Back Again: Our Second Trip to the Bermuda Triangle—A Personal Diary
by Stan Prachniak
The Bermuda Triangle isn’t so bad, right? After my first trip to Bimini with Drs. Greg and Lora Little, I found myself wanting more and I didn’t know when or if I would be able to have an experience like that again. A few months back, Greg asked my wife Kim and me if we would be interested in going back to Bimini with them. This time would be somewhat different though, in that we would not be on a tight schedule with a film crew, we would be by ourselves, and have some vacation time. We would, however, be doing some of our own filming for possible future use. I was looking forward to this, because I love working behind the camera and could use the experience. We would be traveling to several different areas to investigate “spots” that Greg and Lora had marked from the air on previous trips to the islands. Needless to say, we jumped at the opportunity to experience another adventure with the Drs. Greg and Lora Little.
Our trip started with a flight from Memphis to Fort Lauderdale and then a quick charter flight to Bimini on a Saturday afternoon. We would meet Greg and Lora at the Seacrest motel later that afternoon. They had driven to Key Biscayne, where they crossed the Gulf Stream in their boat on Saturday morning and arrived in Bimini a few hours prior to us. Kim and I noticed how calm the seas were on our flight to Bimini and hoped that they were the same when Greg and Lora crossed earlier that morning. When we arrived at the Seacrest we were greeted by Captain Pat, who gave us the key to our room and informed us that Greg and Lora had already made it and had gone out for a swim. We carried our bags up to our room, unpacked the necessities and changed out of our jeans into some more sea worthy clothes. It wasn’t long before Greg and Lora were heading up the channel toward the Seacrest. They looked a bit surprised to see us because we weren’t supposed to be there for another hour or so. We were able to move our flight up, because we were the only passengers on the plane. Once they docked, we helped them unload some of the things off of the boat before grabbing a bite to eat. Greg and Lora said that the ride over was very smooth, uneventful and that this trip was the fastest that they had ever made it across. We all hoped that the weather would stay favorable for the next few days.
Later that afternoon, we decided to walk to the other side of the island and snorkel the shipwreck that the History Channel had filmed us in front of on our last visit. We made our way down the rocks and into the water, which was much warmer than I expected. In the water, we swam around the ship and watched fish swim in and out of the hull. The ship is much larger when you are swimming next to it than it appears from land or on a boat. Having snorkeled the ship for about fifteen minutes, we decided to swim about 300 yards South along the coast to an area where Greg and Lora said some famous "pillars" should be. The pillars were thought to have been buried by the sand, but Greg and Lora had seen them before and knew about where they should be. It didn’t take long once we arrived at the area for them to locate one of the pillars. It was a large barrel shaped object covered in sand in about 4-5 feet of water just off of the coast. Lora began to clear the sand with her fins and he objects became more distinct. After a few minutes of snorkeling the area, Greg discovered a third pillar a few feet away from the others, also covered in sand. Using landmarks on the shore, we marked the spot where the pillars could be found and then began to make our way back to the shipwreck. Swimming to the pillars was much easier than swimming back from them, because we were fighting the current on the way back. It turns out that the first night was a great warm-up for the days ahead.
Day two would start as many of the days had for us on the previous trip, with a trip to Captain Bob’s for some breakfast and a coffee before heading out to sea. This morning we would be seeing our captain, Esley Brown, a local who Greg and Lora have known for years. As we sat around the table, we discussed where we would be going and what we wanted to accomplish. With the weather cooperating, it looked like we would be able to make it to at least two or three spots without any problem, all were relatively close to the island. The first spot we went to was just off the coast of South Bimini, maybe 2-3 miles at the most. What we were looking at here were large "columns" and stone blocks lying on the sea floor in a rectangular area, and for lack of a better term, Greg decided to call the spot the columns. We anchored over the spot and Esley jumped in to locate the columns and to make sure it was safe for the rest of us to enter. Greg had an underwater camera case that he had purchased for one of his cameras and I was curious as to whether it would work with mine or not, so I started making adjustments and it worked. Everything was in place and I grabbed my snorkel gear and hopped in the water. The funny thing was, instinct kicked in and I had to laugh to myself, because I held the camera up out of the water even though it was in a waterproof case. I found out very quickly that diving with this case was going to be a challenge, because it was so buoyant. I dove down once and the thing pretty much shot me straight back up to the surface. I swam back and forth over the columns, letting the current drift me slowly over the area. The biggest problem that I had with the case was that I had no idea what I was filming, I had to blind frame everything as I couldn’t see the screen. My first experience with an underwater case was going well though, I thought. We stayed over the columns for about an hour to investigate and get plenty of photos and video. It was time to move on to the next area, about 12-15 miles away.
