Alaska is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world. Giant swathes of untouched nature brings about breathtaking vistas but also many secrets. Why do hikers and aircraft tend to disappear in the Alaskan wilderness? Is it simply the cruelty...
Alaska is easily one of the most beautiful places in the world. Giant swathes of untouched nature brings about breathtaking vistas but also many secrets. Why do hikers and aircraft tend to disappear in the Alaskan wilderness? Is it simply the cruelty of nature or something not of this earth?
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Amid Alaska’s breathtaking and untouched landscape, a mystery lingers. Tourists, hikers, and even planes vanish into thin air at an alarmingly high rate and far more than in any other state. So often, that a region of wilderness has been named the Alaska Triangle.
While we’ve all likely heard of the legend of the Bermuda Triangle and all of its mysterious lore, the Alaska Triangle is far more deadly than its tropical cousin. Disappearances without a trace are strangely typical in the region, and they aren’t rare. Since 1988, more than 16,000 people have vanished in the Alaskan Triangle, which is more than twice the national average.
So, what’s the cause for this? Could it be something natural? Or is something much more sinister to blame?
The Alaska Triangle connects Anchorage and Juneau in the south to Utqiagvik along the state’s north coast. Just like most of Alaska, the triangle contains some of the most beautiful and eye-catching scenery in America. However, such beauty comes with a price. The region contains some of the most rugged and unforgiving wilderness in North America. It’s encompassed by dense boreal forests and glaciers, alpine lakes, mountain peaks, and hundreds of miles of wilderness.
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that such a vast amount of people go missing. It makes sense to shrug off disappearances as unprepared tourists getting lost in Alaska and quickly succumbing to the elements. And locating a missing person in the Alaskan wilderness must be like finding a needle in a haystack.
However, what is surprising is the number of people that disappear without any evidence; no clothing, no supplies, no footprints, no bodies.
Not only do people disappear, but large aircrafts also disappear within the Alaska Triangle; no debris and again, no bodies.
The name Alaska Triangle was first used after a peculiar and still unsolved incident in 1972. Hale Boggs, Alaska’s House Majority Leader, agreed to help Nick Begich, Alaska’s Representative, on Begich’s re-election campaign. On the morning of October 16, 1972, Boggs, Begich, Begich’s assistant, and pilot Don Jonz boarded a Cessna C-130 aircraft and made their way towards Juneau from Anchorage. The weather forecast en route was marginal with turbulence, low visibility, and icy conditions.
Jonz was very much an experienced pilot, but he did have a reputation as a risk-taker. He checked in with air traffic control just ten minutes after takeoff and neither he nor the passengers seemed in distress.
The four were never heard from again.
When the Cessna failed to land in Juneau an hour after its scheduled time, it triggered the country’s largest ever search-and-rescue operation. 40 military aircrafts and 50 civilian planes extensively searched an area of 32,000 square miles. However, the search yielded nothing; no debris, no wreckage, no bodies.
Conspiracy theories swirled around this incident and the apparent deaths of Hale Boggs and Nick Begich. The most suggested one was that J Edgar Hoover, the then head of the FBI, had a bomb placed on the plane to silence Boggs. At the time, many speculated that Boggs wanted to re-open the Kennedy assassination investigation. Nothing quite like a conspiracy theory tied to a conspiracy theory.
This is the most famous aircraft disappearance case in the Alaska Triangle, but it isn’t the only one. This same thing happened again when a Cessna 340 carrying a pilot and four passengers vanished in 1990.
One potential reason for the staggering amount of missing people and vanishing planes is that the vast and unpredictable Alaskan terrain swallows them whole and obliterates them. Alaska has some of the most intimidating landscapes and geography on the planet. The state's massive glaciers are rife with giant, hidden caves and crevasses the size of mansions. It makes for the perfect burying ground for fallen aircrafts.
This theory is supported after taking into consideration an aircraft disappearance in 1947. The British South American Airways Lancastrian 3 airliner Star Dust mysteriously vanished when traveling from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile. Its fate was unknown for over 50 years, even after extensive and lengthy search efforts.
In 1998, two climbers found the plane’s wreckage while hiking Mount Tupungato. Investigators concluded that Star Dust likely crashed into the side of the nearly vertical glacier, causing an avalanche to bury it within just minutes. Although this didn’t happen in Alaska, it proves how easily, and quickly, such colossal crafts can vanish.
It’s certainly possible smaller planes could crash into a mountainside, become buried in snow, or fall into one of the many deep crevasses, but when a far much larger plane vanishes mid-flight in perfect weather, the Triangle seems considerably more ominous.
On the morning of January 26, 1950, a Douglas C-54D Skymaster departed from the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage en route to Great Falls, Montana. The plane was carrying 36 passengers and 8 crewmen. Among them were two military dependents, the pregnant wife of an Air Force Master Sergeant and her young son, and military personnel.
The scheduled flight time from Anchorage to Great Falls was estimated to take eight and a half hours, and the pilot was expecting clear skies and perfect weather for the entirety of the journey.
As the plane passed over different air traffic controllers, the pilots reported their positions and communicated that they were traveling in exceptional conditions. After two hours, the Skymaster flew over the Alaska border and into the Yukon Territory of Canada. When the aircraft passed over the Snag Radio Range near Beaver Creek, the pilot communicated to the station that they would reach the next reporting point at Aishihik in twenty minutes. The crew at Snag Radio reported that his call sounded routine and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. However, the Aishihik station didn’t receive a call from the Skymaster and there were no other transmissions received.
