It was December 1925, and the SS Cotopaxi set off for Cuba with its cargo of coal, never to be heard from again. With no remnants washing ashore, it was as if the ship and crew had vanished off the planet completely, rumored to be victims of the Bermuda Triangle. Nearly a century later, however, this mystery may be coming to a close — at least in part.
All Aboard The Cotopaxi
It was November 15, 1918, and the SS Cotopaxi pulled out of its home port in New York, taking to the seas to begin its career as a freighter ship. A freighter is generally in commission between 25 to 30 years, and with that in mind, one could only expect that this new ship would have its fair share of trading in the years to come.
However, this stately ship would soon be rolling through some of the most sinister stretch of waters on the planet. Despite it being one of the newest models to come out of the Great Lakes Engineering Works, the country’s leading ship building company, the SS Cotopaxi would quickly meet its match across a fateful expanse of ocean.
A Tough Little Ship
The ship was quickly tasked with serving routes between the United States and the eastern coast of South America. Given it wasn’t crossing the Atlantic, one would expect things to run fairly smoothly for the little ship. However, not even a year into its service, the port workers in Para, Brazil would see the ship barely afloat.
The ship would have to dump over 400 tons of its coal delivery, limping into port with a damaged hull and engine. The following year, the ship would suffer a head-on collision with a tugboat. However, the SS Cotopaxi was able to push on. Yet even with all that under the ship’s youthful belt, nothing could compare it to the situation the ship would find itself in on December 1, 1925.
A Simple Job Gone Wrong
The SS Cotopaxi had established itself as a ship that had laughed in the face of danger many times. Despite its small size, most knew the ship could handle a rough wave or two. However, while on a coal run to Havana, Cuba at the beginning of December 1925, the ship at last met its match.
En route from Charleston, South Carolina, an emergency message described the dire conditions that the ship found itself in. Apparently, the SS Cotopaxi was listing and taking on water. After that sole initial message, nothing more was heard. The ship had managed to weather tropical storms before, and many thought that the ship would pull through with ease. However, Havana would be in for a surprise.
Never Making It To Cuba
SS Cotopaxi never touched base with Cuba on their scheduled date of arrival, leaving its clients lacking the much-needed coal it was carrying. Nearly a month passed. As of December 31, the ship was officially listed as overdue. While some might have figured that the ship was just taking its time getting there, others began to fear the worst.
While most would think of the vast expanses of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans as holding the gravest dangers for ships making the crossing, this wasn’t the case. The particular expanse of waters that the ship had been on had already garnered quite a reputation throughout the 19th century. From the looks of it, the 20th century would be no different.
The Bermuda Triangle
It’s far from unheard of for a cargo ship to be a little late on a delivery. However, the SS Cotopaxi wasn’t just tardy; it had disappeared entirely, never again to pull into port. Some believed that the vessel had fallen victim to its very route, doomed by the menacing space of water between the island of Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and Florida. It is a triangle that has always been shrouded in mystery.
Throughout the 19th century, a handful of ships simply vanished while crossing the area. While some would go down the scientific route and blame it on bad weather, others had much more extreme ideas about the Bermuda Triangle. Some would lean towards the notion that the SS Cotopaxi and other vanished ships were being swallowed up by something that defied all logical explanations.
A Supernatural Twist
For decades, nobody had a concrete explanation as to why ships, and later, planes, would continuously vanish when attempting to cross the Bermuda Triangle. It was even believed that the Bermuda Triangle had swallowed the lost city of Atlantis, and that the city’s ancient technology was working behind the disappearances.
Supporters of this theory pointed to man-made walls that were discovered off the coast of the Bahamian island of Bimini, which were later proven by scientists to be natural beach-rock formations. Yet as imaginations ran rampant, theories surrounding the SS Cotopaxi went beyond ancient civilizations — and headed straight into the stars.
Proof In The Stars?
The first half of the 20th century saw more and more events rumored to possess extraterrestrial links, such as the Battle of Los Angeles or the much-debated Roswell UFO incident. Following this pattern, people in the 1950s began claiming the Bermuda Triangle had some sort of extraterrestrial connection. This belief was especially popular after five Avenger bombers simply vanished while flying off the coast of Florida.
Though these popular theories had no proof to back them up, they propelled the Bermuda Triangle into pop culture. Soon enough, Hollywood big shots had their lens fixed on depicting the mystery. Even famed director Steven Spielberg would flirt with this notion, with the SS Cotopaxi popping up in the desert in his movie Close Encounters of The Third Kind. And this would be far from its last appearance.
Over the decades, many shipwrecks have been discovered off the coast of Cuba and other areas skirting the Bermuda Triangle. While people were quick to point out that each new discovery may have been the SS Cotopaxi, this has often been little more than a mistake or a hoax. One such glimmer of excitement came in 2015.
