95 Years After A Ship Vanished In The Bermuda Triangle, Treasure Hunters Made An Eerie Discovery

The mysterious disappearance of a century-old ship has been described as one of the “[Bermuda] Triangle’s biggest secrets,” according to USA Today. But now, almost 100 years after the vessel first vanished, a group of scientists have made a stunning discovery. And it’s one that could turn the entire mythos of the famously freaky region on its head.

The S.S. Cotopaxi was a steam-driven freighter that took its name from an active volcano in South America. It set sail from South Carolina on its final, ill-fated journey in November 1925. Aboard the vessel’s decks were more than 30 crew members and a large consignment of coal, all destined for Havana, Cuba. But the Cotopaxi never arrived at its intended destination.

And what’s more, its crew were never seen or heard from again. In the decades since its mysterious disappearance, then, superstitious seafarers have created a mythos around the Cotopaxi’s ultimate fate. So folklore and ghost stories have surrounded the ship for years – and some of these tales involve the Cotopaxi falling foul of the Bermuda Triangle.

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The legendary Triangle spans roughly half a million square miles and connects Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Miami – although its borders are somewhat hazy. Freight, pleasure and cruise vessels frequently use the area to reach ports on either side of the North Atlantic Ocean. Both private and commercial planes constantly travel above it, too. And over the decades – as you likely already know – a number of these craft have apparently vanished without explanation.

Yet, according to the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, millions of shipwrecks litter the depths of our seas anyway. That figure spans all of human existence, of course – from boats lost thousands of years ago right through to modern vessels. And of all those ships, it’s thought that fewer than one-hundredth of them have been investigated. Many have never even been found. So what makes the Triangle so noteworthy?

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Well, over the years, various conspiracy theorists have attributed the disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle to paranormal or even extra-terrestrial activities. The first recorded intimation of anything untoward came from Edward Van Winkle Jones, who floated the idea in The Miami Herald in 1950. Then, in 1952, George Sand made claims of supernatural events in Fate magazine.

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According to Sand – who provided the earliest description of the region as a triangle – paranormal forces may have been involved in the disappearance of five U.S. Navy aircraft. The group, designated Flight 19, apparently lost their way while flying over the Bermuda Triangle in 1945. The story goes that navigation controls malfunctioned, and as a result the planes simply flew directionless until they exhausted their fuel supplies.

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But all five bombers – and all of the passengers and crew – simply disappeared. And, extraordinarily, the same fate befell the rescue plane that was sent to investigate. The official Navy report simply concluded that it was “as if [the planes] had flown to Mars,” according to History.com. So, because of Sand and other writers such as Charles Berlitz and Vincent Gaddis, Flight 19 became the first major event tied to the Bermuda Triangle.

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It was Gaddis who first coined the now-infamous term in a 1964 issue of U.S. periodical Argosy. His piece, headlined “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle,” suggested that Flight 19 was just one of many similar events in the area. Berlitz then expanded on the subject in his 1974 book, The Bermuda Triangle, of which almost 20 million copies were sold.

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Berlitz entertains multiple potential explanations for the vanishing of ships and aircraft in the pages of The Bermuda Triangle. For instance, one particularly outlandish notion posits that the phenomenon is a result of Atlantis being destroyed. Berlitz’s best-seller would later go on to inspire both a movie and a documentary. It also generally helped to permeate the idea of the Bermuda Triangle throughout pop culture.

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Long before the concept of the Triangle was formed, though, some of history’s best-known figures spun tales of its mystery. During his inaugural voyage to the Americas in 1492, for example, Christopher Columbus wrote of a strange bright light with no obvious origin. Historians have since pointed to a meteor as one possible explanation.

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Some scholars also believe that the plot of William Shakespeare’s 17th-century play The Tempest relates to a Bermuda Triangle shipwreck. But it would be another 300 years before the region began to stoke public interest. Why? Well, during 1918, a U.S. Navy vessel tragically and mysteriously sank between Chesapeake Bay and Barbados – taking a crew of several hundred with it.

