Real Name: Amelia Earhart
Date: July 2, 1937
Location: Howland Island
Details: Amelia Earhart was a female aviation celebrity of the 1930s. She was the first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this record. She set many other records, wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of an organization for female pilots. Earhart joined the faculty of an aviation department in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and help inspire others with her love for aviation.
In 1937, accompanied by flight navigator Fred Noonan, she was attempting an around-the-world flight. Had she succeeded, she would have become the first woman to circumnavigate the world by aeroplane. The two left Oakland, California, on May 20, 1937, and traveled eastward across the United States. They continued this eastward pattern along the equator. At 10:22 a.m. on the 1st July, Earhart and Noonan departed from Lae, New Guinea for Howland Island which was 4,113km away. It was the last time that they would be seen alive. The last known position of their plane was near the Nukumanu Islands 1,300km into the flight. The United States Coast Guard were set up to communicate via radio but this was not successful; problems are believed to have been caused by lack of knowledge of this new technology and not putting the half hour time difference into consideration when scheduling.
Hours later on the morning of July 2, Earhart's transmissions could be heard, but it appeared that messages sent to their aircraft were not being received. As time went on transmissions from Earhart became more and more garbled and soon became hard to decipher. The strength of the transmissions received indicated that Earhart and Noonan were in the vicinity of Howland island, but could not find it and after numerous more attempts it appeared that the connection had dropped. The last transmission received from Earhart indicated she and Noonan were flying along a line of position (taken from a "sun line" running on 157–337 degrees) which Noonan would have calculated and drawn on a chart as passing through Howland.
Only one hour after the last transmission was received, the search for them began. The United States Coast Guard and Navy both searched the surrounding waters of Howland Island and the neighbouring Gardner Island. The official search ended 17 days later after $4 million had been spent on search resources. At this point in time it was the largest, most expensive and most publicized search to date but no trace of Amelia or Fred was ever found. On January 5, 1939, Earhart was declared legally dead.
Theories on disappearance
During the 1980s, some researchers who examined the disappearance were convinced by unsubstantiated accounts that Amelia and Fred veered off course by 2,000 miles and landed on the island of Saipan where they were captured and executed by the Japanese Navy. Witnesses place Amelia's plane in the custody of military officials in the area and the execution of two American pilots by the Japanese. One US Army soldier, Thomas Devine, claims to have seen Amelia's plane on Saipan during World War II, just seven years after she had disappeared. He overheard two soldiers confirm that the plane was Amelia's. An official reprimanded these soldiers for talking about the plane. Later, he saw the plane flying overhead, so he wrote down the identification numbers. The numbers matched those that were on Amelia's plane. He claimed the Army destroyed her plane later that night by setting it on fire.
On the same island, another soldier, Bob Wallack, claims he found a bag filled with documents that were owned by Amelia, including her passport. He turned the documents over to his commanding officer, and the documents, like Amelia, were never seen again.
One Saipan native who was still living in the 1990’s said that in the late 1930s, two Americans were captured by the Japanese. They were forced into the town center, where they stripped their clothing. It was then revealed that one of the Americans was a woman. The two were then held prisoner for several days. The witness later recalled seeing the woman, blindfolded, taken to a field and executed by a firing squad. The witness is certain that the woman was Amelia; however, these alleged events are almost certainly apocryphal. In 1987, an search was done of the area where the execution allegedly occurred. A blindfold was found; however, no remains were located. Furthermore, Saipan lies hundreds of miles west of Earhart’s known flight path, making it doubtful she landed there.
Today, many researchers believe that the Electra ran out of fuel somewhere near Howland Island and that Earhart and Noonan ditched at sea. One researcher believes that due to an incorrect map, compass problems, and wind shifts, the plane most likely ditched thirty-five miles west of Howland Island. The researchers who support the "crash and sink" theory say that the Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world, with many hundreds and thousands of miles separating tiny dots of dry land. They also say that the waters of the Pacific are so deep that finding the aircraft would be like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, Howland was by no means the only island within range and the aircraft appeared to have enough fuel to reach an alternate destination. Furthermore, it is also believed that if the aircraft ditched at sea, it should have been able to float until discovered and numerous searches of the ocean floor by new underwater technology have failed to find the aircraft.