A story hit the Internet that Cuban naval forces had discovered an unmanned ship heading for the island. When they intercepted it, they claimed to have discovered it was none other than the SS Cotopaxi. While many found themselves in awe, people questioned the validity of the story, which soon enough was revealed to be fake news. While folks were losing it over that fictional ship, one crashed vessel kept going overlooked.
A Marine Graveyard
By the 1980s, numerous divers and fishermen off the Florida coast had become very familiar with a specific area they called the Bear Wreck. The wreck got its name for being the grave of a mystery ship, yet unidentified, that had long ago sunken beneath the murky sea.
One can see its age simply by how hard it was to recognize as a ship. Curious to get to the bottom of the wreck, scientists soon took to the area by the dozens, and began a full-fledged effort to identify the vessel. One man stepped onto the scene and took a particularly keen interest in the wreck site. What were they all hoping to have found?
Spearheading The Efforts
Some years after the Bear Wreck was first discovered, Michael Barnette, a respected American marine biologist working at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, took a special interest in the mystery ship. For anyone familiar with the area, discovering a wreck within the bounds of the Bermuda Triangle was like opening up a historical treasure chest.
Of all the recorded ships and planes that had mysteriously vanished in the area, where on the charts would this mystery vessel fall? Based off of some of the artifacts that Michael and his crew found surrounding the wreck, he began to formulate a hunch that would give him and his crew an intriguing lead.
A Watery Resting Place
It was time to get up close and personal with this wreck site. Michael Barnette and his team took a dive below for a closer look at the sunken ship. Time had done quite a number on this anonymous vessel, but some pieces of it had remained rather intact.
The team members were able to see that even before the ship had been ruffled by waves, its wooden hatch covers, meant to protect the cargo, were already in very miserable shape. Hatch covers in that kind of shape would be a huge weakness for any ship having to do battle with a storm. Continuing their research around the wreck, Barnette and his crew then stumbled upon one particular piece of evidence that would leave them dumbstruck.
If The Shoe Fits
The old ship slumbering on the bottom of the reef was unquestionably a sight to behold. However, to make any concrete connections that would point towards this being the SS Cotopaxi, they’d need to get to know the old ship as best as they possibly could. Barnette got his hands on the SS Cotopaxi’s original blueprint and descriptions of the machinery on board.
Taking this new knowledge with him underwater, Barnette and his crew were able to distinguish some unmistakable similarities between this wreck and the SS Cotopaxi. In fact, the measurements they had recorded over the span of 12 dives, amazingly, all fell in line with the SS Cotopaxi’s blueprint descriptions. Despite how promising this find was, they were still missing enough information to prove it was the historical freighter.
Lack of Concrete Evidence
What Barnette and his crew really wanted to find was perhaps an old sign or a bell with the ship’s name written across it. Unfortunately, this was nowhere to be found amid the wreckage. Instead, they stumbled across old pieces of coal by the ship, giving them a jolt of hope. However, the most crucial piece of evidence wasn’t to be found below the sea, but in the National Archives of New York.
While there, Barnette came across records showing that the families of the crew had sued the ship’s company. A carpenter even testified, saying that the SS Cotopaxi and similar ships came with a design flaw, which meant water could easily seep into the cargo hold. Within those same archives, one clue was waiting, one that would determine the identity of this wreck.
Distress Call Off Florida
While on his research mission in the National Archives of New York, Michael Barnette discovered an overlooked distress signal from the SS Cotopaxi on December 1, 1925. It placed the ship just a few dozen miles off the coast of Florida — right at the same time that a gigantic storm was raging. It was January 2020, nearly a century after the SS Cotopaxi had floundered, and they’d found it.
Armed with concrete facts, the disappearance of this vessel could no longer be attributed to Atlantis nor aliens. At the end of the day, it came down to a flawed design and some horrible weather. Despite finding the SS Cotopaxi at long last, this is far from the end of the mysteries behind the Bermuda Triangle. A range of ships, aircraft, and people remain completely unaccounted for. One case is particularly tragic — and recent.
Of Austin and Perry
As of today, the link between the Bermuda Triangle and the supernatural has been largely severed in the public imagination. However, that doesn’t mean that people have stopped vanishing when they cross the menacing body of water. The notorious triangle was last blamed for an incident in July of 2015, in the small seaside town of Jupiter, Florida.
This modern tragedy associated with this unexplained Atlantic phenomenon all began with a present. A loving grandfather named Rick Kuntzhas had nothing but the best in mind when he gifted his grandson Austin Stephanos with something truly amazing in June of 2015.
A Good Gift Gone Bad
In this grandfather’s mind, his 14-year-old grandson was ready to man a 19-foot-boat. After all, Austin Stephanos was no average kid. He was already a licensed boater and his grandfather had confidence in his abilities. On July 24th, Austin met up with his best friend, a fellow licensed boater called Perry Cohen. The two had an amazing day planned out.