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The U.S.S. Cyclops could emit an emergency signal, but no such call came. No trace of the vessel was ever recovered, either. This prompted then-U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to say, “Only God and the sea know what happened to the great ship.” And two decades later, a couple of its sister craft met a similar fate in similar circumstances.

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Many possible explanations for how the ships vanished have been put forth in the years that followed, of course. At the time, most of these centered around the First and Second World Wars or the personnel in charge of the vessels. But as the idea of the Bermuda Triangle took hold, some theorists pointed to supernatural causes: UFOs or an unidentified sea monster.

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Yet even in the 1970s the concept of the Bermuda Triangle was regarded as fanciful. And whereas some authors, including Richard Winer and John Wallace Spencer, sought to capitalize on the mystery, others pushed back. The year after Berlitz published his sensational book, for instance, author Larry Kusche released a rebuttal titled The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved.

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In his riposte, Kusche identified multiple contradictions, falsehoods and omissions in Berlitz’s work. He claimed Berlitz had failed to include key data that would likely explain many of the so-called mysteries detailed in his book, for instance. Kusche also said Berlitz had misrepresented other cases as well. An ore-carrier that Berlitz reported as missing in the Atlantic Ocean had actually vanished in the Pacific, Kusche revealed.

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Kusche isn’t the only one who’s been critical of the Bermuda Triangle myth over the years, either. A 1976 episode of the science TV show Nova concluded, “When we’ve gone back to the original sources or the people involved, the mystery evaporates. Science does not have to answer questions about the Triangle because those questions are not valid in the first place… Ships and planes behave in the Triangle the same way they behave everywhere else in the world.”

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And in 1992 the insurance company Lloyd’s of London told the U.K.’s Channel 4 that it didn’t consider the supposed Bermuda Triangle a high-risk area. The U.S. Coast Guard is equally skeptical, too. A statement on its website reads, “In a review of many aircraft and vessel losses in the area over the years, there has been nothing discovered that would indicate that casualties were the result of anything other than physical causes.”

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Indeed, many of the disappearances may be simply due to hazardous weather conditions. Hurricanes and tropical storms are common in the region, for example. And they would likely have caught many vessels by surprise in the past, when less accurate forecasts were available. Investigations have also listed human error as a cause – such as when a businessman seemingly directed his yacht into a tempest out of sheer pig-headedness.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) website contends that “the ocean has always been a mysterious place to humans, and when foul weather or poor navigation is involved, it can be a very deadly place.” It continues, “There is no evidence that mysterious disappearances occur with any greater frequency in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other large, well-traveled area of the ocean.”

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Beliefs in the Bermuda Triangle’s “powers” have been difficult to quash, though. And as recently as 2015, a “scientific breakthrough” was touted as a possible explanation for the area’s disappearances. The theory was that craters found off the coast of Norway pointed to sub-aquatic methane blasts having occurred many centuries ago. Many observers thus suggested that the craters could have sunk ships in the Bermuda Triangle. But while experts quickly refuted this hypothesis, it’s clear that the myth of the Triangle still abounds.

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It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Cotopaxi has become inextricably linked with the phenomenon over the decades. Yet it’s not just conspiracy theorists who’ve made the connection between the missing ship and the Bermuda Triangle. One of Hollywood’s most famous directors has also referred to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the Cotopaxi’s disappearance.

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Yes, the Cotopaxi makes an appearance in Steven Spielberg’s seminal 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The main character first connects the ship to the Bermuda Triangle – and then it’s found in the Gobi Desert as part of a wider surge in extra-terrestrial activity. Despite the filmmakers’ vivid imaginations, though, it seems an unlikely solution to the 95-year-old mystery.

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For nearly a century, then, the friends and family of the Cotopaxi’s unfortunate crew have had no answers. But in January 2020, a team of researchers revealed that they’d made a stunning breakthrough in the case. The story begins more than three decades earlier when researchers first stumbled on mysterious wreckage around 40 miles off the shores of Florida.

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At the time, nobody could successfully identify the ship – so it was simply dubbed “Bear Wreck.” Then, at the turn of the millennium, a researcher named Michael Barnette arrived in Florida, eager to investigate the wreckage that lay in the surrounding waters. And it didn’t take long for him to notice the Bear Wreck.

