Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Of Airplanes and Triangles
There has been so much published in so many ways about the Bermuda Triangle that I will not go into any of that. Losses of both people and their conveyances throughout the greater Triangle area are well documented. It is not a condition just seen off the East Coast of the U.S., but also the same circumstance exists off the coast of Japan in the Dragon’s Triangle. However, even with so much documentation there are still many who doubt that it is a real force. Personally, I have no doubts at all. Early in the year of 1969 I was in the Marines on a sea cruise with the USS Guadalcanal. This was a small helicopter aircraft carrier on which my squadron HMM-365 with about eight CH-46D aircraft was attached. I guess our purpose was to travel throughout the Caribbean Sea to insure everybody was being nice. Usually the common Marine was not told where we were or where we were going. Sometimes we would pull into a port and be allowed to check out the natives. We would test the local food and beverage just to insure all was OK. It was a tough job but someone had to do it. In fact, I made three trips to the Caribbean this way and did not miss very many ports of call in the island chains, South America, or Central America. I transferred between three squadrons just for the trips. HMM-162, HMM-261 and HMM-365. I had a great advantage in knowing just where we were. I was the primary electronics technician for the squadron and had my own shop on the ship and a special large white unit about 10 feet by 20 feet in floor space and tall enough to stand in. Came with its’ own power generator and air conditioner. If we off-loaded on to some hot and sweaty island for war games, my little hut was very popular. Usually, when at sea, I stayed in my office fixing all the electronic aviation equipment that others would test and pass/fail on the aircraft. Once in a while I would have a problem with a piece of equipment wherein it would work on my bench but not in the helicopter. In a case like that I would put it in the plane myself and check all the systems working together. I was fully checked out on the CH-46D and was one of the rare Avionics Crew Chiefs. Most Crew Chiefs were from the metal shop. I could get in the Helicopter, pump the hydraulics, start the APU, bring all the systems on line and work on anything. On one evening this is exactly what I was doing. The piece of equipment I was working on that evening was an ARN-52(v) TACAN. Tacan stands for Tactical Air Navigation. In civilian aircraft the same type of equipment is called a VOR-TAC Variable Omni Ranging for the VOR. All the tacans could communicate with each other and tell each operator what direction and how far away the other airplane was. I was testing the channels and hit a response. I locked into an aircraft that was 50 miles away to our north and headed right for us. At that time we were off the north side of the island of Saint Thomas slowly headed westward towards San Juan, PR. Since the system was working, I shut everything down and went outside to find out if I could see the airplane headed in. It was late in the day just before sundown and quite warm. Once on the flight deck and all was quiet, I looked to the north and could make out the plane headed for us. It had four props and a fairly good size. The aircraft seemed to be going slow and I wondered how close to stall speed they were; in other words, every aircraft has a minimum speed for flying. If under the minimum speed it would not stay in the air and would then glide like a falling rock. Since I was on the starboard side of the ship looking up, several others stopped to watch whatever it was I was looking at. The plane was close enough now, maybe just a mile away and we could hear the engines. Then the plane vanished! Within a half mile of where I was standing, looking overhead, the airplane vanished and no more sound of the engines. Soon the sun set, it was a bit darker, and on the public address system for the ship called the 1MC, came the order for “All hands on deck” and all the ships spot lights came on. We turned towards the location where the aircraft vanished and nothing was found. Several of us were interviewed concerning what we saw. What I saw was a verified contact (via my TACAN) and a visual of the plane at an altitude of maybe 1000 feet. It was less than a half mile away and just vanished. The incident was hushed up and I heard no more. When on the internet a few years ago I remembered the incident. I tried to discover more about it but the entry was very cryptic. Vanished: 1969, March 8: big Douglas DC-4 in cargo service; after leaving the Azores. Crew: 3. N3821 They left the Azores and flew towards San Juan, PR, and almost made it. I wonder where they went. Trust me; considering the evidence, I do not want to follow them to find out. Vanishing in the Bermuda Triangle is far too real to me. You are just reading about it, and I lived it.