They were going to take Austin’s new boat out to sea for a day of sailing, hoping to catch some fish along the way. The two teens headed out of their homes in the early morning hours and began preparing for what should have been a great time. That said, weather conditions overhead were already telling a different kind of tale.
Trouble In The Skies
While the boys might not have noticed the ominous clouds gathering in the distance, Rick Kuntz didn’t miss them as he arrived home that morning. Despite the signs of bad weather looming ahead in the distance, things seemed to be going pretty normal around town, and the morning was even bright and sunny.
However, as the hours rolled forward, it became apparent that the boys’ boating trip might not be going as planned. There was a break in Austin’s normal boating routine that caused a little bit of worry back on shore. Austin’s mother was the first to suspect that something could be wrong.
A Mother’s Intuition
As her son and his best friend were out on the waves, Austin’s mother knew something was awry, as usually Austin would call periodically whenever he was on one of his boating trips. That July day had been no different up to a certain point, and that’s when she became concerned.
Young Austin had been on top of those calls up throughout most of the early morning. However, after an 11:25 AM call, they stopped coming in. Oddly enough, Perry himself didn’t have his phone with him on that day. While most would assume they were out at sea by that point, eyewitnesses report something very different from what most people would suspect.
The boys officially left land at a little after 2:00 PM, as a video camera caught the two boys speeding out of the Jupiter inlet. It wasn’t long after that when Austin left a Snapchat post that showed a photo of his fishing rods. He’d captioned it saying, “peace out Jup.”
Not long after that, Jim Dulin, a commercial boater and fisherman claimed to have seen a small boat with two boys in it, heading directly into an area that was engulfed by the storm. He remarked: “I said to myself, those kids are crazy. There’s no way they couldn’t see that storm. The storm was really black, the temperature dropped and you could tell it was going to be a really mean one.”
Sailing Into Dire Weather
Jim Dulin had seen the two boys in a rather small boat careening forward into the storm, as many were doing the exact opposite and racing back for land. The signs of imminent danger would have been obvious to both boys, so it’s highly unclear why they were determined to cruise forward towards the advancing storm.
If they didn’t know the storm was serious at that point, they soon would. Storms in these waters had sank a freighter like the SS Cotopaxi, and the small boat that Austin and Perry were in was now directly in harm’s way. The boys soon enough recognized they were in a bad situation. Austin took his concerns to a place that would surely get some attention.
Making Their Fears Public
By the time the afternoon came around, most of Jupiter was aware that a heavy-hitting storm was advancing towards them. With that, the boys’ classmates looked on in horror sometime after 2:00 PM, as Austin uploaded a photo on Snapchat. It showed him and Perry with a backdrop of darkened clouds.
The caption attached to the photo simply read, “We’re effed.” Not long after the photo was published, it was removed or made private. The boys’s followers marveled at the image and wondered what was going to happen to their friends. It didn’t take long for people to begin to suspect the worst.
Between the haunting Snapchat message and the fact that the boys had not arrived home by 4:00 PM, Austin’s grandmother found herself in a world of worry. She then placed two phone calls, one to the police and one to Perry’s parents. On the double, police immediately launched into a search and rescue mission.
After searching for them and interviewing anyone around town who might have seen them, it soon became terrifyingly apparent that the two teens actually did something that they weren’t supposed to do on that day. This news would come as a shock to anyone who had known them.
Never Supposed To Be Out At Sea
As more information about the boys came into light throughout the evening, it turned out that Austin and Perry had never been given permission to leave the Jupiter inlet and go out to the sea on that day. Somebody wasn’t doing their job right. Someone had let two minors slip on by and head out into a storm.
This tidbit of information sparked a public outcry surrounding the notion that two minors were allowed into the dangers of the sea with no authorization whatsoever. From that point on, the investigation took a more serious turn. The police just weren’t cutting it. The search was due to take a more serious and intense turn.
Search Gets Serious
With little progress being made, the police investigation soon fell into the hands of the Coast Guard. They combed the ocean for the small boat and even did some air searches. Rick Kuntz, Austin’s grandfather, also did his part, searching night and day for the two boys. All the while, their bereaved community came together on the Florida coast to hold a candlelight vigil.
Many hoped that the boys had somehow made it to a nearby island. However, this was highly unlikely. On July 31, the search was officially called off, and the two families were left to their own devices. They turned to fundraising websites to help maintain their search. Heartbreaking news came to their doorstep.
An Unfortunate Discovery
Nearly a year after the accident, Austin’s boat was discovered capsized in an area that lay within the bounds of the Bermuda Triangle. And, as with many wrecks discovered (or not discovered) with that area, not everything added up. When the boat was pulled from the water, Austin’s cellphone was inside it — but the two boys were not.
Despite the sad find, some still cling to the hopes that these two teens are alive. However, over half a decade has gone by and the boys still remain lost at sea. Whether they are deceased or alive on an island somewhere, for now they will remain part of the 924 recorded people considered to have vanished into the Bermuda Triangle.
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