On July 2, 1937, famed aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished. Earhart, the first woman to cross the Atlantic in a solo flight, was trying to fly around the globe. Earhart was one of the most accomplished pilots of her time, having completed numerous feats of piloting expertise. Her disappearance has been one of the most enduring mysteries of the last century.
Amelia Earhart’s Career
Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas. She was the first woman to ever cross the Atlantic in a plane, though on her first flight across the ocean she was a passenger. Her second flight, on May 20, 1932, made her the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She was also only the second person to complete the 15-hour journey from Newfoundland to Ireland.
Other achievements include flying from Los Angeles to Newark, setting a record for the furthest flight without refueling. She was also the first woman to complete a nonstop transcontinental flight. In short, she was an unparalleled aviator.
On the morning of July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator loaded up the custom-built Electra plane they were using for their world trip. This was to be the longest part of the journey. After twenty stops for refueling, the plane was taking off from Lae, New Guinea, on its way back to California, where the trip had started some 42 days prior.
This trip would have one stop, on Howland Island in the Pacific, in order to refuel the plane. If all had gone according to plan, Earhart would have arrived at Howland roughly 18 hours later. However, despite some scattered communications between Earhart’s plane and a US Coast Guard vessel, the Itasca, she never arrived at Howland.
Neither Earhart, Noonan, nor their plane was ever found, despite extensive searches by the Navy and Coast Guard.
What Could Have Happened?
There are countless theories as to what may have caused Earhart’s disappearance.
The most straightforward is that strong headwinds and inclement conditions caused her to run out of gas before reaching her destination. This theory contends that Earhart and Noonan died when the plane crashed into the ocean, and that the plane was lost below the waves.
Other, more imaginative theories contend that Earhart, an experienced pilot, was unlikely to have let the plane run out of gas.
Some argue that Earhart may have become a castaway on the island Nikumaroro, which is roughly 300 miles southeast of Howland. This theory calls on one of Earhart’s last transmissions, where she claimed to be traveling the 157 337 line. Nikumaroro is along that line, and Earhart could have theoretically crash-landed there.
This theory is aided by the discovery of a campsite on the island in either 1939 or 1940 by British officer Gerald Gallagher. Gallagher also found a partial human skeleton on the island.
Doctors who examined the bones considered the remains to belong to a “short man of European descent.” Tragically, the examiner discarded the remains, preventing future scientists from DNA sequencing the bones.
Another common theory holds that Earhart may have been working with the US Government. Some speculate that Earhart may have purposefully crashed on the Marshall Islands, 800 miles northwest of Howland. The reason? To give the US an excuse to survey the Japanese-occupied islands, “looking for Earhart.”
However, this theory posits, Earhart and Noonan were captured by Japanese forces and held as prisoners. Further, the theory contends that the two were eventually released after the war. In the 1940s, proponents claim, Earhart lived under an assumed name: Irene Craigmile.
She is said to have later married and became “Irene Bolam.”
Bolam herself sued the publisher of the book originally containing this theory, however. She argues that it is nonsense, and that she looks nothing like Amelia Earhart.
Variations on this theory hold that Earhart and Noonan could have simply been executed by Japanese forces after capture.
Alien Contact Theory
The most outlandish theory that is commonly discussed regarding Earhart is that she encountered alien life forms during her journey. Proponents of these theories often cite the unusual radio messages Earhart sent before disappearing. However, given that there is no evidence of extraterrestrial life ever visiting Earth, this theory is unlikely to be true.
Whatever may have happened to Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, we may never know. One of the most accomplished aviators in history vanished over the Pacific in 1937. Her ultimate fate could remain a mystery forever.