One of the true stumbling stones of the Earhart disappearance has been, for years and years, her last broadcasts which contained the words… “Only one-half hour of gas left.” The statement has been written and re-written in the press, in books, and has quite literally infected almost every facet of the what-happened-to-Earhart arguments the world over. What did the statement really mean? Did it mean “only one-half of gas left before we will crash,” or did it mean “only one-half hour of gas left before we have to turn back”… for the Gilberts or the Phoenix Islands? It is hard and next to impossible to know exactly what Earhart was saying when she stated… “Only one-half hour of gas left.” With the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca within one hundred or possibly two hundred miles of her voice, Amelia knew the safety of the ship and Howland Island was within her grasp. Yet, suddenly here came a frantic voice over the radio wave screaming with fear that in thirty minutes they would be out of gas.
The radio transmitter on Earhart’s Electra was 50 watts. Statements to the effect that radio transmissions from Earhart could only be heard within 50 or 100 miles of the airplane are, according to Dave Bellarts (the son of Coast Guard Chief Leo Bellarts), coming from people who “don’t know what they are talking about. A 50-watt transmitter airborne will transmit dependably up to 500 miles under normal conditions. During night time hours, this distance could be multiplied several times under favorable skip conditions.”
Where did this frantic voice come from? In the final minutes, Earhart’s voice came in at a signal strength “5,” the highest number on the audible voice scale. Chief Bellarts stated… “We heard her quite a few times, but that last time, it sounded as if she would have broken out in a scream if she hadn’t stopped talking. She was just about ready to break into tears and go into hysterics, that’s exactly the way I’d describe her voice, I’ll never forget it.”
What did she say, exactly? Amazingly and much to the surprise of the people who follow the Earhart disappearance, she didn’t say… “Only one-half hour of gas left.” An error in transcribing the records occurred. According to Chief Leo Bellarts… “I remember hearing Earhart say, ‘we must be on you but cannot see you, but gas is running low.’ She didn’t say she’s running low on gas or anything, but gas is running low. This is recorded on the original log, but on the log being maintained by R.O’Hare, a 3rd Class Radio Operator, he wrote that she only had one-half hour of gas. This should never have been recorded due to O’Hare’s job was not to handle Earhart traffic but only other traffic coming into the ITASCA. It was not O’Hare’s responsibility, and he did it for some unknown reason.”
So, one more myth of the Earhart mystery is dispelled. The truth of the matter is Earhart did not really know how much gas she had left except to say gas is running low. All of this is suffice to say, she may have had enough gas to backtrack to the Gilbert Islands or fly south to the Phoenix Islands or fly into the Marshall Islands on a radio bearing from the Japanese radio station at Jaluit. There is no final proof of exactly what happened. Chief Radio Operator Leo Bellarts believed she crashed and sank in the area of Howland Island. However, not one trace of the missing airplane has ever been found. There was no floating airplane parts from a crash at sea… no life rafts, no missing flyers, no oil slick, no signal flares, absolutely nothing. Thusly, the mystery of Amelia Earhart continues even to this day.