Nearly everyone knows of the Bermuda Triangle, that mysterious area in the Atlantic where ships and planes have been disappearing without a trace. All manner of bizarre occurances have been reported there, from magnetic anomalies to freak storms and waves, to the complete cessation of all electrical activity. On almost the exact opposite side of the planet, in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan, there is a similar, though less widely known, mystery of the sea. The Japanese call it the Ma-no Umi: the Sea of the Devil, but it is also known as the Dragon's Triangle or Dragon Sea. The area has been designated a "Danger Zone" by the Japanese government, and even the United States Air Force has expressed concern over aircraft disappearances there.

... the Dragon Triangle in the Western Pacific forms a generally triangular pattern. It follows a line from western Japan north of Tokyo to a point in the Pacific at approximately latitude 145 degrees east. It then turns west-southwest past the Ogasawara Shinto (the Bonin Islands) and then down to Guam and Yap, west to Taiwan and then returns north-northeast back to Japan, near the measuring point of Nojima Zaki on the Bay of Tokyo.
- Charles Berlitz, describing the location of the Dragon's Triangle

With his 1989 book The Dragon's Triangle, acclaimed linguist and author Charles Berlitz seeks to present a definitive guide to the Dragon Triangle. He begins by describing the area in general terms and noting some of the strange phenomena found there: mysterious lights, unexplained disappearances, sudden fogs and storms, and so forth. He makes the inevitable comparison to the Bermuda Triangle off the coast of Florida, a theme to which he returns throughout the book. The two areas are on opposite sides of the Earth in both longitude and latitude, and both are located on the eastern edges of continental shelves, where the ocean floor drops off into deep trenches where strong currents sweep over actively volcanic areas. The main agonic lines, where true and magnetic north conincide, run through these areas (or did, the agonic line in the Western Hemisphere has since shifted west into the Gulf of Mexico). Both spots also mark nodal points where major surface and tidal currents turn, usually in opposite directions. Berlitz hints at the possibility that the mysterious disappearances in the Bermuda and Dragon Triangles may not be coincidental; since both areas are so similar, the same phenomenon might be behind the lost ships and planes.

The next section of the book details many of the craft which have disappeared within the Dragon Triangle. In most cases, no wreckage, oil slicks, or flotsam was ever found to indicate a sinking. Among the missing ships are tankers weighing over 200,000 tons, Japanese and American warships, airplanes (including one that was transporting an early atomic bomb), and Soviet nuclear missile submarines. Some of these vessels became ghost ships that turned up, empty of crew, in distant seas, but most of them vanished utterly, never to be heard from again. Although endless listings of missing ships can make for dry reading, Berlitz includes enough stories and historical accounts to keep the reader's interest. The stories of the Triangle's "Flying Dutchmen" ghost ships are particularly interesting.

Some of his theories connect only tangentially to the Dragon Triangle. A supposed sea monster caught in the area in 1977, identified from photographs as possibly being a plesiosaur (the carcass was thrown overboard before the fighing boat returned to port) leads Berlitz into a discussion of coelacanths and lake monsters around the world. He also believes it is possible that Amelia Earhart could possibly have been a victim of the Triangle, if rather than following her established flight plan, she had flown north at the request of the United States government to spy on Japanese islands in the area. Evidence he cites includes a transmission from Earhart about bad weather, though her intended flight path was clear all the way, and a report that the Marines, soon after capturing the island of Saipan, secretly disinterred the bodies of Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan and transported them back to America. It's a bit of a stretch, but an interesting theory nonetheless.

What book on mysterious disappearances would be complete with a chapter about UFOs (originally known as mikakunin hiko-buttai in Japan)? Berlitz traces UFO sightings all the way back to the 12th century. He relates many instances, few of which actually occur within the Triangle, and even brings out the theory that the 1908 blast over Tunguska in Russian Siberia was an exploding extraterrestrial craft, rather than a comet or meteor. As with the Bermuda Triangle, it is always tempting to say that the missing people were abducted by aliens for some purpose beyond our understanding.

Berlitz does make a solid argument that many of the disappearances in the Dragon Triangle could be attributed to natural forces. The area sits on top of the Ring of Fire, where the Earth's tectonic forces are unleashed unpredictably and violently. The depth of the ocean there is in near-constant flux, with volcanic activity creating and destroying islands, causing earthquakes in the depths that lead to tsunamis on the surface. Sudden eruptions and uncharted islands and seamounts could account for many lost ships and submarines, and rogue waves are easily capable of pushing a ship under so swiftly that no oil slicks or flotsam would be left on the surface. The storms of the Pacific are some of the most violent on Earth as well, and have claimed countless lives throughout the area.

The Pacific has a long history of uncertain navigation, due in large part to the appearance and subsequent disappearance of islands. Many ships have lost their way looking for lands that are no longer there, or perhaps never were. Berlitz weaves this history into the theories of sunken continents and ancient advanced civilizations. Countless ruins throughout the Pacific islands, such as the statues of Easter Island, the stone city of Nan Madol on Ponape, enormous structures found on Mariana and Marquesa Islands all seem to him to point at a single ancient and advanced civilization. Maps showing the coastline of Antarctica as it would have appeared before being covered with ice indicate that this civilization would have had to exist millenia before the earliest known civilization. Colonel James Churchward's theories about a lost continent of Mu, where the first human civilization arose some 80,000 years ago are used to tie these cultures together.

Berlitz wraps up his book with the wildest theories of all. He tells of evidence of ancient atomic warfare in various parts of the world. Passages in ancient Hindu texts can be interpreted as descriptions of atomic weapons. Radioactive skeletons have been found in archaeological sites along the Indus river, apparently struck down by a sudden catastrophe. Another site along the Euphrates river in Iraq had a layer of fused glass below the oldest cultural remains, fused glass which bears a striking resemblance to the trinitite created at the site of the Trinity test in New Mexico. If there was a civilization predating everything we know about, perhaps they annihilated themselves in a massive atomic war.

While I think much of the mystery of the Dragon Triangle lies in the unstable volcanic nature of the area, Berlitz puts forth several interesting, if improbable, alternate theories. Each of these lead to other potentially fascinating lines of research, and his overviews of the theories and evidence are well done. His narratives, though not as entertaining as, say, Clive Cussler's, are still more than sufficient to keep the book from becoming a dry list of the ships, planes, and submarines lost in the area. Even if you don't believe there's anything supernatural behind the disappearances here or in the Bermuda Triangle, The Dragon's Triangle is well worth reading.

The Dragon's Triangle by Charles Berlitz

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