What Happened to Amelia Earhart?
11/04/09

Amelia Earhart disappeared July 2, 1937. Earhart was an aviator and pioneer. She became the first woman to win the Distinguished Flying Cross after being the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. Earhart worked to inspire and help women interested in flying careers and formed the Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. She disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the world. Her mysterious disappearance has been a source of speculation and conspiracy theories since 1937. However, Earhart probably ran out of fuel and ditched either in the ocean or on an island and perished.

On March 17, 1937, Earhart’s first attempt to circumnavigate the world did not get far. After traveling from California to Hawaii, her plane experienced mechanical problems and was grounded. The plane ended up severely damaged and had to be transported back to California for repairs. Earhart made her final attempt two months later.

Quietly, Earhart and crew member Fred Noonan left California for Miami beginning her second attempt at circumnavigation. On June 1, she took off from Miami and traveled 22,000 miles before arriving in New Guinea. Earhart had 7,000 Pacific Ocean miles left. On July 2, the pair left Lae, New Guinea for Howland Island.

Earhart experienced technical difficulties on the Howland Island approach. There are several theories about what happened ranging from a damaged antenna to confusion on Earhart’s part. There is no way to know for certain. Whatever happened, Earhart and Noonan missed the island and began to run low on fuel. Soon after, the plane crashed.

Amelia Earhart tried to inform rescuers of her location. Transmissions continued for a few days after they ditched. However, rescuers could not make use of them to find the downed plane. The U.S. Navy joined the search, but turned up nothing. There was some evidence of a crash on Gardner Island, but since the island was considered uninhabited, it was discounted. Instead, the navy focused on the open ocean. After the official search ended, Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, continued the search on his own. Eventually, he gave up and had her declared dead in 1939.

Following her disappearance, several conspiracy theories emerged. Some claimed Earhart and Noonan were American spies captured and executed by the Japanese. Others believe the Japanese captured the aviators and murdered them, but they were not spies. One bizarre theory claims she returned to America and lived under an assumed name. Still another, popular after World War II, argued Earhart was the infamous Japanese propagandist, Tokyo Rose. There is no evidence to support any of these claims.

For years, most researchers believed the plane ditched in the ocean. However, recent examinations of Gardner Island have turned up intriguing evidence. For example, a skeleton of a white woman was found in 1940. Unfortunately, it has disappeared. Additionally, makeshift tools, Plexiglas, a zipper, the heel from a woman’s boot in Earhart’s size, and an aluminum panel have been found. Although nothing placing Earhart on the island directly has been uncovered, the artifacts are tantalizing.

What happened to Amelia Earhart will remain a mystery until her remains are found and identified. Until then, there is only speculation. The Gardner Island finds provide circumstantial evidence that point to a crash and subsequent attempts at survival. Unfortunately, the skeletal remains found by the British have been lost. Whatever happened, Earhart was a skilled pilot and inspiration to men and women aviators everywhere. Like John F. Kennedy, Amelia Earhart should be remembered for what she accomplished and not how she died.

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