10 Creepy Facts You Didn't Know About Amelia Earhart's Disappearance
As you may have heard there’s been quite a hullabaloo the past couple of days surrounding a particular historical aviatrix — so now seems like a good time to take a closer look at all the creepy facts surrounding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Because believe you me, there’s a lot of ‘em — starting with this newly-discovered photo that might just hint at what actually happened to her. Brace yourselves, lovers of weird history, because everything you think you know about one of the greatest mysteries of all time might be a lie.
Here’s what we know: On July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean during what was meant to be a round-the-world flight. What we don’t know, however, is what exactly happened to them. They were never found, and they were never heard from again. The prevailing theory is that they ran out of fuel, crashed, and perished — but on Wednesday, in preparation for an upcoming History Channel documentary called Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, a photograph was revealed that might change everything.
The photo, which was found buried deep in the National Archives, is believed to have been taken in 1937. Marked “Jaluit Atoll” — Jaluit Atoll being one of the 29 coral atolls that make up the Marshall Islands— it shows a dock, a group of people, and a ship towing a barge in the background. The ship, believed to be the Japanese vessel Koshu, is pulling something that looks to be about the same size as Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10-E Electra — and two of the people standing on the dock are believed to be Noonan and Earhart herself.
If the photograph shows what people think it shows, then it might be evidence that Earhart and Noonan survived their plane going down — and an indication of what happened to them afterwards. “We believe that the Koshu took her to Saipan, and that she died there under the custody of the Japanese, said Gary Tarpinian, who executive produced Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, to NBC News — which, by the way, is a theory that's existed for quite some time. However, authorities in Japan contacted by NBC News said they have no record of Earhart ever being in Japanese custody.
Personally, I’m not convinced we’re ever really going to know what happened to Earhart and Noonan; either way, though, it’s certainly a fascinating development in the case. It’s far from the only creepy thing about the disappearance, though — these 10 tidbits definitely give me the heebie-jeebies. Anyone else?
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1. Earhart’s Words Leading Up To Her Final Flight Were Freakily Prophetic
As Earhart neared her 40th birthday — she would have hit her fourth decade on July 24, 1937 — she said, “I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it,” according to the biography on the official Amelia Earhart website. She was hoping that flight would be one that took her around the world — but instead, it’s the one she disappeared during. How spooky is that?
2. Her Last Known Transmission Is Pretty Freaky, Too
Throughout her flight, Earhart’s radio transmissions were irregular, faint, and often full of static. The last two that were picked up by the USCGC Itasca — a Lake-class cutter of the U.S. Coast Guard that was acting as the “picket ship” for Earhart’s journey — came in on the morning of July 2,1937 at 7:42 a.m. and 8:45 a.m: The first said, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” Of note: 1,000 feet is quite low, even for light aircrafts (which usually fly at 10,000 feet); heck, even songbirds fly higher,generally sticking at around 4,000 feet. The second transmission said, “We are running north and south.”
And then… nothing.
That’s the last we heard of her.
3. Another Plane Went Down In The Same Spot Under Similar Circumstances Less Than A Year Before Earhart’s Did
One of the prevailing theories around the time of Earhart’s disappearance was that she had ended up landing on a reef off the coast of Nikumaroro (also known as Gardner Island) — and the reason this theory was so popular was because it had actually happened to another aircraft that went down in the same spot under similar circumstances about nine months prior.
On Oct. 7, 1936, a plane piloted by Harold H. Wood left Darwin, Australia, headed for Koepang, Timor. However, radio direction finding issues during a portion of the trip that occurred over open water resulted in the plane getting lost — so, with no idea where he and his crew were and with fuel running low, Wood brought the plan down on a smooth, dry coral reef he spotted from the air. A search was launched by the government after the plane didn’t arrive when or where it was supposed to, but turned up nothing. However, the pilot and his team were rescued by a fishing boat. They told the whole story in the Dec. 10, 1936 issue of Flight Magazine.
Is it possible that Earhart made a reef landing, but wasn’t lucky enough to get rescued? Yep. And that’s all sorts of terrifying.
4. A Florida Teen May Have Heard Earhart’s Final Moments
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Betty Klenck, who in 1937 was a teenager living in St. Petersburg, Fla., may have heard Amelia Earhart’s last moments on her family’s shortwave radio. While she was surfing frequencies, she claims she heard a voice saying, “This is Amelia Earhart. Help me! Water’s knee deep.Let me out!”; she also says she heard Earhart arguing with a man. She wrote what she heard and took it to her father, who then reported it to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard assured Klenck’s father that they had everything under control.
