Leonard Nimoy sounds a lot less enthusiastic than usual this episode, as he explains that statistically the most dangerous body of water in the word is the Great Lakes of North America. It's not hard to understand why. The Great Lakes area is a massive region in the storm-prone centre of North America. Its waterways are massively multi-use, carrying everything from international cargo to city ferries to pleasure boats. The area is also between two of the wealthiest countries in the world – USA and Canada – both of which massive sea rescue facilities with excellent record keeping, ensuring that their sea rescue stats are up to date and accurate.
So… when we've finished watching footage of US and Canadian coastal rescue vessels and we turn to the heroic figure of J Leland Gourley, the writer and flying instructor on whose studies this episode is based.
Sitting at the controls of his light plane, he argues something that I wasn't expecting – not just that a lot of accidents happen on the Great Lakes, but that an unusual number of people are lost there altogether.
Hm. Maybe this will be interesting after all.
Nimoy stands on a harbour breakwater. It's perfectly clear weather but he's wearing a waterproof plastic jacket anyway. He says that the Great Lakes surpass the Bermuda Triangle as a source of disappearances. Like I say, his heart doesn't seem to be in this one.
Now we're looking at some of the cities on the Great Lakes. The main argument seems to be that this is a civilised place so why are bad things happening here. This is an idea comes up again and again. Anyway, we're told that the CN Tower in Toronto is the largest manmade structure on Earth, a fact that could win me a 1977-themed trivia contest one day.
The air rescue people, we're assured, are constantly on the ball, and yet still all these mysteries. (It's four minutes in and no mysteries, by the way). Gourley follows up clues on these mysterious tragedies that we're told exist. He interviews rescue people and walks purposefully from place to place. After talking to yachtsmen, he looks at huge banks of computer tape on massive old-timey computers. Searching for explanations to the sorts of questions that only he is asking.
Okay, we're narrowing things down now. We're trying to understand these disappearances by talking to someone who almost disappeared. I guess? He's Robert Joy Jr, a pilot, ex-cop and professor of criminology. He saw his father vanish.
Now we're talking!
We see Joy and Gourley talking disappearances. I'm pleased to see both aviators wearing aviator sunglasses, just as the Lord intended. Joy was flying his plane and his dad had been flying his, when Joy partially heard a message from his dad. His dad was never seen again and no trace of his plane was found.
Now I have a better idea of what we're talking about. Clear weather aircraft disappearances seem pretty interesting. Let's explore…
No, we're talking about the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. A lake ship that was lost in a snowstorm. Interesting story, but not a disappearance as such, since the wreckage was found. Gourley brings attention to the fact that the crew of the Fitzgerald apparently didn't realise until too late that their ship was sinking, so didn't take to their lifeboats.
More footage of ships – this time the SS Quedoc, which traveled in tandem with the SS Kamloops, which sank – without trace. Pretty spooky, except that the wreck of the Kamloops was found in August, 1977. I'm guessing… hoping, I suppose… that this episode dates from before August.
Now Gourley is in a maritime museum. Good for him. Maritime museums are cool. He talks about studying early records of vanished ships on the Great Lakes. He gives a little address to camera while standing in front of items from shipwrecks. He's not a great speaker. Not terrible, but not great. He says that some evidence is contradictory.
Looking at photos of old timey ship salvage people, who were searching for the wreck of the SS Bannockburn that allegedly vanished in the time it took for someone to turn his head. More photos of foundering ships, but this time we know what caused them – a type of wave called a 'seiche wave'. There you go, shipwecks solved! Oh, except that meteorologists don't know what causes seiche waves, Nimoy says. So probably aliens?
Lots more footage of boats. But we're going back further looking at Native American myth… Oh, a ship's figurehead in the shape of a Native American. Charming. Anyway, apparently these seiche waves affected Chippewa canoes as well, but they were blamed on a giant fish.
Regretting asking for details. The file photos and re-enactments are coming hard and fast and bringing the creepy music with them. Apparently in 1879 a doctors wife had a vision of a ship named after an Algonquin sorcerer would sink. She was disbelieved – but the ship totally sank!
Nimoy – looking very cold and uncomfortable on the breakwater – then dismisses creepy old stories. We're talking about documented cases, damn it. What was all that stuff about big fish and weird premonitions, show? This is serious.
Footage of airplanes and traffic controllers over a story of an airplane that messed up its approach and landed in the river, killing all on board. Clear sky, pilot working in conjunction with air traffic controller, working altimeter. Interesting
Gourley tells another story of a plane that crashed by misjudging altitude. But the co-pilot lived this time. He says he has no idea why the pilot flew the pilot into the ground.
Air crash forensic types look over plane wreckage. Gourley talks about how impressive the air control and crash analysis teams are. We watch air crash investigators for a while. The point is to show that if the investigators declare the cause of a crash is 'undetermined', then that must indicate a real mystery.
Now watching Canadian fighter jets taking, politely, to the sky. We're told that one of these planes plummeted to Earth without any good reason. As Gourley talks to a Royal Canadian Air Force guy, Nimoy tells us that the explanations for these mysterious crashes "range from conservative scientific evaluations to fanciful speculations on the forces of outer and inner space."
Aliens. Called it!
Anyway, Gourley notes that many of these air disasters take place along the Agonic Line – the line in which Magnetic North and True North are in the same direction. Cast your mind back to Year 9 Geography, and if that doesn't work try Dr Google. Anyway, Gourley doesn't know why air disasters happen on this line.
So he examined a bunch of air and water disasters, trying to find a solution that fits. For example, he examined magnetic interference and black holes because you have to cover your bases. Oh, and he looked into UFOs and psychic forces. But Gourley doesn't buy any of these theories. And he refuses to discount any of them. So Gourley keeps staring into the lake, still searching but never finding, like the friggin' Fugitive or David Banner or whatever.
Now we're looking at Niagara Falls…
Sloooowly I turned… Step by step… Inch by inch I…
I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me there. Anyway, people die in the waters of the Falls because duh. But they also die in places where you wouldn't expect to die. In conclusion: Great Lakes Triangle.
So… Yeah. So I don’t even.
Basically, a heavily trafficked area had number of shipwrecks and air crashes. If we assume a singular reason behind all of these incidents we get nothing.
I… I don't… There's no 'there' there.
Even for this show, it's a long bow. Maybe something odd happening, okay, maybe there's a reason behind it but who knows? I mean…. Ugh.
Oh well. I guess I learned what a Seiche Wave is.
"Some [shipping disasters] could be explained by the vortex theory, the so-called black holes where matter drops in and out of space/time continua." – Nimoy.
File footage of boats: 4/10, Basically uninteresting speaker talking about accident statistics: 3/10, Nimoyness: 5/10, Intriguing central idea: 2/10, Royal Canadian Air Force, Eh?: 10/10. Overall: 24/50. Fail.