The next area we arrived at was the site we called the “slabs,” and it was the first time the Littles had seen it. This area was in about twenty feet of water and was very interesting because of the way the slabs were laying on the bottom. I adjusted the zoom on my camera before putting it back in the case. I figured that it would be better to have a closer view of the objects on the sea floor. I was all set and entered the water to begin my second underwater filming experience of my life and the day. I was having a blast. Esley and Lora were already in the water with the drop camera sending footage to Greg’s camera back on the boat, where Kim and Greg were watching on the monitor. I began filming as soon as I hit the water, because I was right on top of one of the slabs. I couldn’t really tell the size because I was on the surface, but I think the slabs are about 2 feet wide by 6 feet long by 1 foot thick and they are almost perfectly rectangular. Esley tried to move one, but said that it was way too heavy and wouldn’t budge. Kim said that she noticed what looked like steps where the most interesting layout of the slabs was. I swam over the area a few times filming and could see what she was talking about. The other thing about that area was that the slabs were lying down in the shape of what I would consider a doorway or entrance. They weren’t just haphazardly piled on top of each other. I scanned the rest of the area trying to make some kind of sense of what I was looking at, but there just wasn’t an obvious answer. We spent more time snorkeling over the area before getting back aboard the boat and heading to the Sapona for lunch.
The Sapona is an old concrete steam ship, which was being used for alcohol storage when it ran aground off the coast of Bimini in 1926. There were literally thousands of fish swimming in the waters surrounding the shipwreck, making for some great snorkeling and underwater videography. I wasted no time getting in the water after I finished eating. Immediately after entering the water I saw a school of good size fish staring at me and my camera. Kim and Lora had already made their way to the stern, that recently broke away from the rest of the ship during a storm. They were waving for me to come back to where they were, so I hit the record button and began swimming to them. I reached the area where Kim and Lora were snorkeling and there were several large, colorful fish, so I began stalking them, getting as close as they would let me. After following some puffer fish around for a few minutes, I swam around the stern toward the propeller. As I neared the end of the ship, I saw a sight that I couldn’t believe. There were hundreds, if not thousands of fish gathered together near the prop. As I moved closer, the fish scattered and uncovered the enormous steel propeller. After making a few passes around the prop, I decided to head around to the bow. As I made my turn to the port side of the ship I noticed a good sized stingray swimming away from me, so I followed him for a few seconds before turning back and getting on the boat. Once aboard, we were informed that the next stop would be the DC-3 that Greg and Lora were trying to get a positive identification of.
The DC-3 is located roughly fifteen minutes from the Sapona and is in very shallow waters, about 6-8 feet deep. Greg and Lora had been to this site a few different times, once with a National Geographic camera crew, and found some pieces that helped identify the plane as a DC-3. This time, we were looking for more substantial evidence that would help to identify exactly which aircraft it was. An “N” number would be great, but most of the paint has been corroded away from the remains of the plane over the years, so we were looking for serial numbers or parts that would be exclusive to that aircraft, or even personal effects to distinguish the plane as either passenger/civilian or military. Unfortunately, after snorkeling the site for some time, we were able to find only one thing that might bring us closer to identifying this craft. This was one of the batterys. It was filmed and photgraphed and the photos have been sent to independent experts. It was getting late, but we had to make one last stop before calling it a day.
