Alcatraz mystery: Did prisoners reach freedom or perish in treacherous waters?
The 1962 Escape from Alcatraz is arguably the most famous prison break in history, but could the weather and tides in the San Francisco Bay make it hard for the prisoners to survive the swim?
The 1962 Escape from Alcatraz is arguably the most famous prison break in history, but did conditions in the San Francisco Bay make it hard for the prisoners to survive the swim? FOX Weather's Max Gorden took a deeper dive into the unsolved mystery to see if weather and tides affected the infamous disappearance.
Located on a lonely island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris laid plaster heads in their cots and escaped through holes in the walls of their cells.
Now, 60 years later, the FBI still cannot verify how these three prisoners escaped one of the world's most secure prisons.
"Now, the swim that these convicts would have been attempting is more than a mile long," Gorden said. "The water here, very cold, can quickly lead to hypothermia, and the tides can sweep you out to sea."
During the summer months, Gorden noted that winds could kick up waves and strong tides rush in and out of San Francisco Bay. These conditions likely presented the prisoners with a chaotic situation.
Renowned Alcatraz historian John Martini spoke with Gorden and made it clear the real danger for the escapees was not the prison.
"The real walls of Alcatraz were the waters of San Francisco Bay," Martini said. "It whips around the island, and it causes currents and eddies much the way a boulder does in the middle of a flowing trout stream."
The convicts created a raft using raincoats, a wooden panel, and lifejackets, one of which historian John Martin witnessed with his own eyes while studying Alcatraz history.
Martini told Gorden that the raft they created was destroyed, and an inflatable tube had been chewed to pieces.
Warren Wallace, the founder of Odyssey Open Water Swimming, worked to recreate the swim that likely occurred 60 years ago to see if these men could have survived. Wallace's company specializes in leading swims across the bay's bitterly cold, choppy waters.
"The psychological side of it is really one of the biggest things for almost everybody," Wallace said. "You start getting a sense of what it must have been like for these guys."
Wallace met several challenges while trying to make the journey. Even though he was held up by an oil tanker mid-swim and swam against the high-speed tide, Wallace completed the swim about an hour and a half later.
Having kept himself afloat without a wetsuit, Warren told Gorden that the relentless waves and disorienting darkness made for a highly challenging journey.
"The big feeling that I was getting the whole time is this kind of uncertainty," Warren said.
The world will likely never know if John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris made it to safety.
The FBI called it quits on the case in December of 1979. The U.S. marshals continue to investigate on the off chance that the three men are still alive.