quite chilling and often made me afraid to go to sleep afterwards, small child that I was at the time. Anyway, after that I've read several other books in this genre: Without a Trace, Berlitz' 1977 sequel to The Bermuda Triangle; then Gian Quasar's Into the Bermuda Triangle (2003 — one of the few recent books on the subject); and now Adi-Kent Jeffrey's The Bermuda Triangle. I think this genre is best thought of as a shifty cousin of science fiction, except that it's marketed as fact :)

The main difference between Jeffrey's book and those by Berlitz and Quasar is that she spends much more time on describing the incidents and less on dreaming up ridiculous paranormal explanations. This, in principle, is a very good thing — paranormal theories are easy to come by; what makes a Triangle book really interesting for me is the descriptions of the unexplained disappearances of ships and airplanes.

However, many of the disappearances described in this book are of ships from the age of sail. Inevitably, if a ship two hundred years ago went off to the sea and was never heard of again, it's hard to convince oneself that this must be due to some unusual or unknown phenomenon. Surely a simple storm or something of that sort is quite sufficient in most cases. In an age without radio and other modern technologies, months might pass before anyone would notice that the ship is missing, and nobody would have any idea where to look for its flotsam. Jeffrey tries to connect the incidents she describes to the Triangle by saying that if the ships in question had simply perished in a storm, somebody would certainly have to have found some wreckage at some point, but I'm not quite so sure of that.

Some of these early disappearances, which she describes in considerable detail, include: the Venture (1609), a boat carrying some shipwreck survivors originally travelling to Virginia (ch. 1); three Spanish galleons, disappearing in 1750 after being separated from the rest of their convoy by a storm (ch. 2); the 1813 disappearance of the Patriot, one of its passengers being Theodosia Burr, the daughter of the former U.S. vice-president, Aaron Burr (ch. 3; in the subsequent decades, many a former pirate claimed on his deathbed that it was he that had put Theodosia to death after the capture of the Patriot); the 1814 disappearance of a U.S. Navy ship, the Wasp, led by captain Blakeley, renowned for his courage (ch. 4).

Another disappointing story where you really have to stretch things very far to make it seem mysterious is from 1973: “the huge 13,000 ton German freighter, Anita, laden with a cargo of coal, steamed out of Newport News, Virginia, headed for Germany. She never made it. The Anita, like so many before her, was swept into oblivion with her crew of 32 men.” (P. 62.) Where the heck do we have any evidence that this even happened near the Triangle (rather than e.g. halfway across the Atlantic)? Or that the explanation wasn't something more mundane? At least she should write more details if she thinks there is reason to believe that the more obvious explanations wouldn't work here.

She briefly mentions the Cyclops (p. 61), but without much detail. For a longer version of this delightful yarn, see this account on Gian Quasar's web page.

There's a nice story of the Porta Noca, a ship that sailed from the Isle of Pines in 1926 and disappeared; told by one Rad Miller who, had he not changed his mind in the last moment, would himself have been a passenger on it (pp. 63–5). There's also the story of the famous Joshua Slocum and his disappearance in 1909 (pp. 66–70). The Revonoc (1958; p. 70) and the Witchcraft (1967; p. 76) are two classic Triangle disappearances. There's also the Enchantress (1964, pp. 73–5), which I don't remember from Berlitz.

There's a nice chapter on the ‘ghost ships’ (ch. 6), the most well-known ones probably being the Mary Celeste and the Carroll A. Deering. But a far more bizarre story involves La Dahama, found in 1935 by another ship; she was in poor condition and unmanned. The bizarre thing is that another ship subsequently reported that she had encountered the Dahama during a storm, rescued its crewmembers and then saw the Dahama founder in front of their very eyes!

The chapter 7 on airplane incidents mentions all the well-known ones: the Flight 19, the Martin Mariner and the Star Tiger and Star Ariel. However, it also mentions an interesting disappearance that I don't remember reading about yet: in the summer of 1945, two out of a squadron of twelve bombers failed to return from a training flight, for reasons unknown (pp. 91–3).

There's also chapter 8 about the Devil's Sea, an area near Japan supposedly noted for disappearances similar to those in the Bermuda Triangle. It also mentions Ivan Sanderson's well-known theory that there are ten or twelve such areas around the world (pp. 116–17, including “one unique region of ‘land-deadliness’ — Afghanistan”), but curiously it doesn't mention Sanderson's own impressively silly term for these areas — Vile Vortices :))

Ch. 9 is particularly interesting — it's about submarines, which tend to be somewhat neglected in the Triangle lore. A large nuclear sub, the Scorpion, disappeared in 1968. However, unlike in many such ‘disappearances’, the sub was later found — the U.S. Navy took pictures of it on the bottom of the ocean, but they were unable to determine what caused it to sink (p. 126).

Ch. 10 briefly describes various more or less wacky explanations that have been suggested for the Triangle disappearances: “atmospheric ‘sleeves’ ” and other curious quirks in the fabric of space-time; magnetic aberrations; time travel; UFOs. There's an excellent story on pp. 138–40 of an airplane who had, in 1961, a brush with an antique-looking WW1-style biplane. Soon afterwards, just such a biplane was found in a nearby barn, scratched just where it should have been given the above-mentioned near-collision; and, as an added bonus, it contained an old logbook with an entry, dated sometime in the 1910s, in which the horrified pilot described his near-collision with an unusually futuristic and metallic airplane. Any yet those spoilsports at the Civil Aeronautics Board had the guts to say that it was all a hoax!