Since the "columns" are was so close to the island, we decided to make a quick stop on the way back and use the color drop camera to get some closer video of the stone formation. For this, Greg and Lora would have to suit up in their scuba gear. Once we had the cameras linked to each other and the monitor, Greg hit the water and began diving toward the columns. The water wasn’t as clear as it had been earlier that morning, but he was still able to get some great footage of the structures resting on the ocean floor. Because visibility wasn’t the greatest, Greg and Lora didn’t spend much time in the water, only enough to get what they needed. With Greg and Lora back aboard, we headed back to the Seacrest, where we would later look at the footage and pictures from the day.
After dinner and discussions about the days explorations we gathered in Greg and Lora’s room, hooked the cameras up to the television and began reviewing footage. The first film we looked at was from the drop camera at the slabs. We pressed pause when the area that included the step-like structure was on the screen and began to analyze the immediate vicinity to try to make some sense of the formations. The thing that I have learned in looking at these and similar formations is that you are not going to see an entire building, if what you are looking at is in fact a building. You will see remains that have been submerged for hundreds, even thousands of years. Keeping that in mind, I began to imagine what this area might have looked like if it were some sort of building and all I could think of were the Mayan ruins. The slabs, in my opinion, were the most fascinating site that we had explored up to this point, including the previous trip. The next footage from the drop camera was of the columns just off the coast of Bimini. These columns were rather large, probably 20-30 feet long. It's difficult to determine what these stone objects are. This could be because they are close to a channel so that they have been disturbed over time, or it could be that they were cargo lost overboard many years ago. Once the drop camera footage was finished, we hooked my camera up. I was pretty excited to see what I had filmed—until the camera started rolling. Turns out there was going to be larger learning curve than I expected. Lesson number one: point the camera lower than what you think you are filming. Lesson two: don’t ever, under any circumstances, use the zoom. Lesson three: Always use your wide-angle lens if you have one. Of course, these lessons only pertain if you can’t see the viewfinder. Now don’t get me wrong, there was some useable footage, just not what I was expecting. I would do better tomorrow.
The next morning started as the same as the previous, with a trip to Captain Bob’s for breakfast with Greg, Lora and Esley. The big difference this morning was the weather. Unfortunately, it was not cooperating as it did the two days before. It was overcast and windy, so we discussed leaving a little later to let the weather pass. On our way back to our rooms, we saw four water spouts looming in the distance, so I grabbed my camera and started filming. The spouts were actually in the area we planned to visit that particular morning. We took our time loading the boat, to try and give the weather plenty of time to clear up. The wind died down a little and the clouds allowed the sun to peak through for several minutes at a time when we decided to leave the Seacreast behind for another day of adventure.
The area that we were focusing on today was that of another plane crash that Esley had come across while out fishing one afternoon. He said that it was a fairly large site with multiple areas of debris, but he didn’t pay too much attention to the kind of plane it was because he was there to fish. As we approached the area, we could see enormous dark spots with very light areas in the middle of them, indicative of a crash site—and in this case a very large crash site. There was a period of time that excitement and anxiousness came over all of us as we anchored over an object that resembled the shape of an old military Avenger aircraft. Could this be Flight 19? Greg, Lora and Esley all entered the water to get a closer look and immediately popped up to inform us that this, in fact, was not an Avenger, but a piece of a very large wing with the engine attached. Greg and Lora stayed in the water a bit longer to take pictures and explore some of the area around the wreckage. Once back on the boat, we all began to look at the area surrounding us and were amazed at the size of the wreck site. This wreckage looked to cover at least twice the area of the DC-3 we had snorkeled a day earlier. We began to wonder if there were two planes at this location. Moving over another spot, Lora jumped in and began to relay to us what she was seeing. This spot was a good 200-300 yards from the first spot we stopped at. She said that what she saw looked like the tail of the aircraft. We decided not to spend much time here and moved to the largest area of the wreckage in the center of the site. This is where we would find the remains of the fuselage and three more engines. So now we knew that this was a four-engine plane, but was it military or civilian? When I saw this wreckage for the first time a strange feeling came over me, because there was more identifiable hardware here than at the previous sites we had been to. There were still instruments from the cockpit intact, but the fuselage had been completely destroyed and there were large portions of the aircraft lying all over this one area. I made several passes over the site before putting the camera back on the boat, so I could really begin to take everything in. Lora took several pictures here, which included some of the instrument panels and a small metal plate that had some numbers on it. Hopefully these numbers would tell us more about the plane. It was now almost lunch time, so we headed back in to pick up some bread before picnicking a few hundred yards off shore, near the pillars that we had snorkeled the first night we were in Bimini.
After lunch we got some quick footage of the pillars and then head back to the columns area to see if we could get more footage. The current was a little stronger this day than it was the previous, so the water was even more murky than before. Greg and Lora did some filming, then decided that we should have enough footage of the columns to work with. Having hit most of the spots we wanted to cover on the trip in just two days, we called it a day early to do some relaxing before dinner. Besides, the weather wasn’t going to allow us to go very far from the island.
Later that night, we reviewed the footage and photos from the day. Much like the day before, the drop camera footage looked the best. However, I did show some improvement, but somehow I must have hit the zoom while inserting the camera into the case because my footage was much closer to the objects than it should have been. I did have a lot of usable footage from the crash site though. Then, it was Lora’s turn. The photos that she had taken of the plane were great and there was even one that showed the plate with the numbers on it. We stared at that plate for a good ten minutes, trying to read the numbers. We could make most of them out, but there was a little guessing involved as to what some of the other numbers were. The model number was clear. This was a DC-6A. The serial number was one of the numbers that we were guessing on. We decided that we would go back out to the wreck site the next morning to try and get the numbers from the craft.
The next morning began with winds and cloud cover, just as the previous day had. The difference today was that there was no end in sight to the wind. We took it slow on the way out to the plane, but the wind and waves were tossing us around quite a bit. Esley assured us that the ride back would be much smoother because we wouldn’t be fighting the current, we would be going with it. Once we reached the site, we knew that there would be no anchoring today, the waters were just too rough. Esley volunteered to free dive on the plane to try and retrieve the numbers while Greg circled and the rest of us kept an eye on Esley so we didn’t lose him, or worse, run him over. After a few dives, Esley came to the surface holding the plate with the engraved numbers on it. He quickly hopped aboard and headed us back toward the island. We ended up going around the South side of the island to reach calmer waters over Proctor’s Road.
Proctor’s Road is another area thought to be an ancient harbor just off the coast of North Bimini. There are huge stone blocks with near straight edges that line the sea floor in a distinct pattern. Among these formations are many ancient anchors, distinctly marked with rope holes through them and, in most cases, grooves cut into the stones where the rope was tied. We spent a good part of the morning and early afternoon just relaxing and exploring the area. I got some of my best footage here (and it was about time), unfortunately this area wasn’t really a main focus of our trip. I also took this opportunity to work on free diving. See, I had been having a lot of trouble clearing my ears to dive to deeper depths. It took about three to four dive before I started to become comfortable with the mechanics of it. When I was ready to get back onto the boat, I dove down to the bottom, finding myself eye to eye with a very nervous and confused fish (he didn’t know what to do, stare or swim). After swimming together for a few seconds, my new friend bolted and disappeared into the murky distance. I popped up just shy of the boat after swimming a good 25 yards underwater. Exhausted now, I took off my gear and climbed aboard. This would end up being our last true adventure on this trip. The weather was great for vacationing, but not so great for exploration on a small craft, with the winds gusting up to 20 mph and waves reaching up to 8 feet. We would not be able take the longer trips that we had hoped to take this time, but that was okay because we had already had an incredible experience.
This trip to Bimini had left me feeling much like the last…wanting more. I have always been a sucker for adventure and I am so happy that I have been able to be a part of these explorations.
Oh, when we arrived back in the states, we wasted no time looking up the serial number of the downed DC-6A near Bimini and found that it was a cargo plane that crashed in 1980 on a clandestine flight. Pretty cool stuff!!!