• Amelia Earhart's eerie pleas for help heard by dozens after plane crashed in Pacific, researchers

    By: Shelby Lin Erdman, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

    Updated:

    It’s an enduring 80-year-old aviation mystery: What really happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan when they disappeared in 1937 in their attempt to circumnavigate the globe?

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    Earhart, the first woman to successfully complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, among many other accolades, almost made it around the world, but on the last leg of her journey, she disappeared in the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island on July 2, 1937.

    There are several theories on what happened to Earhart and Noonan when they didn’t make it to their refueling stop on Howland, including that they were taken prisoner by the Japanese in the lead-up to World War II after crashing near a Japanese-controlled Pacific island or that they were killed when their plane crashed into the Pacific short of their refueling stop on Howland.

    Now, researchers with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, which has been studying the Earhart disappearance for years, has amassed testimony from dozens of people who heard broadcasts of Earhart and Noonan pleading for help in the days after the flyers disappeared, according to the Washington Post.

    A view of Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner) Island, where some historians believe Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan died as castaways after crash landing just offshore from the island in 1937. (Wikicommons)

    A view of Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner) Island, where some historians believe Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan died as castaways after crash landing just offshore from the island in 1937. Wikicommons

    Researchers with TIGHAR now theorize that Earhart and Noonan crash landed just offshore from deserted Gardner Island in the Pacific, essentially becoming castaways, and spent days sending out radio messages, including pleas for help, in the hopes of being rescued, and plenty of people heard those broadcasts.

    They could only use the radio when the tide was low, TIGHAR researchers theorized, because their Lockheed-Electra aircraft had crashed just offshore, so they only had a few hours every night to broadcast their whereabouts.

    Director of TIGHAR, Ric Gillespie, told the Washington Post it wasn’t enough, and that he believes Earhart and Noonan died as castaways on Gardner Island.

    The theory that the radio messages were heard by dozens, though, runs counter to the official U.S. Navy account, which maintains the pair died after crashing into the Pacific short of Howland Island.

    394033 03: (FILE PHOTO) Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called "Friendship" in Newfoundland. (Photo by Getty Images)

    (FILE PHOTO) Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called "Friendship" in Newfoundland. Carlene Mendieta, who is trying to recreate Earhart's 1928 record as the first woman to fly across the US and back again, left Rye, NY on September 5, 2001. Earhart (1898 - 1937) disappeared without trace over the Pacific Ocean in her attempt to fly around the world in 1937. (Photo by Getty Images)

    Gillespie says the Earhart and Noonan radio messages form a historical record, and that people just happened to be listening to their radios when they heard Earhart’s cries for help, according to the Post.

    Here’s what the Post reported TIGHAR discovered in its research:

    “Scattered across North America and unknown to each other, each listener was astonished to suddenly hear Amelia Earhart pleading for help. They alerted family members, local authorities or local newspapers. Some were investigated by government authorities and found to be believable. Others were dismissed at the time and only recognized many years later. Although few in number, the harmonic receptions provide an important glimpse into the desperate scene that played out on the reef at Gardner Island.”

    Not only did naval vessels searching for Earhart hear some of the radio transmissions from Earhart and Noonan, but so did average people including Nina Paxton, the Post reported.

    Paxton, from Ashland, Kentucky, said she heard a broadcast from Earhart on July 3, 1937, a day after the aviator disappeared.

    She heard Earhart say “KHAQQ calling,” and she heard her say she was “on or near little island at a point near” … “then she said something about a storm and that the wind was blowing.”

    “Will have to get out of here,” Earhart said at one point, Paxton recounted. “We can’t stay here long.”

    Despite the radio evidence, and other evidence collected over the years, there’s still no definitive answer on what really happened to Amelia Earhart.

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