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So Barnette, who works with NOAA, dove down to the wreckage and came back up with a hypothesis. But it was one that would take years of work and research to prove. First, the expert set about calculating the precise dimensions of the shipwreck. Then he cross-referenced these with insurance documents and legal files.

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In the end, however, no smoking gun identified the shipwreck. “We didn’t have a bell with a name on it or anything like that,” Barnette told CNN in January 2020. But through his meticulous research, the biologist managed to confirm his initial hunch: the remains belonged to the S.S. Cotopaxi.

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Barnette confirmed the long-lost vessel’s identity using paperwork from the time of its disappearance. You see, the intended course of the ship’s voyage and lists of its equipment matched both its current whereabouts and the items Barnette had discovered while diving. A fellow diver spotted valves on the vessel that had been imprinted with “SV,” too.

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According to Barnette, “SV” likely referred to Scott Valve Manufacturing Co., which was based in Michigan – relatively close to the Cotopaxi’s birthplace. “It made sense that a local shipbuilder is going to use local suppliers of hardware and things of that nature,” Barnette told Live Science in February 2020. So the marine biologist was confident of the ship’s identity. But the story of how the Cotopaxi came to be on the ocean floor would take a little longer to fall into place.

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The breakthrough came when Guy Walters, a British researcher, found a record of the Cotopaxi emitting an emergency transmission only two days after it departed the U.S. The alert apparently originated not far off Florida’s coast. So, with this key part of the puzzle in place, Barnette and his colleagues could now piece together a likely explanation.

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According to the team, a combination of a couple of issues doomed the Cotopaxi to its fate. First, the ship itself was unsuited to battling any kind of stormy conditions – probably as a result of financial restrictions caused by the Great Depression. And second, the vessel subsequently found itself confronting such stormy conditions.

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During their underwater excavations of the wreckage, the team found that the ship’s holds had already been in a damaged state before the Cotopaxi left port. This had left its interior open to the elements. “The ship was doomed at that point,” Barnette told USA Today in January 2020. And an unrelenting, fast-moving storm likely pummeled the ship and its crew into oblivion, taking its predicament from “bad to catastrophic in very short order,” the expert added.

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As a result, the S.S. Cotopaxi and its 32-strong crew never reached Havana. And, 95 years later, what’s left of their attempt to transport their cargo now lies off the shores of North Florida. But while a fictional version of the ship may have appeared in a major motion picture, its real fate is nothing like the wrecks you’ll see in any Hollywood movie. Barnette has described the remains of the Cotopaxi today as closer to a sub-aquatic junk pile.

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Barnette later approached the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum to confirm his discovery. Chuck Meide, who oversees the museum’s Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, told CNN, “When I saw the research he did, I was pretty impressed. He had done a lot of archival research, and he had the plans of the Cotopaxi, and he had the court records of the relatives of the crew that perished in the incident, who sued the owner of the company.”

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And while Meide already knew of the “Bear Wreck,” he hadn’t checked it out for himself. That’s because his program’s priority is looking at colonial shipwrecks, of which St. Augustine claimed many. “Ships had to come and go here and yet we had a really dangerous inlet,” Meide said. “The inlet to get into St. Augustine was very shallow, and it moves around a lot. So it resulted in a lot of shipwrecks.”

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To determine the veracity of Barnette’s claims, then, the museum sent a team of researchers to take measurements from the wreckage in 2019. “Those things matched up with the blueprints we had of the ship,” Meide said. “So the size of the boilers match exactly, the position of the boilers. The layout of the ship.”

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As a result, Barnette published a video in which he stated that the Cotopaxi was lying on the Atlantic Ocean’s floor near the coast of Florida. That clip then caught the attention of Science Channel executives, who quickly got in touch with Barnette to find out more.

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The result was the first episode of the channel’s Shipwreck Secrets series. First aired in February 2020, the installment featuring the Cotopaxi details Barnette’s extraordinary quest. And the marine biologist’s dearest wish is that his work will make people focus on the lives lost in the ship’s disappearance and the impact this has had on the crew’s surviving families.

