The Odd Vanishing of Amelia Earhart
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The Odd Vanishing of Amelia Earhart

– This week on Buzzfeed
Unsolved we discuss the enduring mystery
behind the disappearance of famed pilot Amelia Earhart. This one has been the
topic of wide speculation for about 80 years now. There’s a lot of interesting
theories out there. – I don’t know any of them. – This seems kind cut and dry, but– – Oh no, there’s more to it? – There may be more
than meets the eye here. – Oh.
– Ooh. – Oh oh oh.
– Oh. – All right, shall we
just get into it, then? – Yes. – [Ryan] On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic, and one of the most
famous women in the world disappeared along with her
navigator, Fred Noonan, while attempting to
circumnavigate the globe at the equator. Before we get into the incident, let’s quickly provide some context into how accomplished Earhart truly was. The Babe of the Sky. – [Shane] Is that what they called her? – [Ryan] I’ve heard that, yeah. – That’s dope.
– It’s pretty sick. – Babe of the Sky. Hey, there goes Amelia
Earhart, Babe of the Sky. – [Ryan] Amelia Earhart
was born on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. In 1928, Earhart became the first woman to cross the Atlantic, albeit
as a passenger in a plane with two other pilots. However, on May 20th to the 21st of 1932, Earhart would make the trip
again, this time alone, flying from Newfoundland to
Ireland for about 15 hours. She was the second person to
ever complete this flight. During this trip, she
demonstrated her resourcefulness in times of peril, as
her plane suffered a leak in the fuel tank, ice on the wings, and a cracked manifold,
which caused the engine to spew flames at one point. Yet, she still completed the flight. On August 24, 1932, Earhart
flew from LA to Newark, setting a record at that time
for longest distance flown without refueling. She also became the first female pilot to complete a nonstop
transcontinental flight. – [Shane] She’s got some salt in the game. – [Ryan] She’s the
Michael Jordan of flying. – [Shane] Well, Michael
Jordan never disappeared on a basketball court forever, so– – Well, I meant in terms
of accomplishments. Michael Jordan never went up for a dunk and then just disappeared. Whoa, where’d he go, where’d the Air go? This takes us to 1937,
when Earhart set her sights on circling the globe,
zigzagging along the Equator requiring long hauls over water. If successful, she would have
been the first female pilot to fly around the world. Her journey would have
taken her about 29,000 miles over roughly 40 days, starting
and ending in California, and would have included 20 stops, including San Juan, Calcutta, and Bangkok. – [Shane] Hope she’s
bringing some Chewy Bars. – [Ryan] One time I
went on a flight to Asia and I felt like I wanted to die. – [Shane] How long was it? – [Ryan] It was, oh I
don’t know, like 19 hours. – [Shane] So then this was 40 days? – This was 40 days.
– Ay yi yi. – [Ryan] That’s a month. – [Shane] Yeah, that’s more than a month. – Could you imagine doing
one thing for month, like eating popcorn, our favorite
thing to do in the world. Imagine sitting in a chair and
all you did was eat popcorn, okay, that sounds pretty good. – That’s sounds pretty good.
– That’s pretty good, actually, that’s a bad example. Earhart flew in a twin
engine Lockheed 10-Electra, a 10-passenger high performance airliner, specifically outfitted with special tanks that allowed it to carry
over 1,000 pounds of fuel, rather than the usual 200. – [Shane] So when they built this one, they specifically said,
“Let’s make a plane “that won’t catch on fire.” – [Ryan] I mean, that’s the
goal with every plane, isn’t it? – [Shane] Seems like they’re
not doing a great job at that, though. – [Ryan] I’m just saying, do
you imagine there’s someone that’s like, “Oh, it would
be funny if this plane “caught on fire halfway through the trip?” – Could be, there’s some sickos out there. If there’s some misogynist
pieces of shit on there, you know, on that team? He’s like, you know, screwing the little bolts
on and they’re like, “You know what they’re
going to use this for?” “No.” “Well, there that Babe of the Sky, “she’s gonna fly around the globe.” “Oh, is that so? “Is that what she thinks she’s gonna do?” – Oopsie.
– Oops. – There goes a screw.
