You’ve probably heard legends about planes and ships mysteriously disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle. But those legends don’t come close to the serious disappearances that have plagued Alaska for decades. There’s a region of wilderness known by names like ‘Alaska’s Bermuda Triangle’ and it’s far more deadlier than its tropical cousin.
Missing In Alaska
The border of the Alaskan Triangle stretches from Barrow on the state’s north coast to Anchorage and to Juneau across the southern coast, and includes vast areas of largely unexplored wilderness.
Sprawling forests, icy mountain peaks, and desolate tundras are clearly not the safest places in the world, but of the hundreds of search-and-rescue missions conducted every year, state troopers rarely find any trace of bodies – dead or alive.
The Alaskan Triangle first received widespread attention when US House Majority Leader Hale Boggs’ airplane vanished somewhere between Anchorage and Juneau in 1972.
The disappearance triggered one of the country’s largest ever search-and-rescue operations, involving 40 military aircraft, 50 civilian planes, and 39 days of searching an area of 32,000 square miles. Yet the search yielded not a shred of results: no wreckage, no debris, no human remains. Nothing.
Disappearances without a trace are strangely typical of cases in the region, and the cases aren’t rare: since 1988, more than 16,000 people have vanished in the Alaskan Triangle. This contributes to the annual filing of roughly 4 missing person reports for every 1,000 people in Alaska – more than twice the national average.
Nature Or Unnatural?
It’s easy to write off the disappearances as people getting lost and quickly succumbing to the elements, but the numbers seem too staggering for such an easy answer.
One potential reason for the disappearing planes: the terrain utterly obliterates them. In 1947, for example, the British South American Airways (BSAA) Lancastrian 3 airliner Star Dust disappeared en route from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile, and its fate was unknown for more than 50 years.
Two Argentinian climbers found the plane’s wreckage while ascending Mount Tupungato in 1998, and investigators concluded that Star Dust had likely crashed into a nearly vertical glacier, which caused an avalanche that buried it within minutes.
Still, it seems unlikely that similar avalanches would have occurred in every plane that’s gone missing over the Alaskan Triangle. And what about the lost hikers, tourists, and Alaskan residents who weren’t flying in planes? This is where theories get a little less, er, grounded in science, to say the least.
The book ‘In Search of the Kushtaka, Alaska’s Other Bigfoot: The Land-Otter Man of the Tlingit Indians’ explores the history of mythical shape-shifting creatures found in stories of the Tlingit and Tsimshian Indians indigenous to southeastern Alaska.
The Kushtaka roughly translates to ‘land-otter man’ and is the Bigfoot of the Alaskan Triangle. Legend has it that the creature appears to travelers in an irresistible form (such as a relative or vulnerable child) to lure victims to a nearby river, where it tears them to shreds or turns them into another Kushtaka.
A more grounded explanation is that the deceptively beautiful glaciers of Alaska have swallowed many of the missing people and planes. Although they may appear to be solid ice, the glaciers are actually honeycombed with hidden chambers, and those crevasses can be larger than houses or even office buildings.
Coupled with the falling snow of the northern climate, it’s not unreasonable to think ‘vanishing into thin air’ really just means ‘buried by nature’.