‘The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters’ Stars Wayne Abbott and David O’Keefe Discuss Their Historic NASA Discovery — and More Wrecks
History’s brand new series The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters tells the story of deep sea diver and scientist, Mike Barnette and his investigative team, as they explore and discover shipwrecks, plane wrecks and different theories surrounding the Bermuda Triangle. While Barnette dives the wrecks, his land team looks for eyewitnesses, lost documents and other evidence. This six-episode series aims to identify one wreck per episode and solve the mystery of what happened.
In the first episode, the team stumbled upon and discovered an incredible piece of American history: The wreck of the space shuttle Challenger from the 1986 disaster. We spoke with Wayne Abbott and David O’Keefe to find out more about their experience finding and uncovering the important artifact.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How was the investigative team put together?
David: The investigative team was actually put together based on a pilot we did a couple of years ago. Wayne and I – who did War Junk for history television – teamed up with Lone Wolf Productions out of Maine. They married us up with Mike Barnette, one of the best divers in the world, and his assistant, Jimmy Gudinski. Then we brought in an aviation specialist named Jason Harris, a lieutenant colonel in the American Air Force.
Wayne: We have Mike and Jimmy, who are on the dive team, so they’re in the water. Any time we come across a plane wreck, we always bring in Jason because of his expertise [in] being in the Air Force and as a lieutenant colonel, and then Dave and I basically tackle all the other mysteries of not only helping Mike solve what wreck we’ve come across, but Dave and I delve into the mysteries of what is known as the Bermuda Triangle.
What made you decide to find these shipwrecks and plane wrecks?
Wayne: The Holy Grail for all of us is to find the planes of Flight 19 that went missing in December 1945. This is one of the greatest mysteries of the triangle, if not in aviation history. These five planes went out and were never seen again. These planes [had] kind of started the myth of the Bermuda Triangle. Each of those wrecks [is] mysterious, unknown and leads to different stories, not only about the shipwrecks but also about the Bermuda Triangle.
David: We have yet to find them, but we know they’re out there somewhere and we are going to continue through each one of these episodes. It’s kind of like an old show back in the sixties called The Fugitive, where it was all about finding the one-armed man, but the one-armed man was not found until the last episode. It’s one of those things where the search for the one-armed man brings you into contact with all these incredible other sub-mysteries.
What was your role in the investigation?
David: It was the natural kind of role that we took on with this team. The fun part is with Wayne and I, not only do we get a chance to investigate, but we also get a chance to put the puzzle pieces together. It’s one thing to go out there and unearth something. It’s another thing to figure out exactly what the significance is. What are we looking at? What is its role in history? What is the real importance of that? But at the same time, we also get into a lot of fun adventures as well, and you will see that coming up in the rest of the series.
Wayne: In each episode, we take on a different challenge and aspect of the Bermuda Triangle. You’ll see us probably a bit more in the episodes that follow because some of our investigations get a bit deeper and we get into some pretty amazing stuff. We’re bouncing around anywhere from the Bahamas to Florida. We’re up in the air, we’re way out in the water and in one episode we’re even chasing storms.
Out of the discoveries that you found on the show, what was the most surprising one?
David: The big one was the space shuttle, to be able to discover something that you weren’t expecting to find and doing it almost accidentally. But then again, when you do your research properly, you shouldn’t be shocked that you are going to find some stuff like this. But it definitely was amazing. Here we are looking for the planes associated with the Flight 19 tragedy, we stumbled across another tragedy from 1986, which was the space shuttle Challenger.
Wayne: It’s the biggest find [probably] in the last few years in any kind of wreck. They came across it in March when they were doing some reconnaissance dives and then they went back in May. At that point in May, they kind of realized, I think we might have found a section of Challenger. The team went to NASA and then they confirmed it. We let them control the narrative at that point because we know that this is [the] property of the U.S. government.
David: We received a message the night before saying at 9 o’clock, this will be on [President] Biden’s desk in the White House, followed by Congress, followed by the announcement. So, suddenly then you understood the perspective of this. You understood the context and what this really means.
In the first episode, we know that the mystery target you were trying to find was the Martin Mariner. It ended up being the Challenger. When you saw the footage, did you initially have a clue?
Wayne: By the time we saw the footage we were already told that the divers believed that they had come across [the] Challenger. The Challenger story has always been part of the Martin Mariner story because it’s in the same area. But I don’t think we ever thought that we would find [it] just because we thought they had picked up all the pieces. So we thought it was a shock to the divers at the time, like, oh my God, how could this be Challenger? Didn’t they get anything? Everything?
David: Yeah, we’re not talking about a tiny little piece. We’re talking about a large chunk from the underbelly over 20 square feet. So, this is quite sizable. As Wayne was saying, that was the shocking part of it. We would have assumed many years ago it would have all been scooped up for their investigations. But here we are in 2022, and there’s still this incredible piece of American history and space history sitting at the bottom of the ocean.
What was going on in your mind when you found out it was the Challenger?
David: At first I thought it was like a tiled dance floor. We were kind of kidding around thinking, maybe this is Atlantis and then because the size of it was so big, it probably would have made more sense to me at first if it was a smaller piece, that’s really what kind of throws you off. Just seeing also the vibrant colour. The orange. Colour tends to stick with you. That brought me right back to 1986. It’s a signpost in history, you know where you were, and you know what you were doing when [the] Challenger blew up.
Wayne: It touched me deeply because of the tragedy and the seven astronauts that were killed, including the schoolteacher. Because that was the big thing in ‘86, that there was a school teacher that was going to be the first teacher in space and everybody was watching it. I think we’re all just honoured to be able to tell this story and to bring [the] Challenger back.
Can you tell us more about what viewers can expect in the rest of the series?
Wayne: We find something that needs to be deciphered, a mystery – something unknown. We come across mysterious plane wrecks and shipwrecks. What do we delve into? Rogue waves. We delve into gas methane, and we do an episode where we look at the recently declassified files from the Pentagon about UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena). So each episode there is a wreck or some anomaly that’s found.
David: Basically either manmade, natural or perhaps – dare I say it – alien. There’s always sort of fun. That’s the fun part, right? You never know what you’re going to get.
What do you hope viewers will learn about the Bermuda triangle?
Wayne: You’re going to find out stories that you’ve never heard of before. You’re going to find out about ships and planes that you’ve never heard of before. You’re going to see Dave and I kind of delve into the dark force of the Bermuda Triangle as we just try to figure out if there’s something strange and bizarre about this area of ocean. You’ll have to watch to find out.
David: There’s a lot of unexplained mysteries out there, whether you believe in the triangle or not. We’re going off and we’re ticking off each one of them, each mystery like we would tick off boxes. And it’s a lot of fun what we’re doing. It’s something that the viewers are kind of swept up with. They come along with us as part of the team.
David: There’s a human story to it all. With all the planes and ships that have gone down, we tend to forget that there were people onboard. Whether it’s their families 100 years later or something that’s more recent, finding something or even finding the truth about what happened could bring closure at a level you’ve never expected before.
The Bermuda Triangle: Into Cursed Waters airs Tuesdays at 10EP.
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