– Yeah. – The sky belongs to men. (laughing) On May 21, Earhart and
her navigator Noonan started their journey
from Oakland, California. On the morning of July 2, 1937,
42 days into their journey, Earhart and Noonan prepared
to leave Lae, New Guinea. Leaving Lae, the Electra
was carrying the most fuel it had on this expedition,
about 1,000 pounds worth. They were already roughly
22,000 miles into the trip and had about another 7,000 to go before returning to California. She planned to stop 256 miles away on Howland Island to refuel. It was about an 18-hour flight. Harry Balfour, the radio operator
for Guinea Airways in Lae set up a schedule for he and
Earhart to send transmissions to each other once every hour. Soon after Earhart’s plane took off, Balfour noted that the
headwinds were stronger than anybody had thought. He sent transmissions of
this information to Earhart three times over the course of two hours. However, Earhart did not seem
to get these transmissions. Headwind speed could affect
plane speed, gas consumption, and length of flight. Around 2:18 p.m. Earhart’s transmissions, which had been blocked earlier, were finally received by Balfour in Lae. She gave her speed, 140 knots, and altitude, 7,000 feet, and things seemed to be okay. A little over an hour later,
her next transmissions stated that she had climbed to 10,000 feet. This may have been uneconomical
in terms of fuel usage. It’s unclear why Earhart made this climb. But author Elgen Long, a veteran pilot, guesses it may have been to
avoid clouds or mountains. – You think she just went vert, just like. – I don’t know. – What do you think of this, Noonan? – Maybe there was
something she had to avoid that was coming at her. – Okay, if this is a
preview of what’s to come. – Maybe, you never know. This transmission also
seemed to be delayed. Though, they were still on course, and it’s believed that the
experienced pilot Earhart would have realized the
problem with the headwinds by this point. As they neared Howland Island,
the plane was likely down to a last 97 gallons tank of fuel. The Coast Guard’s Itasca, a
250-foot boat off the coast of Howland Island was to
provide communications and weather for Earhart upon
her arrival to the island. It is thought that Earhart’s
plane must have gotten fairly close to the island,
because the Itasca did hear her transmissions, which
grew stronger as sunrise came and went. In fact, they thought
Earhart was close enough that the radio operator on
board the Itasca went outside to look for her plane. In one of her last transmissions, Earhart told the Itasca, quote, “We must be on you, but
cannot see you,” end quote. She radioed, quote, “Gas
is running low,” end quote. Earhart’s last transmission
at 8:43 a.m. was quote, “We are on the line 157, 337. “We will repeat message. “We will repeated this on 6210
kilocycles, wait,” end quote. While there are conflicting reports, the transmission may have
also included, quote, “We are running north
and south,” end quote. In her final transmissions,
Earhart’s voice was described as quote, “frantic,” end quote. – Did Fred chime in
during any of these, uh– – Not really. I think Fred was too
busy white-knuckling it on the passenger seat. – This was a bad idea,
this was a bad idea. My wife told me not to do this. – Exactly. After that, Earhart was never
officially heard from again. When Earhart’s plane never arrived, the Itasca searched the waters
northwest of Howland Island. On July 7, five days later, the US Battleship Colorado
began to search the waters to the southeast. An aircraft carrier, the Lexington, arrived soon after from
its base in San Diego, and stayed searching the
region until July 18th. To this day, neither Earhart,
Noonan, or their plane were ever found. But that hasn’t stopped
the world from speculating about what happened. Let’s go over the theories. The first theory is perhaps the
most widely accepted theory, that Earhart’s plane ran out of gas, and she and Noonan died when
they crashed into the ocean northwest of their destination. Although skeptics have
pointed out that an Electra with that amount of
fuel should have lasted 24 hours in flight, rather than
20, as Earhart’s plane did. Analysis by the Jet Propulsion
Center at Cal-Tech concluded that with the headwinds
and the 10,000-foot climb Earhart was forced to
take early in the flight, her plane would have been out
of fuel when she disappeared. Near Howland Island, the ocean
is about 18,000 feet deep. From 2002 until March 2017,
a company called Nauticos teamed up with other groups to
search a nearly 2,000-square nautical mile area of
the Pacific Ocean floor, where Earhart’s Electra may have sunk. They used sonar mapping
to search the sea floor, but have not found
evidence of the aircraft. – [Shane] Open and shut, I don’t get this. It’s all there. – [Ryan] Is this gonna be
your Occam’s Razor thing that you always cite? – [Shane] I think, perhaps
they slammed into the ocean and sank to the bottom of the sea. – They’re gonna comb that ocean, baby. And when they do–
– No one can comb the ocean. – You can’t drag the ocean.
