What Happened to Amelia Earhart? – Disappearance, Found & New Evidence
On the morning of July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Lae, New Guinea, on one of the last stages of their historic attempt to circumnavigate the world. Their next destination was Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean, about 2,500 miles away. A US Coast Guard cutter, Itasca, waited there to guide the world-renowned aviator for a landing on the tiny uninhabited coral atoll.
But Earhart never arrived on Howland Island. Struggling with overcast skies, faulty radio transmissions and rapidly decreasing fuel supplies in her twin-engined Lockheed Electra aircraft, she and Noonan lost contact with Itasca somewhere over the Pacific. Despite an unprecedented search and rescue mission, including US Navy ships and planes and coast guard scouring some 250,000 square miles of ocean, they have never been found.
In its official report at the time, the Navy concluded that Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel, crashed in the Pacific, and drowned. A court decision declared Earhart legally dead in January 1939, 18 months after his disappearance. From the start, however, debate has raged over what really happened on July 2, 1937 and beyond. Several alternative theories have surfaced, and millions of dollars have been spent to find evidence that would reveal the truth about Earhart’s fate.
The theory of the shipwrecked
In his last radio transmission, made at 8:43 am local time, the morning of his disappearance, Earhart reported having flown “on line 157 337 … north and south”, a set of directional coordinates describing a line crossing Howland. Isle.
In 1989, an organization called the International Group for the Recovery of Historic Aircraft (TIGHAR) launched its first expedition to Nikumaroro, a remote Pacific atoll that is part of the Republic of Kiribati. TIGHAR and its director, Richard Gillespie, believe that when Earhart and Noonan could not find Howland Island, they continued south along line 157/337 for approximately 350 nautical miles and made an emergency landing on Nikumaroro (then called Gardner Island). According to this theory, they lived for a time as shipwrecked on the tiny uninhabited island and eventually died there.
U.S. Navy planes flew over Gardner Island on July 9, 1937, a week after Earhart’s disappearance, and saw no signs of Earhart, Noonan, or the plane. But they reported seeing signs of recent habitation, although no one has lived on the atoll since 1892.
In 1940, the British authorities recovered a partial human skeleton in a remote part of Nikumaroro; a doctor then measured the bones and concluded that they came from a man. The bones themselves were later lost, but TIGHAR analyzed their measurements in 1998 and claimed that in fact they probably belonged to a woman of European descent, about the size of Earhart (5 feet 7 at 5 feet 8 inches). In 2018, a forensic analysis of bone measurements by anthropologists at the University of Tennessee (in cooperation with TIGHAR) showed that “bones have more similarities to Earhart than to 99% of individuals of large reference sample ”, according to a university statement at the time.
Prisoner by the Japanese
A competing theory maintains that when they failed to reach Howland Island, Earhart and Noonan were forced to land in the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands. According to this theory, the Japanese captured Earhart and Noonan and took them to Saipan Island, about 1,450 miles south of Tokyo, where they tortured them as suspected spies for the United States government. They later died in detention (possibly by execution).
Since the 1960s, Japanese capture theory has been fueled by the stories of inhabitants of the Marshall Islands living at the time of an “American pilot” detained in Saipan in 1937, which they passed on to their friends and descendants. . Some proponents of the theory suggest that Earhart and Noonan were in fact American spies, and their worldwide mission was to conceal efforts to fly over and observe Japanese fortifications in the Pacific. At the time, more than four years before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan was not yet the enemy of the Americans during the Second World War.
Some have suggested that Earhart did not die on Saipan after his capture, but was released and repatriated to the United States under a false name. Beginning in the 1970s, some proponents of this theory argued that a New Jersey woman named Irene Bolam was actually Earhart. Bolam herself vigorously denied the allegations, calling them a “poorly documented hoax,” but they persisted even long after his death in 1982.
Since 1989, TIGHAR has carried out at least a dozen expeditions to Nikumaroro, bringing back artifacts ranging from pieces of metal (perhaps airplane parts) to a broken jar of freckle, but no conclusive evidence that Earhart’s plane landed there.
Amid the ongoing controversy, spanning more than 80 years of debate between researchers and historians, the crash and sinking theory remains the most widely accepted explanation for Earhart’s fate. But in three expeditions since 2002, deepwater exploration company Nauticos has used sonar to scan the area off Howland Island near where Earhart’s last radio message came from, covering almost 2,000 nautical miles without finding a trace of the Electra wreck. Until this wreckage – or any other definitive evidence – is found, the mystery surrounding Amelia Earhart’s last flight is likely to continue.