What Happened to Amelia Earhart?
By Erica Campbell on April 22, 2012, 3:16pm
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Amelia Earhart: her name has fascinated us for 75 years. Not just for being unconventional, strong willed and the first woman to fly an airplane solo, non-stop across the Atlantic, but for the mystery of her disappearance. Earhart wanted to be the first woman to fly an airplane around the world. She planned to take the route around the equator, which was the distance of approximately 29,000 miles.
Her journey began on March 17, 1937. Earhart departed in a Lockheed Electra 10E airplane, with Captain Harry Manning (her first choice as a navigator), Stunt Pilot Paul Mantz and Fred Noonan (her second choice as a navigator). The Electra had intense modifications made to it to support new communication equipment and an extra large fuel tank. The foursome dealt with a variety of problems and damaged equipment during the first attempt of the journey, which was from Oakland, CA to Honolulu, Hawaii.
After repairs were made and the plane shipped back to California on a boat, Earhart decided to fly in the opposite direction, citing changes in global wind patterns and the weather. Their second attempt was flying from Oakland to Miami, FL. It was here that Earhart announced her plans to circle the globe. Manning and Mantz chose not to continue at this point, leaving only Earhart and Noonan to finish the trip.
They left Florida on June 1st, stopping in South Africa and Africa and numerous places in Southeast Asia, until finally stopping in Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937. At this point, they completed 22,000 miles of their journey. The remaining 7,000 miles would be entirely over the Pacific Ocean. They left Lae in the very early morning of July 2, 1937 and headed toward Howland Island, approximately 2,220 miles away.
From this point on, there are several theories and controversies, none of which can be substantiated and/or confirmed. Through a series of misunderstandings and errors, the final approach to their next stop, Howland Island, was not successful. Many believe it was Earhart’s lack of knowledge of the new communication system on the plane. Others believe that Noonan made errors, causing them to be off course.
On July 2, 1937, Earhart is heard over the radio stating, “We must be on you, but cannot see you – but gas is running low.”
She continues by saying, “Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 ft.”(Quoted from Encyclopedia Britannica)
Earhart was trying to contact the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which had been stationed in the water next to Howland Island, to offer assistance to Earhart and Noonan. Earhart’s last known radio transmission was recorded at approximately 8:43 am, but more recent sources believe she transmitted for two more hours. Search efforts began one hour after her last transmission and continued until the end of July 1937. 150,000 square miles was covered. Absolutely no evidence of any kind was found. Not a trace, not even an oil or gasoline slick on the surface of the water, or any smoke. Earhart, Noonan and the Electra simply vanished.
The widely accepted theory is that Earhart crashed into the ocean intact and sunk directly to the bottom. The plane is believed to be between 17,000 feet – 18,000 feet down (or a little over 3 mile, farther down than the Titanic).
Another theory is that Earhart crashed near the Phoenix Islands, 350 miles southeast of the Howland Islands. In 1988, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) decided to reopen the disappearance. Their theory is that Earhart and Noonan flew for two and a half more hours than previously noted, arrived at uninhabited Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro: 2,500 miles northeast of New Zealand) and ultimately perished there.
TIGHAR has produced a wide range of evidence to support their theory, but none has been totally accepted as belonging to Earhart or Noonan and all has been called circumstantial. This evidence has included improvised tools, an aluminum panel, an oddly cut piece of clear Plexiglas (the same thickness and curvature of an Electra window) and a size 9 Cat's Paw heel, dating from the 1930’s, resembling Earhart's footwear in flight photos.
Where does the weather come into all of this? Surprisingly not in the crash, but in the efforts to find answers. Over time, the forces of nature will destroy evidence. If her plane is underwater, the sediment and animal life where the plane could be resting may be corroding it or covering it entirely. If Earhart landed the plane successfully on an island, erosion and exposure to the elements could be destroying any remaining evidence.
For example, in 2007, a TIGHAR led expedition to Nikumaroro Island and found bronze bearings which may have belonged to Earhart's aircraft, along with a zipper pull which might have come from her flight suit. However, the weather had ravaged the island and those artifacts and they were not able to be identified conclusively.
On March 20, 2012, TIGHAR announced they were launching a new search, based on a re-evaluation of a 1937 photograph taken off the reef at Nikumaroro. The expedition is being endorsed by Dr. Robert Ballard, the same man who found the Titanic. The expedition will embark in July of this year, 75 years after Earhart disappeared. Maybe this time, one of history’s greatest mysteries will be solved. All we can do is wait to find out if the story of Amelia Earhart will finally have an end.
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