– They’re gonna comb the shit out of it.
– No, the ocean, no– – That ocean’s gonna
have nicely groomed hair. The second theory is that
Earhart became a castaway on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, roughly 350 nautical miles
south of Howland Island. Nikumaroro is along the 157, 337 line Earhart last reported flying along. As her plane lost fuel,
it is thought she spotted the coral atoll of
Nikumaroro, that at low tide could have worked as an
emergency landing strip. Roughly two to three years
later, in 1939 or 1940, a British Colonial Officer
named Gerald Gallagher found the remains of a
campsite on the island, along with a box for a sextant, a tool used to determine
latitude and longitude via celestial bodies. – [Shane] I think that’s interesting. I do think it would be
interesting if they did end up on an island. – [Ryan] Yeah, if they
were running out of gas, which still is in line with your, uh, whatever you wanna call it.
– Yeah, for sure. – [Ryan] Your calculations. They could have landed.
– Yeah, they could’ve. – She was an expert aviator.
– She was. – [Ryan] And she was good at
problem-solving under pressure. – [Shane] She flew a fire plane. – [Ryan] She did, she flew a fire plane. However, the most
provocative thing discovered on the island by Gallagher
was a partial human skeleton, as well as 12 other bones. The bones were analyzed by a
physician named D.W. Hoodless, who was working in a
medical school in Fiji. But Hoodless determined
that the bones belonged to a man who was short, stocky,
and of European descent, and could not be Earhart or Noonan. Unfortunately, after this conclusion, Hoodless discarded the bones, thereby preventing anybody
from DNA analyzing them in the future. I think that this guy may
have jumped to conclusions a little bit, and maybe, just maybe, should not have thrown
out the fucking bones. – [Shane] He threw out the bones? – [Ryan] I just said that. He said, “It ain’t them, trash them.” That’s him. – [Shane] “Ah, these bones? “Nah, these bones don’t belong to anybody. “Put them back in the ocean.” – [Ryan] Yeah, this guy
wanted to go home early that day, I think. – Just throwing the bones out. What scientist does that? I feel like the majority
of these true crime cases that you do are plagued
with people who don’t want to do their jobs. – And they’re not thorough. – Yeah, half the reason half
of these cases are unsolved is because people got
evidence and were like, “Too much work, burn it.” – [Ryan] However, the International Group for Historical Aircraft
Recovery, a.k.a. TIGHAR, used Hoodless’s original
measurements of the bones and today’s updated databases
to determine the bones could have also belonged to
a taller than average woman of European descent. And Earhart was said to be 5’7″ or 5’8″. – That’s like a foot taller than you. – I knew you were gonna say that. – I’m 5’10”, by the way. No, there’s no quotes there. – Well, when you wear
your special shoes, yes, you’re 5’10”.
– Nope, nope, nope, that’s from the doctor. – Yes, your shoes are from the doctor. – No, they’re not.
– Yes, they are. – I’m 5’10”, dammit. According to TIGHAR
director Ric Gillespie, the reason for there being only
partial bones on the island was because of the coconut
crabs that live there. He suggests that coconut
crabs carried the bones off into burrows and that
they may have eaten her. Coconut crabs grow up to three feet long, can break open coconuts
with their pincers, and are the largest
anthropods living on land. – These are majestic. – They’re kind of horrifying looking. Any time you think something’s majestic, just imagine if it was
like 10 times bigger. – [Shane] Or if it was
the last thing you saw before you died. – [Ryan] Looking into
those little beady eyes. TIGHAR director Ric
Gillespie has also said that a photo taken in 1937
by a British expedition to Nikumaroro shows what he
believes to be landing gear from a plane sticking up out of the water. He also believes that
Earhart would have used her plane’s radio to signal
for help for up to a week following the crash, but that if the radio had been
in water, it would not work. Interestingly, according to Gillespie, several possible radio transmissions
from Earhart were heard throughout the week
after her disappearance, all of which coincided with
the low tide on that island, a time when the plane radio
was perhaps not underwater, and possibly functional. A teenager named Betty
Klenck claims that via her shortwave radio, she heard
a female voice saying, quote, “This is Amelia Earhart,
help me,” end quote, and also heard the female voice arguing with a disoriented male’s voice. She also claimed to hear, quote, “Water’s knee deep,
let me out,” end quote. – Well.
