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Bermuda Triangle Database       Flight 19        U.S.S. Cyclops

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As vast as it may seem, the Bermuda Triangle Database is only a fraction of Into The Bermuda Triangle, They Flew into Oblivion, A Passage to Oblivion and Distant Horizons.

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 Introduction

Maps

Missing Aircraft

Missing Ships

What is the
Bermuda Triangle?

MSQ
Flying Boxcar
B-25 N92877
Sting 27 1971

Cessna N8040L
Bob Corner
Saba Bank

   Two Year Crisis

   Introduction

1978
Fighting Tiger 524
Queen Air
Arrow III N47910
|Arrow N74801
Cherokee Six
Aero Comm.
Aztec N13986
Beech N4442
N407D 
Ted Smith N55BU

1979
Cessna 150 N60936
Cessna 172 N1GH
Piper N1435P
Musketeer
Aero Comm
Twin Bonanza

1980
Kallia III
s.s. Poet
N3808H
Baron 58 N9027Q

1982
Queen Air 65-B80
Navajo N777AA
Bonanza N5999

1983
Cessna 210
  Compassicon2

1984
Cessna 402 N44NC

1985
Cessna 337D
Cherokee

1986
Navajo
Twin Otter

1987
Cessna 402C NZ652B

1990
Piper Flight Liner

1991
Cougar

1993
Cessna 152 N93261

1994
Aztec N6844Y
Cherokee

1996
Aero Comm.
 

1998
Archer N25626

1999
Aero Comm.
 

The first book in 25 years. The primer for a new generation.

Tardy Clues: The Marine Sulphur Queen

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US Coast Guard photo of the Marine Suphur Queen in harbor with a tug alongside.

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     The disappearance of the 504-foot T-2 tanker Marine Sulphur Queen near the Florida Keys in February 1963 is one of the most famous mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle. It was only a year after her disappearance that Vincent Gaddis, inspired by her much publicized loss, coined the term “Bermuda Triangle.” As the largest ship to vanish in recent times (pre-1964), she became a central figure in the soon-to-be popular Bermuda Triangle phenomenon. Although the image created for her of placid seas is erroneous, her disappearance is far from easily explainable.

     The T-2 tanker was the work horse of the post World War II world. After the war the surplus was sold off into commercial companies, and the familiar silhouette could  be seen in most any port. The MSQ was built in 1944, and after the war was sold off as an oiler. In 1960 she was converted to carry molten sulphur, which required redoing her bowls in order to place a long 306 foot all welded steel tank down her center in which to store and maintain the sulphur in molten condition. A hazardous cargo, to be sure. . . but one that had proven safe enough to transport.

   During this conversion MSQ was extensively overhauled. Bottom plates in her hull were replaced, others repaired. All deck longitudinals in the way of the sulphur tank were renewed as well as all deck longitudinals; and web frames where it was deemed necessary. The sulphur tank itself was divided into 4 sulphur-tight compartments, making a leak controllable. All this was done in adherence to American Bureau of Shipping and Coast Guard standards.

     MSQ plied her trade of sulphur for 2 years without incident. In January 1963 her biennial check was required. Two weeks before her final voyage, she was re-certified. This inspection had entailed her general alarm system, steering gear, engine telegraph, fire hose, navigation lights, portable fire extinguishers, life preservers, all machinery, all accessible spaces, and the boilers. All were passed. Eleven new life rings were added and life boats were all repaired. Moreover, the FCC now inspected and certified in good working order her radios, including those in her lifeboats. Even more, the Bureau of Shipping now made its annual inspection of the hull, machinery, the boilers again, and certified all in good condition.

     The disappearance of the MSQ is just another example of a ship fully inspected and certified, sailing out and then vanishing for no reason.

     MSQ was last in ship-to-shore radio on February 4, 1963. A member of the crew, speculating in wheat futures, sent a message to his broker at 1:25 a.m. that early morning. At 11:23 .a.m. that day RCA tried to relay the broker’s reply. However, there was no response from the vessel. It is between these two time slots when whatever happened must have happened. 

     On February 7 the Coast Guard was informed MSQ had not arrived at port. A hot line message was sent to try and raise the ship. When this failed a vast search entailing 348,400 square miles and 499.6 man hours failed to find a clue.

