Podcast Episode 333: Stranded in the Kimberley


Crossing the world in 1932, two German airmen ran out of fuel in a remote region of northwestern Australia. With no food and little water, they struggled to find their way to safety while rescuers fought to locate them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the airmen’s ordeal, a dramatic story of perseverance and chance.

We’ll also survey some escalators and puzzle over a consequential crash.


Winston Churchill had a confusing namesake in the United States.

Shelley’s friend Horace Smith wrote a competing version of “Ozymandias.”

Sources for our feature on the 1932 Kimberley rescue:

Barbara Winter, Atlantis Is Missing: A Gripping True Story of Survival in the Australian Wilderness, 1979.

Brian H. Hernan, Forgotten Flyer, 2007.

Anthony Redmond, “Tracks and Shadows: Some Social Effects of the 1938 Frobenius Expedition to the North-West Kimberley,” in Nicolas Peterson and Anna Kenny, eds., German Ethnography in Australia, 2017, 413-434.

Frank Koehler, “Descriptions of New Species of the Diverse and Endemic Land Snail Amplirhagada Iredale, 1933 From Rainforest Patches Across the Kimberley, Western Australia (Pulmonata, Camaenidae),” Records of the Australian Museum 63:2 (2011), 163-202.

Bridget Judd, “The Unexpected Rescue Mission That Inspired ABC Mini-Series Flight Into Hell — And Other Survivalists,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Jan. 16, 2021.

Peter de Kruijff, “Survivalist Retraces Lost Aviators’ Trek,” Kimberley Echo, Jan. 29, 2018.

Michael Atkinson, “Surviving the Kimberley,” Australian Geographic, June 28, 2018.

Erin Parke, “No Food, No Water, No Wi-Fi: Adventurer Tests Skills in One of Australia’s Most Remote Places,” ABC Premium News, Jan. 29, 2018.

“Forgotten Territory,” [Darwin, N.T.] Northern Territory News, Feb. 28, 2016.

Graeme Westlake, “They Accepted Their Saviour’s Fish and Ate It Raw,” Canberra Times, May 15, 1982.

“German Fliers Got Lost in Our Nor-West,” [Perth] Mirror, June 2, 1956.

“37 Days in a Torture Chamber,” [Adelaide] News, April 21, 1954.

“Air Passenger,” [Grafton, N.S.W.] Examiner, July 18, 1938.

“Hans Bertram,” Sydney Morning Herald, July 16, 1938.

“Aviation: Pilot Bertram,” [Charters Towers, Qld.] Northern Miner, April 20, 1933.

“Bertram Lands at Crawley,” [Perth] Daily News, Sept. 24, 1932.

“Bertram’s Marooned ‘Plane,” Singleton [N.S.W.] Argus, Sept. 21, 1932.

“Captain Bertram,” Sydney Morning Herald, Sept. 20, 1932.

“Fully Recovered,” Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 6, 1932.

“The Search for the German Airmen,” [Perth] Western Mail, July 21, 1932.

“The German Airmen,” Albany [W.A.] Advertiser, July 7, 1932.

“Death Cheated,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 5, 1932.

“Lost German Fliers,” [Adelaide] Chronicle, June 30, 1932.

“Search for Hans Bertram,” [Carnarvon, W.A.] Northern Times, June 16, 1932.

“Strangers on the Shore: Shipwreck Survivors and Their Contact With Aboriginal Groups in Western Australia 1628-1956,” Department of Maritime Archaeology, Western Australian Maritime Museum, 1998.

Listener mail:

“Escalator Etiquette,” Wikipedia (accessed Feb. 8, 2021).

Brian Ashcraft, “It’s Hard For Japan to Change Its Escalator Manners,” Kotaku, June 20, 2019.

Jack Malvern, “Mystery Over Tube Escalator Etiquette Cleared Up by Restored Film,” Times, Oct. 21, 2009.

Laura Reynolds, “11 Secrets of Harrods,” Londonist (accessed Feb. 14, 2021).

Adam Taylor, “A Japanese Campaign Wants to Rewrite the Global Rules of Escalator Etiquette,” Washington Post, Aug. 26, 2015.

Linda Poon, “Tokyo Wants People to Stand on Both Sides of the Escalator,” Bloomberg City Lab, Dec. 20, 2018.

Johan Gaume and Alexander M. Puzrin, “Mechanisms of Slab Avalanche Release and Impact in the Dyatlov Pass Incident in 1959,” Communications Earth & Environment 2:10 (Jan. 28, 2021), 1-11.

Robin George Andrews, “Has Science Solved One of History’s Greatest Adventure Mysteries?”, National Geographic, Jan. 28, 2021.

Nature Video, “Explaining the Icy Mystery of the Dyatlov Pass Deaths” (video), Jan. 28, 2021.

New Scientist, “The Dyatlov Pass incident, which saw nine Russian mountaineers die in mysterious circumstances in 1959, has been the subject of many conspiracy theories. Now researchers say an unusual avalanche was to blame,” Twitter, Jan. 28, 2021.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alex Baumans. Here are two corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 332: Princess Caraboo


In 1817 a young woman appeared in the English village of Almondsbury, speaking a strange language and seeking food and shelter. She revealed herself to be an Eastern princess, kidnapped by pirates from an exotic island. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Princess Caraboo, who was both more and less than she seemed.

We’ll also discover a June Christmas and puzzle over some monster soup.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 331: The Starvation Doctor


In 1911 English sisters Claire and Dora Williamson began consulting a Seattle “fasting specialist” named Linda Burfield Hazzard. As they underwent her brutal treatments, the sisters found themselves caught in a web of manipulation and deceit. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Williamsons’ ordeal and the scheme it brought to light.

We’ll also catch a criminal by the ear and puzzle over a prohibited pig.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 330: The Abernathy Boys


In 1909, Oklahoma brothers Bud and Temple Abernathy rode alone to New Mexico and back, though they were just 9 and 5 years old. In the years that followed they would become famous for cross-country trips totaling 10,000 miles. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the journeys of the Abernathy brothers across a rapidly evolving nation.

We’ll also try to figure out whether we’re in Belgium or the Netherlands and puzzle over an outstretched hand.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 329: The Cock Lane Ghost


In 1759, ghostly rappings started up in the house of a parish clerk in London. In the months that followed they would incite a scandal against one man, an accusation from beyond the grave. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Cock Lane ghost, an enduring portrait of superstition and justice.

We’ll also see what you can get hit with at a sporting event and puzzle over some portentous soccer fields.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 328: A Canine Prisoner of War


In 1944, British captives of the Japanese in Sumatra drew morale from an unlikely source: a purebred English pointer who cheered the men, challenged the guards, and served as a model of patient fortitude. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Judy, the canine POW of World War II.

We’ll also consider the frequency of different birthdays and puzzle over a little sun.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 327: The Misplaced Tourist


In 1977, West German tourist Erwin Kreuz spent three days enjoying the sights, sounds, and hospitality of Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, he thought he was in San Francisco, on the other side of the continent. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe Kreuz’s unlikely adventure, which made him a local hero in his adopted city.

We’ll also consider an invisible killer and puzzle over a momentous measurement.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 326: The Recluse of Herald Square

ida wood

In 1931, a 93-year-old widow was discovered to be hoarding great wealth in New York’s Herald Square Hotel. Her death touched off an inquiry that revealed a glittering past — and a great secret. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Ida Wood, which has been called “one of the most sensational inheritance cases in American history.”

We’ll also revisit the Candy Bomber and puzzle over some excessive travel.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 324: The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein


In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called “one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation.”

We’ll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman.

See full show notes …