– A little on the nose, there. – Yeah.
– I mean, I guess if your radio’s malfunctioning, you
wanna get straight to the point. – [Ryan] You’re not gonna
say, “The story is 1937. “I landed on an island–” – [Shane] “Let me spin you a yarn “that you shan’t soon forget.” – You have one–
– “I’m being eaten alive “by crabs right now.” – [Ryan] Klenck listened to
the voice coming in clips for three hours and recorded
what she heard in a notebook. Klenck’s father reported
his daughter’s findings to the Coast Guard, who did
not seem to take the claim seriously, as there were
reports of dozens of messages supposedly from Earhart heard
in all parts of the world in the days after her disappearance. In 1991, Gillespie found
a partial rubber shoe sole on the island, stamped with the words Cat’s Paw Rubber Company, USA. The sole was from the same
type of shoe Earhart is seen wearing in a photograph taken in Indonesia shortly before her disappearance. Though, the sole belongs
to a size nine shoe, which would have been too big for Earhart. – What the fuck? Man, come on. – That’s just, it’s got you. – It’s stupid. – For a second there, I
saw you perk up for it. You were–
– Yeah. – [Ryan] Gillespie also
found a roughly 19-inch by 23-inch piece of
riveted aircraft aluminum on Nikumaroro. TIGHAR believes it to be
from Earhart’s Electra, specifically from a shiny
patch near the tail. Though Elgen Long, the first
aviator to fly around the globe over both poles and an
Earhart researcher/author says the piece in question is definitively not from Earhart’s plane. Other experts, including
a Lockheed employee who had worked on Earhart’s
plane concluded the same, according to Long. Further damning to the theory
that Earhart was marooned on this island was the fact
that Navy planes flew over the island Nikumaroro on July 9th, one week after Earhart’s
disappearance, and saw nothing. – [Shane] Personally, I
love the island theory. I would love it to be true
because I like the peril of it. I like the drama.
– I think you just like her getting eaten by crabs. – [Shane] I love the thought
of someone getting eaten by crabs.
– There it is. – [Ryan] I like how you
tried to sugarcoat it. – Yeah.
– And went immediately to the core of what I knew you would find interesting about it.
– There’s just something truly gross about it and horrifying. – [Ryan] The third theory,
championed by Rollin C. Reineck, a retired US Air Force
colonel is that Earhart was in cahoots with the US
government and was indeed a spy. Reineck posits that Earhart had a plan B, where if she couldn’t find Howland Island, she was to ditch her plane
near the Marshall Islands, which are only 800 miles
away from Howland Island. That way, the US government
would be able to perform reconnaissance in the Marshall Islands, which were, at the
time, occupied by Japan, under the guise of searching for Earhart. Corroborating this notion
are Marshallese locals who for decades have said
they witnessed Earhart’s plane crash on their island. However, the plan went awry
when the Japanese intercepted Earhart and Noonan and captured them, releasing them years later after the war. Then Earhart and Noonan
returned to live out their lives in the United States under assumed names. Some believe Amelia
Earhart moved to New Jersey and changed her name to Irene Craigmile, though she married and became Irene Bolam. Though, this theory seems improbable, at least to the thought that
Earhart is actually Irene Bolam since Bolam sued the publisher of a book that shared this speculation. Also, according to TIGHAR, the resemblance is not that strong. In comparing photos of
Earhart to photos of Bolam taken four decades apart proved nothing. Regardless, Irene Bolam
passed away in 1982. – [Shane] This is dumb. – [Ryan] It’s pretty dumb. – [Shane] Can you imagine
if someone just accused you of being Amelia Earhart? “You’re her, I know you are!” – Yeah, I don’t know.
