Saturday, December 22, 2007

BOOK: Larry Kusche, "The Bermuda Triangle Mystery - Solved"

Lawrence David Kusche: The Bermuda Triangle Mystery — Solved. London: New English Library, 1975. 252 pp.


Among the better-known books about the Bermuda Triangle, this is (as far as I know) the only skeptical one. Kusche's main message is that most of the incidents that are often described by pro-Triangle authors as mysterious and unexplained (and presumably in need of a paranormal explanation) turn out to be not quite so mysterious if you look at the known facts closely enough. The pro-Triangle authors, according to Kusche, often overlook (or perhaps wilfully ignore) facts that would make the events less mysterious, and they often copy their stories from one another (possibly also embellishing them in the process) rather than doing their own research from their original sources.

This book is divided into a number of short chapters, each of which discusses one particular Triangle-related incident. Kusche first describes each event as it has been presented in the pro-Triangle literature; then he shows extensive excerpts from original reports of the event: sometimes newspaper articles, sometimes reports of official bodies such as the navy or the coast guard. (I was especially impressed by the huge amount of effort that he clearly must have spent in searching through old newspapers — sometimes he was rewarded with some interesting facts, but sometimes he sadly has to conclude that after searching through half a year's run of a certain newspaper he couldn't find any reports of this or that missing ship.) Anyway, based on such reports and newspaper articles, he is often able to conclude that the event has been substantially misrepresented by the pro-Triangle authors and that it is not quite so mysterious as they have made it appear to be.

I enjoyed this book a lot; it's a very pleasant antidote to the typical pro-Triangle authors, who tend to have much less patience for studying (and citing!) original sources. However, it still seems to me that the title of the book is a bit of an exaggeration. He doesn't really provide a solution for all the accidents described here. For some he is simply content to show that the event cannot have possibly occurred anywhere in or near the Bermuda Triangle. This shows that some pro-Triangle author was clearly very sloppy to have discussed it, but the accident itself may remain relatively poorly explained (e.g. the Freya, which was found abandoned on the Pacific coast of Mexico, pp. 56–7). Likewise, he mentions the case of a British transport plane, which disappeared in 1953 and is sometimes associated with the Triangle; the event actually happened 900 miles north of the Triangle, and although the exact cause is unknown, it is known that weather was bad and it may have been a perfectly ordinary accident (p. 155).

Unexplained events

For some events he wasn't able to find any good explanation whatsoever. For example, the chapter on the Mary Celeste concludes that “today the fate of the occupants of the Mary Celeste is still as much a mystery as the day the ship was found deserted at sea” (p. 44). It's true that at least he presented a good thorough overview of such facts as are available, and thus the chapter about the Mary Celeste was still quite interesting and well worth reading; but nevertheless this particular event remains an unsolved mystery.

Likewise he says on p. 59: “The fate of Joshua Slocum and the Spray is truly a mystery of the sea.” But he at least mentions some reports that neither Slocum nor his ship were in as good a shape as on some previous voyages; solo sailing is a risky sport, and he may have finally had an accident the likes of which he had been successfully avoiding all the time until then.

On pp. 76 he says: “The story of the Carroll A. Deering is unique in maritime history, and it can truly be said that the more that is learned about it, the more mysterious it becomes.”

“The disappearance of the Star Tiger thwarts all explanation as each of the suggested solutions seems too unlikely to have occurred. It is truly a modern mystery of the air. [. . .] In any case, whatever happened to the Star Tiger will forever remain a mystery.” (P. 132.)

Another case that remains a mystery is the disappearance of a Super Constellation plane belonging to the U.S. Navy, with 42 people on board, in 1954. Kusche includes two newspaper articles, but neither he nor the Navy seems to have formed any concrete idea as to what exactly happened to the plane (p. 158). The disappearance of a C-119 plane in 1965 is likewise unexplained (p. 193).

Kusche mentions the yacht Connemara IV., found abandoned in 1954, but doesn't provide any explanation what exactly happened to its crew. However, he says that a hurricane passed through the area.

The nuclear submarine Scorpion disappeared in 1968; it was later found, but the cause of its sinking was not ascertained. Kusche mentions two other disappeared submarines on p. 206. But admittedly these are hardly Triangle-type incidents; there's no reason to assume that anything else than accidents are involved here.

The disappearance of a the 338-foot freighter El Caribe in 1971 does not seem to have been adequately explained either.

There are also some cases, especially older ones, where he wasn't able to find first-hand reports about an accident, usually because the mentions of that accident in the pro-Triangle books are so brief and don't contain enough details. See e.g. pp. 54 (the Lotta, the Viego and the Miramon), 83 (the Stavenger), 216 (the Elizabeth — this one is fairly recent, in 1971). The disappearance of a Piper Apache airplane over Nassau in 1962 seems to have been invented out of whole cloth, as Kusche found when he wrote the director of civil aviation at Nassau Airport (p. 173).

Criticism of pro-Triangle authors

An interesting example of how the pro-Triangle authors copy from one another is the story of a drifter found by another ship, the Ellen Austin. Kusche found that all mentions of this event can be traced back to a 1944 book, The Stargazer Talks by Rupert Gould (p. 52). Kusche wasn't able to found any earlier information about the ship, and Gould doesn't report where he got his information either. So this event remains a mystery, but at least the reader can have a better perspective of the current state of our knowledge about it.