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After all, the Bermuda Triangle has never been assigned distinct borders. And even so, the Cotopaxi’s wreck would join many others associated with the Triangle in technically not being located within the loosely defined area. So while the mysterious vessel has long been associated with this equally mysterious legend, it can’t claim to be a victim of the Bermuda Triangle.

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Meide told CNN that he’s never bought into the myth surrounding the area, either. “It’s not too mysterious that you have a lot of shipwrecks in an area like Bermuda or the Florida Keys or the Caribbean,” he said. “We have a lot of shipping, but you also have a lot of hazards, like coral reefs and hurricanes and that kind of thing.” And now, thanks to Barnette, Meide can add the Cotopaxi to the long list of missing ships explained by facts, not fiction.

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This is not the only story of ships salvaged from the Bermuda Triangle, of course. It was actually a search for old English shipwrecks that had led Darrell Miklos to the Bahamas. But as the treasure hunter roved the seabed inside a hi-tech submersible, he laid eyes on something unexpected. Incredibly, he’d found a vast and unfathomable structure that appears to be neither natural nor manmade. What the structure is, where it has come from and who – or what – may have built it were a complete mystery…

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The Bermuda Triangle – also nicknamed the Devil’s Triangle – has a notorious reputation for weird happenings. The area in question covers a triangular stretch of ocean between the southern tip of Florida and the Caribbean islands of Bermuda and Puerto Rico. And it is, according to popular myth, a vortex of unexplained disasters. In fact, some 75 aircraft together with oceangoing vessels numbering in the hundreds have gone missing there – and yet nobody really knows why.

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There are theories, of course, and they range from the mundane to the outright bizarre. Some blame the disappearances on natural forces such as the Gulf Stream. Others posit otherworldly involvement. And while skeptics may balk at such outlandish conjecture, in 2018 Miklos located an enormous Unidentified Submerged Object (USO) on the seabed inside the triangle. Could it be, then, that those alien-related theories were suddenly rendered not as farfetched as they first appear?

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A 55-year-old professional salvager, Miklos has spent decades roaming the oceans in search of sunken treasure. Indeed, nautical travel appears to be in his blood. At the age of seven, he snuck on board a boat jointly belonging to his uncle and father and joined them on a mission to salvage NASA booster rockets. Then later, his father introduced him to Gordon Cooper, a famous astronaut, and the pair became good friends.

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In fact, starting in 1997, Miklos and Cooper collaborated on a string of projects that took them all over the Americas. They explored and recovered shipwrecks in the Caribbean. They staged expeditions to ancient ruins in southern Mexico. And they built boats in the U.S., Canada and beyond. Then, in 2004, Cooper died at the age of 77. But before he died, he apparently gifted a collection of rare treasure maps to Miklos.

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Cooper, who participated in Project Mercury, became the first U.S. citizen to be televised from space. And, interestingly, part of his work for NASA involved long-range espionage. Specifically, he was assigned the task of scanning the Earth and its oceans for unusual magnetic readings that might indicate the presence of Soviet nuclear facilities. But Cooper then allegedly used that data to compile treasure maps.

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Then, over four decades later, the maps formed the basis for Cooper’s Treasure – Miklos’ Discovery Channel documentary series. In the first season, the maps led Miklos to what appeared to be an anchor belonging to a Christopher Columbus vessel. And he subsequently located scores of shipwrecks – with a value of millions of dollars. However, it was during filming for the second season that Cooper’s maps led Miklos to something very different indeed.

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“I investigated some of Gordon’s [Cooper’s] charts,” Miklos told the Daily Mail in August 2018. “[And] I realized that there was something else on there that [he] was referring to.” Indeed, instead of labeling this particular anomaly a shipwreck, Cooper had apparently marked it with the compelling words “unidentified object.”

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But it wasn’t until Miklos got up close to the object that he reportedly realized quite how unusual it is. “It’s a formation unlike anything I’ve ever seen related to shipwreck material. It was too big for that,” he told the British newspaper. “It was also something that was completely different from anything that I’ve seen that was made by nature.”