   By an anticlimactic coincidence, on February 20, a Navy Torpedo Retriever sighted something in the water during routine exercises. It was only 12 miles southwest of Key West. It was a fog horn. Close by a life preserver was found, then a sign board and life ring reading “Marine Sulphur Queen.” The search was reactivated, but no real clue could ever be found, only a few more pieces of debris were picked up, all grouped in the same area.

     The combined examination by the FBI, Bureau of Fisheries, Coast Guard and Bureau of Standards, of the debris is worthy of note. “The consensus of opinion was that possibly two life jackets had been worn by persons and that the shirt tied to a life jacket had also been worn by a person. Numerous tears on the life jackets indicated attack by predatory fish.”

     Although it seemed there were survivors, there was no evidence on the debris of explosion, sulphur, fire, or anything that could shed light on what had destroyed the ship so quickly. The sign board gave us the only clue: it must have been incredibly destructive to rip it apart.

  

     On its own the gale winds that arose cannot account for the loss of the MSQ without other intervening factors, such as splitting in half. T-2 tankers had been known to split in half. By MSQ’s time, perhaps 10 had done so. However, the type of vessel never lost its certificate to ply trade at sea, for a number of reasons. T-2s were the backbone of the oil trade, and even those that split in twain had always shown the dexterity of remaining afloat long enough for the crew to abandon ship. Indeed, on most occasions at least one half of the vessel always stayed afloat, many times both. Sturdy wartime construction had placed within the vessels many transverse watertight bulkheads which simply acted as another hull when they split. Had the MSQ split in twain it was thought there would have had time for an SOS, for the crew to abandon ship (if necessary), and the area of disaster would have been marked by stinky yellow pools of sulphur. The debris was even tested to see if it showed any residue from sulphur. Yet there have been none.

     But the MSQ was not like other T-2s. Her bowels had been severely altered in her refit to carry sulphur. Did the altering her insides reduce the watertight effectiveness of her transverse bulkheads? Now they were all pierced by that 306 foot steel tank for carrying the sulphur. While this was thought possible, it was also thought that the addition of this tank and its reinforcements would have prevented any chance of the vessel splitting in two like the basic oilers had done.

     An explosion was also considered. It was posited that if MSQ was in pitching seas the jostled sulphur might have let off vapors that built up in the tank and finally exploded. In a corollary case, this had happened. But the result was merely a distortion of the tank. In this case, the tank had also been half full, allowing room for the gases to develop . . .but in the case of the MSQ her tanks were completely full, allowing no room for the volatile gases to accumulate. The official Marine Board of Investigation noted:

     “Although an explosion of the gases in one of the cargo tanks cannot be discounted, it would appear that such an explosion, if it occurred, would not be of a sufficient destructive force to account for the complete loss of the vessel without the intervention of other causes, perhaps, resulting from the initial explosion. It seems to be a generally accepted fact that an explosion of these gases is, relatively speaking, and dependent on the factors of quantity of space, not of a high order.” 

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A T-2 in heavy seas, similar to what the MSQ probably experienced.

Another theory was considered. Could cold sea water have come in contact with the molten sulphur, via vents in the main tank, from the pitching seas? But the report read:

     “However, the more recent thinking appears to discount the possibility of this reaction with the rationalization of the relatively cool sea water would quickly cool and solidify a layer of the sulphur which inturn would act to insulate the mass of the sulphur and the heat therein from further contact with the water.”

     There are many mysteries surrounding the loss of MSQ, but none so perplexing as her debris. Considering the current speeds and drift, this debris should have long passed Key West, floating in the Gulf Stream’s 4 knot + current. (In one airplane accident, a body drifted 300 miles north in a month’s time to be found of the Virginia Capes though the plane was lost off Florida.) What it tells us is that the MSQ was lost far from where the Coast Guard had speculated. Considering the drift in the area, the MSQ must have been lost hundreds of miles away from the south of Florida, far up along her course in the Gulf of Mexico.

     The idea that the ship disappeared near the Florida Keys stems purely from a very inaccurate Coast Guard assessment that was continuously recycled by the news. There is no possible way that the MSQ could have been near to entering the Florida Straits. The heavy weather through which the tanker passed would require that the ship slow its speed in order to take the troughs safely. The debris, found just 12 miles off Key West, at the mouth of the Florida Straits, had also been drifting for 16 days in a rather strong current. It is fatuous to think that if the vessel went down around here the debris still would have been idling in the vicinity. If only assuming a 1 knot drift as an average based on the variable current drift, the debris would have covered 384 miles in those 16 days it was at sea (384 hours ((from 11:30 a.m. 4 February to 11:30 a.m. 20 February)). Using the debris’ location and calculating backward by the drift, this would place the disaster point close to 400 miles northwest of the Keys in the Gulf of Mexico.