The officials listed the Skymaster as missing when it failed to arrive in Great Falls, Montana. The U.S Army, U.S Air Force, and Canadian military all failed to find any sort of evidence about what happened to the Skymaster.
However, a Canadian Forest Ranger later reported seeing a low-flying plane on January 26, traveling 40 miles southwest of Snag. He stated that the airplane suddenly disappeared in mid-air, a loud explosion erupted, and black smoke filled the air.
Officials found this information credible, but after searching the area, they found no evidence of a fallen plane. Several other sightings of the Skymaster were also reported, but each led to no information about the whereabouts of the missing plane. And to this day it remains a mystery.
It’s theorized by experts that whatever did happen to the plane must have been sudden and catastrophic. And as to what may have caused it, they believe either a structural failure, a navigational error, or a crew incapacitation.
All of these aviation disappearances were decades ago, which might prompt one to think the navigational equipment and emergency gear used weren’t up to par. But even with advanced equipment, planes in Alaska continue to disappear without a trace.
One of the most recent airplane disappearances in Alaska occurred on September 9th, 2013.
A professional charter pilot, Alan Foster, who had more than 9,000 hours of flight time, was flying his PA-32-360 plane from Atlanta, Georgia to Anchorage, Alaska. He was nearly 400 miles from home when he landed in Yakutat, Alaska to refuel. After he finished and departed again, he called the Juneau flight service to request a weather update and told them he would stay in Cordova if the weather wasn’t good enough to make it to Anchorage. Just 18 minutes after the call, the radar showed a transponder target confirmed as Alan’s aircraft at 1,100 feet. The plane was never seen again.
Many theorize otherworldly and supernatural beings are the cause of such mysterious disappearances. One such sighting was in 1986, in Fairbanks, Alaska, when military radar recorded the event.
On November 17, Japan Airlines flight 1628 made its departure in Paris with a cargo of Beaujolais wine and would eventually land in Tokyo. However, instead of flying east, it was scheduled to fly west and make two stops: one in Reykjavík, Iceland, and one in Anchorage Alaska.
The plane was being flown by Captain Kenju Terauchi, and at around 5:00 pm it was 104 miles northeast of Fort Yukon. The air traffic controller asked Terauchi to adjust his heading to fly south of Fort Yukon and Fairbanks.
Then Terauchi noticed bright lights shining through the window to the left of them. He initially ignored them, but then realized they were keeping pace with their plane.
He contacted the Anchorage center to ask if there were any other aircrafts in their vicinity, to which they said no--the ground radar didn’t show any air traffic other than flight 1628. At this moment, Terauchi saw the lights moving erratically, and suddenly they flew directly in front of their plane. The lights shined through the windshield and Terauchi reported he felt the warmth of the UFOs thrusters.
When they reported the strange object to the Anchorage center, they said they saw nothing on ground level. But the plane's radar did detect something: a large, green, round object about seven miles from them. And when the plane flew over an Air Force base near Fairbanks, the city lights lit the sky and showed a silhouette of an enormous spaceship following them. Terauchi later reported it was the size of two aircraft carriers combined.
The control center asked Terauchi if they should scramble the military, but Terauchi was afraid the massive unidentified aircraft would consider that confrontational.
When a neighboring passenger jet flew into the area, the control center asked the flight crew to get a visual of the situation, but Terauchi said as soon as the passenger jet arrived, the UFO quickly disappeared. And he didn’t see it again.
A week later, the FAA Division Chief of Accidents and Investigations, John Callahan, received a call from the control supervisor in the Anchorage control center. They told Callahan that the Anchorage FAA office was filled with media wanting to report on the flight 1628 incident. Callahan wasn’t aware of the UFO situation and asked the caller to send over all of the data and information.
Callahan listened to the recordings between the controller, Elmendorf Air Force Base, and Captain Terauchi and played the tape of the radar sightings, but he noted there were no signs of UFOs. Still, it was clear that those at Elmendorf were tracking the UFOs maneuvers with their more sophisticated radar. The military controllers noted the spaceship was traveling thousands of miles per hour as it swirled around Terauchi’s plane.
After meeting with the FBI, CIA, and Ronald Reagan’s scientific study team, Callahan and his staff presented everything they had. When the meeting was concluded, one of the CIA agents swore the participants to secrecy, saying the meeting never happened. They told Callahan if they released this to the American public, it’d cause panic. They then confiscated all of the original voice recordings and radar tapes in connection to the incident…but they weren’t aware that Callahan had already made copies.
This wasn’t the only UFO incident in Alaska around that time. Since 1998, there’s been more than 560 reported UFO sightings in Alaska.
There’s no question that more people and planes disappear in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States. And we can all speculate, but according to the Tlingit and Tsimshian native people indigenous to Alaska, they have a far more mysterious theory for the explanation behind this. They tell stories about a mythical shape-shifting demon named Kushtaka.
According to the legend, the creature lures travelers by claiming to be their relatives or appearing as a child in need. Once under their control, Kushtaka takes them to the river and either tears them to shreds or transforms them into another Kushtaka.
Be it mythic monsters or UFOs, the Alaska Triangle is mostly wilderness, with 33,000 miles of coastline and 3 million lakes. For whatever reason, or for many reasons, it is a VERY unforgiving place.