PBS series Secrets of the Dead uses 3D technology to examine 1962 Alcatraz escape

alcatraz pbs 3d technology
One of the greatest mysteries in U.S. history may have gained new life in 3D. A new episode of PBS’ investigative documentary series Secrets of the Dead will explore the work of three Dutch scientists who used 3D technology to demonstrate that the three men who escaped from Alcatraz prison in 1962 possibly survived.

On June 11, 1962, bank robbers Frank Morris and brothers Clarence & John Anglin escaped from Alcatraz, which at the time was regarded as the most secure prison in America. Dutch scientists Olivier Hoes and Rolf Hut used tidal charts and 3D computer modeling to recreate the water currents of the San Francisco Bay. The pair later added the expertise of Fedor Baart, a particle tracking expert and computer simulations specialist, who created a computer model to simulate dozens of possible outcomes if a raft carrying three people set out on the night of the escape.

This is not entirely new information, as Dr. Ruff explained the team’s findings in a 2014 blog post. In the post, he explains how the trio of escaped convicts had a narrow window between 11 pm and midnight to hit the sea on the fateful night. According to Hut, if the escapees entered the water before 11 pm they would have been swept into the Pacific where they would more than likely have died of hypothermia. If they tried after midnight, the tide would have pushed them into the bay, where searches have yet to turn up any bodies after almost 55 years.

The FBI have long believed the men died at sea, but held that Angel Island would be the most likely destination after finding paddle-like wood, rubber inner tube pieces and a homemade life vest near the island and on Cronkhite Beach. In a written statement in 2014, Baart explains the discrepancy in the two conclusions by writing “the model predicts that any debris would then float back into the bay in the direction of Angel Island, exactly where the FBI found a paddle and some personal belongings.”

Technology is not the only tool used to uncover the mystery on this episode of Secrets of the Dead. Jolene Babyak, daughter of an associate warden at Alcatraz, who was at the prison on the night of the escape, is one of the people interviewed for the documentary. Others include Michael Dyke of the U.S. Marshals Service, to whom the FBI passed the investigation after closing it on December 31, 1979.

Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape premieres Tuesday, March 29 at 9 pm ET on PBS.


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