At 8:43am on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Seventy-four years later, her disappearance, along with that of her navigator Fred Noonan, remains one of the most spectacular unsolved mysteries of history.
Background on Amelia Earhart
07:42: KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you – but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.
Prior to her disappearance, Earhart was a famous aviatrix, best known for being the first woman to fly a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to plan a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the earth.
07:58: KHAQQ calling Itasca. We are listening (circling?) but cannot hear you. Go ahead on 7500 with a long count either now, or on the scheduled time on half hour.
Her first attempt failed due to a blown tire (or according to some, pilot error). A few months later, Earhart tried again. With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in a Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.
What happened to Amelia Earhart?
08:43: KHAQQ calling Itasca. We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.
The above message is the last known transmission received by the United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which was tasked with helping Earhart land on Howland Island.
Official search efforts initially focused around Howland Island. Later, the grid was expanded to include the Phoenix Islands. Still later, Amelia Earhart’s husband, George P. Putnam, continued the search with no success. So, what happened to her? Here are a few of the most prominent theories:
- Crashed into the Pacific Ocean: Howland Island is a very small piece of land in the very big ocean. After running out of fuel, she and Noonan were forced to ditch into the ocean. While perhaps the most widely accepted theory, there is no evidence to support it.
- Crashed on Gardner Island: This is the favored theory of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Based on Earhart’s last transmission, they believe that she maintained her heading and crash-landed on the reef of this uninhabited island. Some evidence supports this position. A woman’s skeleton (now missing) was discovered on the island in 1940. Most recently, TIGHAR found what could be a woman’s finger. However, as of March 2011, DNA testing of the fragment remains inconclusive.
- Captured by Japan: Earhart may have crashed on Saipan Island while under Japanese occupation. After being captured, she and Noonan were executed. Supporting evidence, while interesting, is scanty.
- Spy Mission: This is often tied into the one above. Essentially, it involves Earhart and Noonan deliberately vanishing in order to spy on Japan. To the best of my knowledge, no evidence exists to support this theory.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Personally, I prefer the second theory. TIGHAR has done amazing work to uncover a significant body of anecdotal evidence. You can read the short version of their theory here. If they are correct, Amelia’s Electra “lies in deep water off the island’s west end.”
Next year, TIGHAR plans a “major underwater search” in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Their goal is to find the Electra. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait. Hey, if anyone connected to TIGHAR is reading this, let me know if you need an extra diver!
Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart