Roughly 2,000 aircraft have vanished within a 25,000-square-mile area known as the Nevada Triangle. What’s behind the mysterious disappearances, and why have most of the aircraft never been found?
While much of the world has heard of the infamous and ever-mysterious Bermuda Triangle, of similar intrigue is the lesser-known, but equally fascinating, Nevada Triangle. The area is bounded by the cities of Fresno, Las Vegas and Reno, and is speckled by the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks lie beneath, and tucked along the Triangle’s edges, adding to the sense of mystery, is the super-secret government facility known as Area 51.
Around 2,000 aircraft have gone missing in the Nevada Triangle over the past 60 years. That’s approximately three disappearances a month. One of the most famous victims was legendary adventurer and pilot Steve Fossett. On the morning of September 3, 2007, Fossett took off in his Super Decathlon from a small Nevada airstrip and seemingly vanished into thin air. Search-and-rescue operations went on for weeks, costing roughly $700,000, yet Fossett was not found until over a year later, when a hiker stumbled upon his ID cards scattered along a trail. The NTSB didn’t find any mechanical issues with the aircraft, so what happened that fateful, tragic day? And why have so many other aircraft disappeared in the same area, never to be found?
Along the eastern edge of the Nevada Triangle sits the highly classified government facility “Area 51.” According to the U.S. Air Force, the site has been used since 1955 to develop and test weapons and experimental aircraft. Remains from the Roswell crash are allegedly stored at the facility, sparking decades-long rumors that its real purpose is for studying and communicating with extraterrestrials. Security around the perimeter is extremely tight; anyone who attempts to approach will quickly notice something far more unnerving than aliens—locked-and-loaded guards ready to take them out. As such, some speculate that the real reason so many civilian aircraft have disappeared in the area is that the government has been taking down any that get too close. While it may seem a bit far-fetched, the disappearances started around the same time the facility opened.
According to Albert Einstein, space and time are woven together, forming a smooth four-dimensional fabric known as “spacetime.” A recent study by NASA proved that Einstein wasn’t only correct, but also that the spacetime vortex surrounding Earth is distorted due to the spinning motion of the planet. Some fringe theorists have posited a rift has occurred in the fabric, causing small portals to open up in specific areas around the world, such as the Bermuda and Nevada Triangles. However, there has been no proof to date of such a rift, and the questions of where these portals lead to and why they would have been formed in these specific locations have never been answered.
Flying through the tall, beautiful peaks of the Sierra Nevadas is an amazing, awe-inducing experience as a pilot, but navigating through them safely can be tricky. The varied terrain, pop-up storm systems and often-heavy turbulence are all challenges to be reckoned with. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that at least some of the long-lost pilots, especially those lacking mountain flying experience, became overwhelmed or disoriented, with fatal results. Pilot error is the leading cause of crashes, after all.
Fast-moving winds off the nearby Pacific Ocean frequently push through the steep mountain sides, producing a phenomenon known as mountain waves. A pilot encountering this phenomenon may go from straight-and-level flight to essentially riding an invisible up-and-down (or just down) roller coaster. The downdrafts produced by mountain waves are frequently strong and forceful, posing an extreme hazard to pilots. Hundreds of feet can quickly be lost, and some mountain waves and lee winds are strong enough to overpower the ability of a light plane to keep from getting pancaked into the terrain below. Because of this, pilots are encouraged to maintain a high enough altitude above terrain to provide a buffer in the event downdrafts are encountered. Even some clear weather days in some Sierra locations are unflyable.
If you’re out of tin foil, worry not—the mystery of the Nevada Triangle can be reasonably explained without government conspiracies or spacetime portals at play. The bulk of these disappearances are likely attributed to a combination of pilot error, challenging terrain and unexpected, fast-changing weather phenomenon. In Fossett’s case, the NTSB concluded that he encountered a significant downdraft of ~400 mph, far too strong for his Decathlon to overcome.
As for why so many of the crash sites are never located, that’s probably because of the complex, rugged and mountainous nature of the terrain and its overlying vegetation. During the search for Fossett, eight other crash sites were found. So chances are they’re all out there—cloaked somewhere down within the peaks and valleys of the Sierra Nevada’s always-imposing and occasionally downright hostile terrain.