– I’m gonna tell the world! – I do love the idea that
the government tells her, “Land in this area so that we can do “a little reconnaissance.” Another version of this theory is that after being captured
in the Marshall Islands, Earhart and Noonan were
eventually executed. An Army sergeant by the
name of Thomas E. Devine claimed that in July 1944,
he met a group of US Marines guarding a hangar containing
Earhart’s Electra, on the formerly Japanese-settled
island of Saipan, which had recently been liberated. Devine also claims the
soldiers destroyed the plane. Furthermore, a photo
believed to show an obscured Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan on a dock in the Marshall Islands was
found at the National Archives by retired government
investigator named Les Kinney. – [Shane] It sounds like
he’s very accomplished and distinguished and probably knows what he’s talking about. That photo looks like shit. So I don’t care what he thinks of it. He might as well be looking
at like a Rorschach blot, being like, “That’s your mother.” I don’t care what he thinks. The expert is only as good
as the material he has in front of him. – [Ryan] The photo was
analyzed by various experts, who were optimistic that it was
indeed the missing aviators. Unfortunately, this photo was promptly and apparently debunked when
two bloggers found the photo in a Japanese book published in 1935, which is two years before
Earhart even disappeared. – [Shane] So this photo
might as well have been taken in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s like, “Hey, here’s a lady that looks “like Amelia Earhart, in Idaho, “in 1946.” – [Ryan] Photo aside,
skeptics have pointed out that Earhart, given her fuel situation, would not have made it to the
Marshall Islands, regardless. Among those skeptics are
Elgen Long, a former pilot, and Fred Patterson, a
pilot for World Airways and expert on Electras. – [Shane] So you’re wasting my time. You’re wasting everybody’s time right now. – [Ryan] Okay, all I’m
saying is it’s not impossible that they overshot the island, went down, and then wherever they landed, even if it wasn’t on the Marshall Islands, they got picked up by some freight boat, or they floated close enough
that they got picked up by a freight boat. That does not seem crazy to me. – [Shane] Sounds like a fairytale to me. – [Ryan] Okay, well, I’m just
saying that I like this theory quite a bit. – [Shane] All right, I’m glad you like it. – [Ryan] Which brings us to
our fourth and final theory, that Earhart may have made
contact with alien life forms, either by accident or knowingly, and in collusion with the US government. – [Shane] I don’t even
want to talk about it. – [Ryan] Why? – [Shane] Because it’s stupid. – [Ryan] Is it completely
impossible that happened? – [Shane] No, because I
actually do, you know, look, aliens are a lot more
probable that ghosts. – [Ryan] Admittedly, this alien
theory is a bit tinfoil hat. But an episode of Star
Trek Voyager from 1995 capitalized on the idea. So that’s kinda cool. – Okay.
– I just love that every time I ask you can you definitively say no. What’s the answer, can
you definitively say– – We don’t need to get into that. – No, you said, answer the question. – It’s crabs, it’s crabs, it’s crabs.
– Definitively can you say that aliens did not have
a part in the abduction of Amelia Earhart? – No, I can’t. – There you go. In the end, many believe
that Earhart simply crashed and died on impact. But still, there’s no
way of telling if any of these alternate theories
may have transpired. Until a plane or a body is discovered, the case of Amelia Earhart
will likely remain unsolved. (eerie music) You know what, I may be with you here. I think crabs won,
aliens two, crash three. – I bet the crabs built a
little restaurant on the island called Joe’s Amelia Shack. They ate for weeks, probably. – Do you think they ate
her with butter, as well? – Oh yeah. – Mmm, that’s delicious. And then one of them was like, “Oh, a little too humany for me. “I don’t really like it
when it tastes too humany. “I like it meatier.” And they were like, “Shut up, Fred.” – She’s a bit too bold. – I’m sorry you have no culture. Was that morbid? – You know all of this is morbid, right? – That’s true, whatever. I’m sure human with butter
would taste pretty good. Where are you going? – I don’t know.
– To sleep, okay. – [Ryan] Well, it was aliens.


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