     Amazingly, the Board even concurred that “the vessel apparently was lost on 4 February 1963 on its approach to, or in the vicinity of, the Straits of Florida.” In light of the Board believing (quite rightly) that the ship must have been lost in those 10 hours between 1:25 a.m. and 11:23 a.m. February 4 it is remarkable that they agreed with the investigator as to the location.

     It is almost unthinkable that the Marine Sulphur Queen was at her full speed. Yet even if at full speed (15 knots) she could hardly have done more than 465 miles at the time of her crewman’s stock option call at 1:25 a.m. 4 February. She had MSQmap-2icononly been at sea for 31 hours at this time. If she had reduced speed to 8 knots (standard reduction in heavy weather), she would have been less than 200 miles south of New Orleans.  A mixture of full speed  and reduced  speed (allowing  for  when  the gale came on) merely gives us a compromised position between the two above. Yet neither are remotely close to the Straits of Florida, the place where the Coast Guard errantly assumed she must have been. Even if we give her 10 more hours afloat and on course until the brokerage house reply was sent and never rogered (11:23 a.m.) we can only advance her position by 80 to 150 miles or roughly 600 miles out of Texas, and this final distance is dependent on the ship doing full speed in gale force winds. This would indeed place her close to entering the Straits. But with the gale force winds it is highly dubious to even seriously consider that she maintained full speed.

   Calculating merely from the drift of the debris, we come to a point about 450 miles from Texas. Coincidentally, this is the approximate location where a compromise of full and then reduced speed would have placed her sometime between 1:25 a.m. and 11:23 a.m. 4 February.    

     The calculations above serve the purpose here to reveal the MSQ was nowhere near the Straits of Florida. She was neither making full speed and doubtless she was lost hours before 11:30 a.m. Feb. 4. She was lost hundreds of miles northwest and the location and tardiness of the debris, a very tangible clue, coupled with the speed of the variable currents, confirms this.

     In short, the ship was being looked for in the wrong location. This is doubly true when the Coast Guard reopened its search and looked for the hull with sonar and sidescan.           

     The Coast Guard mistake is merely one of many that has contributed to the mystery of the MSQ. The greatest factor is that the vessel wasn’t even searched for until she failed to arrive at port. As soon as she didn’t respond to the radio message, and as soon as she didn’t make her regular call-ins over radio, the owners should have sounded the alarm to the Coast Guard.

     The official report, of course, staying clear of second guesswork, concluded:

     “In view of the absence of any survivors and the physical remains of the vessel, the exact cause for the disappearance of the MARINE SULPHUR QUEEN could not be ascertained.”

         500 Leagues of Sea

500 Leagues of Sea
Bermuda
Miami
The Bahamas
Andros & The Tongue
Exumas
Eleuthera & More!
San Juan
The Sargasso Sea
Sea of Expanding Shapes
Somewhere Between
Through the Electronic Fog
Fantastic Journey
The Eye

The “Lost Squadron”

Disappearance of Flight 19
The Real Flight of Flight 19
The PBM Mariner
Views of the Okefenokee

Flights of Fancy

Bad Navigation?
Flight DUI
A 6th Avenger?
Through the Hoaxing Glass

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Swiftly to follow:

C-54
Star Tiger
Samkey
DC-3 NC16002
Star Ariel

The Classics

Navy Super Constellation
Southern Districts
Martin Marlin
C-133 Cargomaster
Marine Sulphur Queen
2 KC-135 Stratotankers
C-119 Flying Boxcar

Distant Horizons

The USS Cyclops
Ellen Austin
Carroll A. Derring
Gloria Colita

Minor Classics

3 in a Week
Great Isaac’s
Carolyn Coscio
Saba Bank

1970s Triangle Fever

Ray Smithers and the Voice
The Philadelphia Experiment

The “Eyewitness”
The Scientist
The Promoters

Debunking Debunkery

 

Rebirth

My Research
Missing Aircraft
List
Missing Vessels
List

Out of the Past
Oddities & Enigmas
The Enigma of Specter
First Reactions

 

 

 

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