The author has to be commended, however: she cites, in this chapter, a number of articles with very scientific-sounding titles. She even includes the names of the authors (but not the names of the journals). Anyway, of course if one took the trouble to follow these articles up, it might turn out that they are either wacky or that they are sober but don't say anything that supports the wacky theories mentioned in this book; but at least she cites something — which is much more than you can say for most books on this subject.

So, what to say at the end? On the plus side, the proportion of the book dedicated to describing incidents rather than offering silly ‘explanations’ and theories is much higher than in the case of Berlitz (and Quasar). Jeffrey describes many incidents not mentioned in those other two authors. Another plus: she manages to affect, much of the time, a tone more sober and reasonable than I would have dared to expect in the average Bermuda Triangle book. I don't mean to say that the succeeds in resisting the lure of paranormal explanations — far from that, but at least much of the time she keeps them decently in the background.

On the downside, many of her incidents are ships from the age of sail and as such not very convincing. Additionally, the book is very short (143 pages, easily read in a single sitting) and contains lots of typos. And, ridiculously, the back cover says “16-page section of exclusive photographs” — and then most of them are from Culver Pictures and UPI... :)

One more thing, which can be either a plus or a minus depending on how you look at it: she often describes the incidents in a way that would be more appropriate in a work of fiction, i.e. she includes the details of what the people involved did or said even in cases where it's quite clear that she can have no firm proof that this is really how it happened — i.e. she's just making it up based on what seems the most likely to have happened. On the one hand, this is a tad dishonest; on the other hand, it makes for a better read, the whole thing's just hokum anyway, and besides, if it was OK for Thucydides, why not for Jeffrey?

Anyway, I don't regret reading this book, and if you are also a Triangle enthusiast like me, you'll probably enjoy it too. And I'm looking forward to reading still more books on the Triangle.

ToRead:

  • Other classic books about the Bermuda Triangle — see the Wikipedia page for a list.

  • Larry Kusche's The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved (1975), a debunking of many well-known Triangle incidents. However, see also this page by Gian Quasar, which, if true, suggests that there are many serious errors in Kusche's book.

  • amazon.com mentions several other books by Adi-Kent Jeffrey, also on paranormal subjects: Witches and Wizards; They dared the Devil's Triangle; and Ghosts in the Valley: True Hauntings In the Delaware Valley (this last one even has a sequel, both published in 2007, so apparently she is still alive and kicking).

  • See also this interesting web site with a compilation of data about the various disappearances often associated with the Bermuda Triangle. Among other things, it lists exactly which books mention which disappearance.

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6 Comments:

Anonymous jin said...

Oh, I loved Berlitz. I still have the book somewhere. There were so many possibilities there, just like magic worlds burried in sand or UFO-s comming from hollow Earth or outer space.

But both Bermuda triangle and UFO-s are not on the agenda now, are mostly forgoten, except by some small groups who think they were abducted by aliens and submited to painful sexual interogation :) What can we do, times of the X files have passed.

Saturday, November 03, 2007 9:00:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

Well, I agree that the Bermuda Triangle is pretty marginal now, and the UFOs are less in the spotlight now than they were in the X Files years, but I think you nevertheless strongly underestimate the current amount of interest in the UFOs.

Currently, amazon.com lists 38 books with "UFO" in the title published just in 2007, a further 45 books published in 2006, etc. I'd say that the subject is far from forgotten.

Saturday, November 03, 2007 9:34:00 PM  
Anonymous jin said...

Well, maybe it is just me not being interested in this topic.

What about reptiles? I see even one famous Slovenian bloger believes in them. Is there any connection to Bermuda Triangle?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

What about reptiles? I see even one famous Slovenian bloger believes in them.

Really? Which one is it? I know that the guy at nlpinezoterika.blogspot.com uses the nickname "repT|Le", but I'm not sure if I've seen him explicitly say that he believes in reptiloids (as opposed to just aliens in general). Anyway, he isn't famous so I suppose you have in mind somebody else, not him.

Is there any connection to Bermuda Triangle?

I don't see why not -- I'd be surprised if nobody has written about that particular hypothesis yet. You can always say that the reptiloids have underwater bases on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, and they are kidnapping people and equipment for their nefarious purposes :) Of course their reptilian buddies in the U.S. government, with George W. being the prime specimen, help them by spreading disinformation and making sure that the public doesn't become familiar with the truth about this subject :))

Wednesday, November 07, 2007 8:25:00 PM  
Anonymous jin said...

Well, yes, no Slovenian bloger is really famous, even Jonas is just one guy in some third rate country triing to be funny.

I was thinking about Dajana, David Icke fan and anti pornography warrior.

Saturday, November 10, 2007 3:37:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

Well, I personally prefer to think of fame as a relative thing. I think it's perfectly acceptable to use the word "famous" for somebody who is only famous within some narrower area rather than worldwide. If you insist on the latter, you inevitably hit against the Chinese relativity theorem: no matter what somebody does or how famous they think they are, there exists a billion Chinese who couldn't possibly care less about it :) And then, by your definition, nobody would be really famous.

Anyway, I think it's reasonable to say that Jonas is famous if it's clear from the context that we're talking about fame within Slovenia. Similarly, I guess it's reasonable to say that Dajana is famous [well, actually it's more like INfamous :)] within the Slovenian blogosphere.

I was thinking about Dajana, David Icke fan and anti pornography warrior.

Wow, I had no idea that she was a David Icke fan :)) Good to see that she's a well-rounded kook rather than a single-issue one :)))

P.S. I've got a brilliant idea -- these two obsessions of hers could be combined into a lucrative new niche in the paranormal literature. Just imagine, pedophiliac alien reptiloids abducting human children and then mercilessly molesting them in their secret underground facilities :))

Saturday, November 10, 2007 7:17:00 PM  

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