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Where “Flying Dutchmen” Come From


Where “Flying Dutchmen” Come From Old marine stories have references to ships in the open sea which crew and passengers are either all dead (died instantly) or missing. Usually it looks like they were running away from the ship in panic (urgent launch of lifeboats and unfinished loading of necessary provisions). Undoubtedly, the crew and the passengers were trying to escape from something horrible, something that was going to kill them… In 1948, the captain of the Dutch freighter Orang Medan transmitted a bizarre SOS call, saying his whole crew was dead, while he himself was dying. Ships in the vicinity rushed to assist but it was too late. Everybody was dead. Members of the crew were scattered around the ship, their faces expressing terror. There were no wounds on their bodies and no jewelry had been stolen. So it couldn’t have been seajackers.

In 1960, two empty yachts were found in the Atlantic Ocean with supplies of products, water, and rescue facilities. What made those people leave their boats? Is it somehow connected with numerous disappearances of vessels, such as the English Milton (1970), Norwegian Anna (1973), and other?

People achieve some success in finding an explanation (plausible at least to some extent) to the mystery which hasn’t been unraveled for so many years only now, even though approaches to this explanation appeared a while ago.

In 1934, V. Berezkin, while aboard the hydrographic vessel Taimyr, filled a sounding balloon with hydrogen and, before letting go of it, happened to bring it close to his ear, when he felt a sharp pain in his eardrum. He brought the balloon aside and the pain vanished, brought it closer – and it resumed. He told what had happened to him to the well-known physicist (later academician) V. Shuleykin who happened to be sailing on the same ship, but he had no answer. He was amused by the phenomena and three years later published an article called The Voice of the Sea.

Shuleykin proved that strong winds blowing over the waves of a stormy sea induce low-frequency infrasound oscillations which can’t be heard by the human ear and spread far from the point of their origin. This is what happened to Taimyr. There was a calm, and infrasound waves from a faraway storm reached the vessel. Berezkin noticed them due to the sounding balloon which served as a resonator of the infrasound oscillations, so painful to the ear. As was later proved by scientists, infrasound has biological activity which is displayed when its frequency and alpha-rhythms of the brain coincide.



Press the leftmost piano key. You’ll hear a very low sound. Its frequency is 27 Hz, which is 27 oscillations per second. But if the sound frequency is 15-20 Hz, a man won’t hear it, although due to a resonator (like it happened aboard Taimyr) it can cause ear pain.  The pain increases with the frequency of 15 Hz or lower: apart from the eardrum, it affects brain centers, such as sight. The frequency of 7 Hz or lower can kill under certain conditions.

What are these conditions? It’s still an open question, but scientists believe that one of them is a coincidence of resonance oscillation frequency of the ship’s hull and its spars, and frequency of atmospheric infrasound waves interacting with the ship. In this case, the ship itself becomes a secondary source of infrasound, which is more powerful. People are seized by fear which turns into terror. Panic-stricken, they launch their lifeboats and leave the ship, jump overboard, or die there they are.

This is how infrasound waves turn into waves bringing death.

A. Plakhotnik, oceanologist, candidate of geographic sciences

An extract from the article Fear on a Wave Crest

Vokrug Sveta Magazine, №8




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