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Miklos had stumbled upon an enormous USO that resembled a “steep wall cliff,” with 15 “arms” in three groups of five. Each protrusion was, the explorer said, “the size of a gun on a battleship.” And as he explained to the Daily Mail, “I have years of experience at doing this, [and] we’ve identified multiple different types of shipwreck material. [But] this doesn’t match or look anything like that.”

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The object is also covered in a dense layer of coral, which is itself something of a mystery. Scientists working for Miklos claim that reefs can’t grow in such formations on their own – and therefore that they must have formed on top of a substructure. The experts in addition say that the coral might be thousands of years old, which suggests that the structure below the waves cannot be manmade. But if that’s the case, then what could it be?

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Miklos wondered if Cooper might have secretly known what it is – or at least had an inkling. As the treasure hunter told the Daily Mail, “It made sense to me why it wasn’t identified as a shipwreck [on the chart]. He [Gordon Cooper] had to mean it might be something from another world. Gordon believed in aliens. He believed that we had visitors from other planets. He also believed that a lot of these things landed in this particular part of the world.”

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Certainly, Cooper professed to have sighted numerous UFOs during his career in the U.S. Air Force and was vocal in his belief in extraterrestrial phenomena. He also claimed that the U.S. government was hiding critical information about UFOs. And he believed that aliens had handed on technology to Earth governments via emissaries from other worlds.

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Speaking to a United Nations panel in 1985, Cooper urged further research. “I believe that these extra-terrestrial vehicles and their crews are visiting this planet,” he said. “I feel that we need to have a top-level, coordinated program to scientifically collect and analyze data from all over the Earth concerning any type of encounter – and to determine how best to interface with these visitors in a friendly fashion.”

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Of course, it is easy to dismiss Cooper’s assertions as fanciful, but Miklos, for one, believes that he was sane. “The man I knew wasn’t a whack job. He wasn’t hallucinating. And he wasn’t making things up to gain attention,” Miklos told the Daily Mail. “He was an honest, straightforward individual who only wanted to investigate and explore the possibilities of the unknown, even if it meant risking his professional career.”

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But what of the history of the Bermuda Triangle itself? Well, its earliest documented mysterious event dates to the 15th century and appears to have involved a couple of UFO sightings. On his inaugural voyage to the Americas, Christopher Columbus was sailing through the triangle when he reportedly saw a large, fiery phenomenon crash into the sea. Then, just weeks after that, the famous explorer saw an eerie, inexplicable light off towards the horizon.

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Since then, more than 2,300 people have lost their lives in the triangle in strange or unexplained circumstances. One of the most notorious cases is that of five American Grumman Avenger torpedo bombers and their total of 14 crew, all of whom disappeared on December 5, 1945, while flying over the mysterious area. A Martin Mariner flying boat with a crew of 13 was then dispatched to find the missing men – but that, too, disappeared. Could UFOs have been involved?

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Many colorful theories have arisen in a bid to explain such disappearances. Indeed, one such theory even suggests that remnants of sunken technology from the lost civilization of Atlantis are to blame. However, it is quite likely that nothing mysterious is happening at all. Considering the fact that the Bermuda Triangle figures as among the world’s busiest shipping routes, the number of wrecks in the area is probably not statistically significant.

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This doesn’t, however, mean that Miklos’ USO should not be investigated further. And yet much may depend on whether the Discovery Channel orders a new season of Cooper’s Treasure from AMPLE Entertainment – the production company responsible for the program. “I don’t feel like we’ve even scratched the surface of what’s in Cooper’s files,” said one of the company’s founders, Ari Mark, to the Daily Mail. “But that’s what we hope to do in a third season.”

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Naturally, Miklos wants to solve the supposed mystery too. “I want to see what it is, because it may be nature-made, just a freak of nature,” he said. “But given its placement in this particular part of the Caribbean, and given what Gordon [Cooper]… told me about visitors from another planet, and the things that I’ve seen, I think it’s definitely worth investigating.”

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