Investigation: Veteran U.K. journalist Tom Mangold spent two years investigating the Bermuda Triangle with the British Broadcasting Corporation. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Investigation: Veteran U.K. journalist Tom Mangold spent two years investigating the Bermuda Triangle with the British Broadcasting Corporation. *Photo by Sarah Lagan
Veteran British investigative journalist Tom Mangold was on the island this week to give a talk on his fascinating documentary, Inside The Bermuda Triangle. The BBC Radio Four documentary was aired almost two years ago but got hardly any publicity on the island.

The Bermuda Sun’s Sarah Lagan caught up with Mr. Mangold during his visit to the island which was part of the international airport conference. He explained how he went about debunking the myth that Bermuda has become most famous for.

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Whether it’s magnetic anomalies, downed spaceships or the remnants of intense energy crystals from a forgotten underwater city, the legendary theories behind the Bermuda triangle have rarely held much water. 

Despite the unlikely explanations for the numerous unsolved disappearances that have occurred in the 500,000 square mile expanse of ocean, the myth has excited and enthralled us since before the fifties.

Veteran U.K. investigative journalist Tom Mangold, whose television career with the British Broadcasting Corporation has spanned 46 years, set out on a two-year investigation to bust the myth once and for all. He presented his findings in a 10-part radio documentary series called Inside The Bermuda Triangle which was aired on BBC Radio Four a couple of years ago. The documentary received barely any publicity here at the time of its broadcast in the U.K.

Hype

Following his investigation, Mr. Mangold concluded the phenomenon was more likely the result of some less enigmatic forces — media hype, lazy journalism, high volumes of trans-Atlantic traffic, turbulent weather patterns and badly equipped planes were the more likely culprits.

Last Saturday, Mr. Mangold gave a presentation about the documentary in Bermuda as part of the 20th Airports Council International World/Latin America Caribbean Annual General Assembly.

Speaking to the Bermuda Sun, he shared some of his experiences of researching the story and some fascinating anecdotes from local characters.

The documentary series started by looking at the cultural and sociological environment that allowed the stories to flourish.

“Newspaper rationing had come to an end and magazines were taking off in a major way,” explained Mr. Mangold.

“There were these dodgy magazines — they were called sweats because they were locker room magazines for men and had an element of eroticism. They carried the early stories about the Bermuda triangle and various hack journalists started to link events in the area which was almost half a million square miles (from Bermuda to Miami, Florida down to San Juan, Puerto Rico).

“A brilliant and anonymous sub-editor came up with the sobriquet (nickname) ‘The Bermuda Triangle’ — once you have the headline everything is crammed into that and becomes part of the myth. No one bothered to do their homework to try to find out ‘well…why did that ship go down?’ or ‘why did that plane vanish?’ So we did.”

Mr. Mangold selected a six  planes and ships that had disappeared without explanation and spent time investigating their fate. In each case he produced what he believes to be sober and conclusive evidence as to what happened.

In 1948, the airline British South American Airways lost a plane coming into Bermuda around 300 miles off the island and exactly a year later lost another at 20,000 feet.

“For the BSAA plane, we looked at the official Ministry of Aviation report,” he recalled. “I found people still alive who had flown with those planes, I looked at the history of the airline and discovered that, for various reasons, it had run out of fuel. With the plane that vanished at 20,000 feet we are pretty certain there was a recurring problem onboard with the heater. In those days the heaters were very primitive — wartime paraffin heaters. I am reasonably confident that that it exploded.”

Another case Mr. Mangold investigated was a DC3 Dakota charter plane that flew from Miami to San Juan and back two or three hours later. The last thing they heard from the pilot on the return journey was “I can see the lights of Miami”.

Battery problems

Mr. Mangold gathered accident reports and found that when the plane reached San Juan it had huge battery problems.

“They weren't charging,” he explained. “It got into San Juan and ground control said there was a problem with the batteries — the pilot had been flying for much more than 12 hours. He was tired but insisted on flying back. The moment he took off he wasn't getting radio transmissions. Then you had stronger winds than expected. You have only got to be fifty miles out and you are flying to the wrong country. We didn’t think he could see the lights of Miami.

“Transmissions were intermittent, he has batteries that don't work he is disorientated and there is bad weather. It seems to me that that's the explanation. People always say that the victims disappear without trace.

“You have the Gulf Stream there — no one lives — it moves at five miles an hour you’d never know where anything was.”

While Mr. Mangold did most of his research in the States and a little in the U.K., he did visit Bermuda for some first hand local knowledge. He conducted an interview with our world famous marine explorer Teddy Tucker who told him that he was utterly convinced he had witnessed a UFO in Bermuda.

“I have to tell you,” recalled Mr. Mangold, “Teddy Tucker did say in all seriousness that he had seen a flying saucer. Because he is who he is and because he is a serious man who I know would not pull my leg, I have to accept that he believes in them. There are some things that have never been explained.”

Mr. Mangold is not one to deny that strange things have been witnessed but he is always quick to find a solution.

“Out here there is a secret submarine base called AUTEC where U.S. and British submarines go for God knows what. Nothing is more secret than sub warfare. You think that during the Cold War the Soviets were fascinated with trying to penetrate the secrets of AUTEC which is 100 or so miles off Bermuda. There may be some events that could be explained by submarines.

“If you are asking me whether I believe in UFOs the answer is no, I don't. Do I believe that Teddy Tucker believes in it? Yes.”

Mr. Mangold interviewed another local — a fisherman who he believed to be sane and sober. He told Mr. Mangold that he had been out fishing one night when the whole sky lit up, as if it was day, for about 30 seconds.

“I can only guess that it had something to do with AUTEC. If something went off — a missile say, a ballistic missile, secretly in the sense that no one admits it has.”

So the evidence against the myths surrounding the Bermuda Triangle, Mr. Mangold, believes, was conclusive. “We really found that the reporting of all these events was lazy. Even big newspapers like the Miami  Herald which should have known better, found it in their interest to run Bermuda Triangle headlines.

“We spent a lot of time and money looking at whatever we could find in terms of paperwork or witnesses still alive. It wasn't that difficult but you had to spend time, money and energy.

“In each case, I think we ‘solved’ the mystery.”