In several cases it turns out that the weather was worse than one would imagine after reading about those cases in the pro-Triangle books. See e.g. pp. 80 (the Cotopaxi), 81 (the Suduffco), 135 (the disappearance of Al Snider), 154 (the Sandra), 169 (the Revonoc), 201 (the Witchcraft).

Some interesting ship-related cases

The chapter on the Cyclops is very interesting. Kusche proposes a possible mundane explanation for the ship's fate: there exist reports of a heavy storm near Norfolk, the Cyclops' destination, just around the time when the ship would have been nearing that port. This might very well explain the ship's disappearance (pp. 66–7). Regarding its sister ships, the Proteus and Nereus, which disappeared in 1941, the most likely explanation seems to be that they were sunk by German submarines (p. 95).

There's an interesting if very short section on the Japanese ship, Raifuku Maru, which is often said to have sent a very weird request for help by radio, something along the lines of “It's like a dagger! Come quick!” (P. 77.) Kusche cites a more sober report: the ship was battered and sunk by a heavy storm; its mayday message turns out to have been “Now very danger. Come quick.”; the ship that heard the message reached the Raifuku Maru before the latter had sunk completely; however, it wasn't possible to rescue any of its crew. At any rate there doesn't seem to be much of a mystery left in this story. See also this page for more details. Incidentally, even if the “dagger” version of the text is real, it isn't necessary to resort to any paranormal explanations for it — it may be simply an error in translation. If serious Japanese companies after sober reflection come up with the stuff that you see on, surely we can excuse a distressed and overwhelmed radio operator on board a sinking ship for producing a slightly garbled message.

There's an interesting chapter about La Dahama, which was supposedly found drifting and crewless by another ship (the Aztec), towed into port, whereupon the finders learned that several days earlier, yet another ship (the Rex) saw La Dahama sink and had even rescued its crew. Well, the newspaper reports found by Kusche explain this mystery in a much more mundane way: “The passengers on the Rex did not watch the yacht sink, they left it in a ‘sinking condition’ in a calm sea. The captain said the boat would not float more than two days, but the water was so still that it lasted at least five days, when it was discovered by the Aztec.” (Pp. 88–9.) But I wish that La Dahama's captain had left a note somewhere in his cabin, before transferring to the Rex; just a couple of lines saying “we're all moving to the Rex, bound for such and such a port” — surely he had enough time for that, and then there would never have been any mystery about it at all.

[To be continued in a few days.]

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Anonymous jin said...

'Anyway, based on such reports and newspaper articles, he is often able to conclude ahat the event has been substantially misrepresented by the pro-Triangle authors and that it is not quite so mysterious as they have made it appear to be.'

Well, to me all this Triangle stuff seems pure bunk. It is understandable that he cannot provide all the answers. Nobody can. There is bound to be some unexplained mystery somewhere, some ship or plane that vanished without a trace, so someone can say that was done by aliens or whom ever.

But it is all fascinating. It reveals a lot about human desires to have some unexplained part of the world, where something extraordinary happens, so they can claim all kinds of wild stuff.

I must admit I also would just love to live in a world still full of unexplored teritory, a new Africa perhaps, a dark continent full of wonderful sights, mysterious peoples and the like. It gives one satisfaction to know, there is still some part of the world not completely understood.

Saturday, December 22, 2007 11:04:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

I agree that the Triangle is bunk, at least in the sense that I don't believe that any paranormal phenomena are involved there. But some of the incidents there remain unexplained, and I'm simply curious about them, even though I don't doubt that the explanations, if we managed to find them, would turn out to be mundane. I just wish that this subject hadn't been infested by the purveyors of paranormal explanations and their cavalier attitude towards such things as truth and facts :)

I must admit I also would just love to live in a world still full of unexplored teritory,

Me too :)

Sunday, December 23, 2007 12:30:00 AM  
Anonymous jin said...

La Poullete is dead. :) No, I checked your blogroll and she has moved, but I think she gave up on blogging? Maybe. Well, I also changed my address. If you could change it? I know we now live in google reader times, but anyway.

I would sincerely like to be an English gentleman in century. OK, I wouldn't want to be eaten by cannibals in Africa on some expedition to find the lost treauses of king of Dumboland, but that knowledge, that there are things left to be explored would suit me very much. And the ability to imagine things withoudt tv showing the true images. :)

Sunday, December 23, 2007 4:59:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

You're right, I've been extremely tardy in updating the links in my blogroll :) Well, now I've fixed the links to Poulette and you. I agree, it seems that Poulette has given up on blogging. Too bad -- it was an interesting blog, although I must admit that the style she affected was beginning to get on my nerves.

As for Google Reader, I for one don't live in its times -- I'm quite content to just click obsessively on the blogs that I enjoy reading :)

I would sincerely like to be an English gentleman in century. OK, I wouldn't want to be eaten by cannibals in Africa on some expedition to find the lost treauses of king of Dumboland,

Yeah, admit it, you'd just stay home in merry old England and spend your days shooting at moorfowl, sipping claret at the club and spanking your maids :)))

but that knowledge, that there are things left to be explored would suit me very much.

I agree -- actually there still are unexplored things now, but the costs to begin exploring them are much higher, both in terms of how difficult it is to get there and in terms of how much earlier research one would have to become familiar with before one could contribute anything new.

Sunday, December 30, 2007 8:25:00 PM  

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