For several decades I have been of the opinion that the Bermuda Triangle was a manufactured mystery. I thought that most of the disappearances had a rational if tragic explanation. When all the nonsense was stripped away and the facts were examined, then we would know what happened. Much of the Bermuda Triangle lore was based on faulty information. Given all that, it was strange that I was caught up in an episode of Curse of the Bermuda Triangle.
The episode concerned the disappearance of the Witchcraft, what I would consider a pleasure boat or cabin cruiser. The story as told today is that at about 9:00 p.m.
on December 22, 1967, the Coast Guard received a distress call
from one of the boat’s two-man crew. They had hit something and the engine was
no longer functioning properly. They were at the Number Seven Buoy in what was
called the Government Channel. The Coast Guard arrived in nineteen minutes, but
they could find no trace of the boat, the crew, or any debris that suggested it
had sunk. The Coast Guard searched a huge area over the next several days, but
nothing was ever found. Just another of those mysterious disappearances that
haunt the Bermuda Triangle.
In the show, there were two facts that were repeated. They were at the Number Seven Buoy and that the Coast Guard only took nineteen minutes to get there. Whatever happened, had to have been swift and complete. The boat was literally in sight of Miami and it shouldn’t have been difficult to find it no matter what had happened.
My first thought was that the boat hadn’t been at Buoy Number Seven. It had been some place else. The crew had been mistaken but that didn’t seem likely. The buoy is rather obvious. It is lighted and has a bell or something on it so that boaters don’t sail into it at night.
In the program, they took a trip out there and used sonar to scan the ocean bottom. They didn’t find much of anything. The bottom was smooth suggesting no wreckage down there. But they still couldn’t figure out how the boat sank in nineteen minutes, since as they mentioned several times (Did they ever hear of Titanic?) and left no wreckage for the Coast Guard to find.
The real story however, as reported in the Miami Herald on December 24, was that the crew, Dan Burack and Rev. Father Padraig (Patrick) Horgan, had radioed that the boat had become disabled about a mile off Miami Beach. The Coast Guard told Burack to fire a flare in about twenty minutes to help guide them to the disabled boat. The Coast Guard crew never saw a flare, there was no other radio contact and there was no sign of wreckage when the Coast Guard arrived on the scene.
A search was launched by the Coast Guard, the Civil Air Patrol, and other boats and aircraft. It covered about 1200 square miles, reaching from Miami to Delray Beach and Bimini. The boat was carrying all the required safety equipment and Burack was a good swimmer. That seemed to make the whole disappearance inexplicable.
While the show’s narrator continued to tell us that the boat had been at Buoy Number Seven and that the Coast Guard got there in nineteen minutes, I kept saying that the boat wasn’t at the buoy. That was before I saw the article from the newspaper that said they were about a mile off Miami Beach. I believe that one of those who have written about the Bermuda Triangle assumed that they would have been near Buoy Number Seven because it is about mile off the beach in an area traveled by all sorts of boats.
To their credit, the members of the Triangle Research and Investigation Group (TRIG), Moe Mottice, Mike Sill, Dave Cziko and Chuck Meier, who are the investigators on the show, sought out a weather/ocean expert because the weather on that night wasn’t the best. There were winds blowing at some twenty knots pushing the boat to the south of the buoy, so that the search was focused to the south. But what they learned is that the current in the area was to the north, and given the height of the waves, which would have protected the boat from the wind somewhat, and according to the computer model created by the weather expert, the boat would have drifted to the north. The search had been in the wrong place. They recalculated, using Buoy Number Seven as the starting point and the nineteen-minute figure as the time the boat would have drifted to find a new search area. This area had not been searched.
Again, I said, “The boat wasn’t at Buoy Number Seven,” but now added, the nineteen-minute figure is wrong as well because, the Coast Guard was looking the wrong way as they searched for the boat in the twenty knot winds blowing to the south.
Searching the new area with sonar they did find some anomalies on the ocean floor. Thinking they had found the Witchcraft, they dove down. What they found were… Tanks… World War II Sherman Tanks that had been sunk in the 1990s to form reefs. Not sure how well that worked, but hey, they found something.
I was about to give up on the show, but they had one more person to interview. The woman had spent sometime researching the case and she told them that the boat hadn’t been found because… it wasn’t there. Everyone was looking in the wrong place.
The one thing they didn’t do, and the one thing that I haven’t done, is attempt to learn if Burack was in any kind of financial trouble. He seemed to have been leading the life of a millionaire, though it seems, at least to me, that his finances were a little shaky. That would be an avenue to explore. Burack had arranged for his own disappearance and in 1967, that would certainly be easier than it would be today.
The TRIG guys seemed to prefer that explanation, that Burack had arranged his disappearance, to one that suggested the boat had slipped into another dimension or though some sort of parallel vortex into another world.
But the truth is that the boat wasn’t where it was reported to be, that is, near Buoy Number Seven, and that before the search started in earnest the boat would have drifted farther to the north. The thing that impressed me here was that TRIG didn’t just accept the disappearance into some sort of parallel dimension or whatever. They looked for an alternative explanation that had a basis in reality. Even if they hung their hats on the nineteen minutes and the location near Buoy Number Seven, they didn’t tell us that this was proof of anything other than the boat disappeared and that no one knows exactly what happened.