5. At The Time, The Search For Earhart Was The Most Extensive Air And Sea Search in History
Earhart vanished on July 2, 1937; the official search for here concluded on July 19, 1937. The U.S. government spent $250,00 each day the search went on for a total of $4 million— almost $70,000,00 today, according to this inflation calculator — and combed 250,000 square miles of ocean. To give you a sense of the scale, there are about 270,000 miles between New York and Los Angeles. That’s a lot of miles.
6. The End Of The Official Search Coincided With The End Of Celebrity Aviation
Pilots today aren’t anywhere close to the rock stars they were when Earhart disappeared — and, indeed, Earhart’s disappearance marked the end of an era. According to TIME, Congress at the time was debating making it illegal for the Navy to spend their budget on search-and-rescue missions for flights that weren’t either scientifically or commercially important; additionally, permissions for stunt-y flights were tightening up. Said Assistant Secretary of Commerce John Monroe Johnson to TIME at the time, “From no on no individual will be permitted to take off on any ocean or round-the-world flight that smacks of a stunt.”
7. Earhart Wasn’t Declared Legally Dead Until 1939
Her official “date of death” is Jan. 5, 1939 — a year and a half after she disappeared. Earhart’s husband, publisher and explorer George P. Putnam, had financed a private search after the government ended their own, combing over the Phoenix Islands, Kiritimati Island, Tabuaeran Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands; the search, however, was unsuccessful, and he abandoned it in October of 1937.
Putnam became the trustee of Earhart’s estate; in order to handle her finances, he successfully petitioned in probate court to have the seven-year waiting period usually required for death to be declared in absentia waived.
8. Everything About This Skeleton
In 1940, a partial skeleton was discovered on the island of Nikumaroro. It wasn’t in great shape — the crabs had gotten to it—but a bunch of things were found with the skeleton that made the whole thing worth looking into: The sole of a woman’s shoe, a Benedictine bottle, a box that looked like it had once held a sextant,and a piece of a sextant. Suspected to be Earhart’s remains, the bones were sent to Fiji for analysis — but during the trip, the boat stopped at Tarawa, where the senior medical officer determined that the skeleton belonged to an elderly Polynesian man who had been dead for several decades. The officer confiscated the bones… after which point they disappeared.
I can’t be the only person who read that and immediately began wondering if a conspiracy was at play.
In any event, the plot thickened in 2016, when The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) found the medical officer’s records and reexamined them. They discovered that the measurements of the skeleton’s radius and humerus had the same ratio as that of Amelia Earhart’s — which was notable because, at 0.76, Earthart’s ratio was longer than average (0.73) for women born at the time she was. “The match does not, of course, prove that the castaway was Amelia Earhart but it is a significant new data point that tips the scales further in that direction,” said the group according to The Telegraph.
9. It Took 23 Years To Figure Out Whether This Scrap Of Metal Was Part Of Her Plane
In 1991, TIGHAR found a scrap of aluminum on Nikumaroro. It measured 19 inches by 23 inches, was made of the same material Earhart’s Electra was, and looked like it could possibly be the very first piece of the plane that’s ever been found. Ever. Trouble was, it was oddly shaped—and as a result, no one could figure out exactly where on the plane it might have come from. Eventually, said Richard Gillespie of TIGHAR to Wired in 2014, “We… reached the point that we decided that it couldn’t be from Earhart’s plane.”
Decades later, though, TIGHAR’s researchers noticed something: In pictures of the Electra taken the day it took off, a patch at the tail indicated an “improvised repair.” After analyzing the photo more closely and taking a look at a restored Electra to see how all the pieces might have fit together, TIGHAR determined that the aluminum sheet would have been a perfect fit. “This is the first time we’ve ever found something we can link directly to Earhart’s aircraft,” Gillespie told Wired. “And we’re going to treat it as a piece of her aircraft.”
10. There Are Soooooo Many Conspiracy Theories About What Happened To Her
My favorite, however, is the one that says she was shot down, captured by the Japanese, rescued with the help of a Catholic priest, returned to the United States, and lived out the rest of her days in New Jersey under an assumed identity. A book published in 1970 made the claim that Amelia Earthart was a banker named Irene Bolam, whose name “appeared to be a code which spelled out in degrees and minutes of latitude and longitude the precise location of a tropical beach where Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan crashed after being shot down,” quoted Weird New Jersey. Bolam, however, was not having it; she said it was a hoax and filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the book’s publisher. The book was pulled and the case settled out of court.
Other books have been published pushing the Earhart-as-Bolam theory — although notably, most of them didn’t come out until after her death in 1982. The most recent, Amelia Earhart: Beyond the Grave, was published in 2015.
Is the recently unearth photograph actually of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan? Honestly, I don't think we're ever going to be able to say it is with complete and utter certainty. The case is compelling, though, so I'll be interested to see how it all plays out. Tune into Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence on the History Channel at 9 p.m. ET on July 9 for more.