Amid the untouched beauty of Alaska's varying landscape, a mystery lingers. Because people seem to go missing at an eerily high rate, a large section of the state has come to be called Alaska's Bermuda Triangle. Planes go down, hikers go missing and Alaskan residents and tourists seem to vanish into the largely untouched backdrop.
The so-called Bermuda Triangle slices through four of the state's regions, from the southeastern wilderness and fjords to the interior tundra and up to the arctic mountain ranges. Its points include the large swath of land from Juneau and Yakutat in the southeast, the Barrow mountain range in the north, and Anchorage in the center of the state.
Even the native Alaska Tlingit Indians that live near Juneau have integrated this peculiar mystery into their religious culture. They believe an evil spirit named Kushtaka, a cross between a man and an otter, captures people who have drowned or gotten lost, whisking them away to his realm never to be seen again.
Evil spirits or not, the rate of people reported missing in Alaska is almost twice the national average. While many cases involve runaways or people who return home, Alaska also has the highest percentage of missing people who are never found [source: Tizon].
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In 2007, Alaska state troopers added 2,833 missing person notices to their Missing Persons Clearinghouse that maintains all related information [source: Alaska Governor's Office]. In a state with just over 670,000 residents, that figure averages out to about four in every 1,000 people.
Along with missing persons reports, state troopers oversee search and rescue operations. In 2007, they performed 42 missions related to overdue hikers, 85 related to overdue boaters and 100 related to overdue snow machine operators who were temporarily missing [source: Alaska Governor's Office]. The Civil Air Service also assists with search and rescue missions, and Alaska's branch received the most state funding and saved the most lives in 2006 out of all other state branches [source: Civil Air Service].
Why are so many people becoming lost or stranded, sometimes forever, in Alaska? Is a Kushtaka spirit skulking in the wild or is Mother Nature to blame?