Thursday, May 31, 2012

Florida History: Sulphur Queen - Lost in Bermuda Triangle or ... ?

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By Jane Feehan

Long the stuff of Bermuda Triangle legend, the SS Marine Sulphur Queen disappeared a few days after departing Beaumont, TX Feb. 2, 1963.

The 524-foot T2 tanker was headed for Norfolk, VA through a well-traveled shipping lane with 15,000 tons of molten sulphur. One routine communication came from the ship before it was noticed missing Feb. 4. On Feb. 6, the Sulphur Queen and its crew of 39 officially went missing. No distress calls had come from the tanker. As many as 15 planes scanned the coast from Cape Hatteras, N.C. to the Florida Keys and as far west as Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. No debris was found during the official search that was called off 11 days later.

Theories abounded at the time, including hijacking or drifting into Cuban waters. All were disproved. Just after the search ended, debris and two stenciled life jackets with the name Sulphur Queen were found by a Navy torpedo retriever boat. “A considerable amount of wreckage was found in the area,” reported the Miami News, (Feb. 20, 1963). The area of recovery was 14 miles southeast of Key West. More flotsam was picked up weeks later on beaches near Fort Lauderdale, Miami and the Keys. In May, the Miami News reported authorities received a call about a wooden name plate from the tanker in a dump in Boca Chica in the Keys. The caller said it showed evidence of explosion.

Hearings about the Sulphur Queen’s disappearance revealed the tanker’s shoddy construction (launched 1944) and frequent fires. The tanker was traveling on a route beset with 40 mph winds and 14-foot seas. The biggest mysteries were the missing crew and no distress call. A sudden explosion may have accounted for both puzzles. Final determination: the Sulphur Queen was lost near the Florida Straits, and though the ship was judged unsafe, cause of disappearance could not be determined.

Facts aside, the Sulphur Queen’s disappearance became one of the popular ghosts of Bermuda Triangle lore. The first connection between the missing tanker and the Bermuda Triangle was made less than a year later in a story by Vincent Gaddis (Argosy Magazine, February, 1964) who dramatically wrote "the ship had sailed into the unknown." Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.
For Florida population in 1960, see:
Miami News, Feb. 11, 1963
Miami News, Feb 17, 1963
Miami News, Feb 20, 1963
Miami News, Feb 21, 1963
Miami News, Mar. 22, 1963
Miami News, May 12, 1963

Tags: Bermuda Triangle, missing tanker off Florida 1963, Florida history, missing ships off Florida, film researcher

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