Bass Strait is a channel connecting the Tasman Sea on the east with the Indian Ocean on the west, and separating Tasmania on the south from Australia on the north. Following the Valentich disappearance in 1978 it has also been known as the Bass Strait Triangle.
The first recorded disappearances in the area go back to 1797 when the ship ‘Sydney Cove’ was wrecked. One of the vessels engaged in the salvage operations, ‘Eliza’ mysteriously vanished on her way back to Syndey. From 1838 – 1840, seven vessels were lost in the area but only wreckage from three has ever been found. The remaining four remain a mystery to this day.
Over the following century dozens of other ships have mysteriously vanished after entering the triangle, never to be seen from again. In 1858 a British Warchip ‘Sappho’ vanished into thin air, along with over a hundred crew. The Sappho had been seen by the crew of the schooner Yarrow off Cape Bridgewater, Victoria at the western entrance to Bass Strait on 18 February. But she never reached her destination of Sydney. Numerous ships took part in a search, but all failed to find any trace of the missing ship.
The the introduction of aircraft in the beginning of the 20th century, the Bass Strait Triangle continued to make headlines with mysterious vanishings.
The first aircraft to vanish was a military Airco DH 9A. It was being used to search for a missing ship, the ‘Amelia J’ in 1920. No trace of the plane has ever been found.
In 1934 the first airliner became another victim of the infamous area. A De Havilland Express went missing soon after coming into service. Despite a massive search nothing initially turned up, however some wreckage thought to be from the plane was discovered on the Victorian coast. One year later another aircraft went missing somewhere off Flinders Island. No trace of it was ever found.
During the Second World War, several aircraft were lost in the area, including a number of RAAF Bristol Beaufort bombers. Many of these were training missions and were chalked up to having being caused by inexperienced pilots.
The Bass Strait Triangle recently made the news again with the release of the documentary film “Whatever happened to Brenda Hean”.
At 10.16am on September 8, 1972, Hean set off from Hobart’s Cambridge airport in a World War II De Havilland Tiger Moth bound for Canberra. She was accompanied by Max Price. They were going to campaign against plans to dam Lake Pedder and drown its stunning 3km-long alpine beach. The plan was to lobby MP’s and to use the aircraft to sky-write “Save Lake Pedder” above the nation’s capital.
Somewhere over the infamous strait, the plane vanished and neither Hean nor Price were heard from again. Despite an enormous search effort, no wreckage or evidence of a crash was ever found.
Rumours of sabotage abounded with little evidence to back it up. Despite this, a police investigation went nowhere and authorities rejected calls for a public inquiry.
The most famous incident, and the one that has been the inspiration for paranormal explanations, was the Valentich disappearance in 1978. You can read about this mystery here on the Level Beyond website by clicking the hyperlinks.
For most of the disappearances, people feel that they were caused by accidents. The area has notoriously strong westerly and southerly winds. These winds often cause unpredictable sea conditions. The combination of winds, currents, tidal flow and the shallow bottom often lead to tall waves, often of short length, with a confused short swell often conflicting in direction. This area with its bad weather and sea conditions is a perfect place for mishaps to take place for both ships and aircraft.
But there are those cases, such as the Valentich case which defy natural causes. It is these cases which give the area its reputation of being strange and mysterious.