Therefore, based on the lack of concrete evidence to support the above theories, a more likely theory is that Earhart and Noonan found Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, landed the plane on the reef near the wreck of a freighter, and sent sporadic radio messages from there. It has been surmised that rising tides and surf swept the plane over the reef edge and Earhart and Noonan survived on Nikumaroro for several weeks before succumbing to injury, starvation, thirst, disease or simple dehydration on the waterless atoll. One week after the flight disappeared, three U.S. Navy search planes flew over Gardner Island. The Navy fliers saw “signs of recent habitation,” but they believed the island to be inhabited, and so they moved on, when in fact it had been abandoned since 1892. In 1940, a British colonial officer and licensed pilot radioed his superiors informing them that he had found a female skeleton, along with a sextant box, under a tree at a makeshift campsite on the island's southeast corner. The skeleton had roughly the same proportions as Amelia Earhart but both the bones and box are currently missing; the colony on Nikumaroro was abandoned in a severe drought in 1963, and the remains went AWOL with it. Scientists have been unable to determine the identity of the skeleton conclusively as modern tests cannot be run without the remains.
In a 1998 report to the American Anthroplogical Association, researchers concluded, that they "can be certain of is that bones were found on the island in 1939–40, associated with what were observed to be women’s shoes and a navigator’s sextant box, and that the morphology of the recovered bones, insofar as we can tell by applying contemporary forensic methods to measurements taken at the time, appears consistent with a female of Earhart’s height and ethnic origin." Further searching of the island led to the discovery of an aluminium panel possibly from the plane, a piece of Plexiglas identical down to the exact thickness and curvature of the window on the plane and a size 9 shoe heel resembling the footwear Earhart is shown to be wearing in promotional photos for the flight. A jar with mercuric traces of Dr Berry's brand freckle cream, presumably belonging to Earhart, has also been found.
Even though the crash and sink theory is more commonly believed, the surviving Earhart family all have said that they believe in the Gardner Island theory. From the evidence, it is speculated that Amelia died at the makeshift campsite where the skeleton was found. Noonan's fate on the island has been less speculated on due to lack of evidence. The TIGHAR project are currently working on DNA analysis of bone fragments and fecal matter, as well as analyis of artifacts and searching for evidence of animals hunted as food by the castaways. Due to the cost of analytical equipment and outside expertise, they are reliant on donations to do so. Recently, underwater imaging has shown what appears to be a strut, a fender, a wheel and a worn gear, as well as other possible pieces in the debris field. These are consistent with the upside-down landing gear of the plane.
An October 28, 2014 article by Rossella Lorenzi states that a small piece of aluminum found on Nikumaroro is believed by TIGHAR to be a patch from the fuselage of Earhart's Lockheed Electra. This patch, which replaced a navigational window on the Electra, can be clearly seen in a photo of the plane taken by the Miami Herald when the plane departed from San Juan, Puerto Rico. TIGHAR hopes to return to Nikumaroro in 2015 to continue to search for the plane in the waters off the island atoll.
Extra Notes: This segment first ran on Unsolved Mysteries in the November 7, 1990 episode.
This case was also featured in the TV shows "In Search Of" and "Expedition Unknown."
Results: Unsolved - The crash and sink theory is more widely believed by people, but the Gardner Island theory has a much more confirmed explanation. Work is ongoing but reliant on donations.
Evidence to support the information about the Japanese Survey ship, Koshu, having gone to Gardner Island to rescue Amelia Earhart includes the following:
A direct Quote from the 'New York Times' July 7, 1937 says: "The Japanese Navy's 2,080-ton survey ship Koshu, Captain Hanjiro Takagi commanding, which is cruising in the area around Howland Island. Was ordered yesterday to search for Amelia Earhart. The orders to the Koshu were radioed after Hirosi Saito, Ambassador to Washington, had reported that the United States Government had accepted an offer of Japanese assistance. Admiral Mistumasa Yonai, the Navy minister, immediately transmitted instructions to the Japanese commanders in Formosa and the Mandated Islands."
The Koshu's log, according to Susan Butler's book "East to the Dawn" says, "The Koshu headed south, out of Japanese and into United States waters, fully aware of where they were."
- In October 2014, the piece of aluminum mentioned above, was shown, by precision photographic processes, with accuracy comparable to a finger print, to be that object mentioned. If this is correct, it changes the list of possible sources of Amelia's disappearance and would totally eliminate the crash and sink theory. It would also disprove the "crashed in the Marshall Islands" theory. It would prove that the Koshu was on Nikumaroro for a while, but was then taken to Jaluit Island with Amelia and Fred on board, and with the Electra attached to Its stern. That is why the search planes never saw them or the plane. They did see "some kind of markers", probably supports, used to load the Electra. At Jaluit Fred was treated by Bilamon Amaron. They were then, starting on July19, taken to Saipan and locked in, Garapan jail as spies. They did not crash in the Marshalls but were taken there, arriving at Jaluit Island Navy base on July 13, ten days after they went missing. They were never in "two places at the same time!" a statement which had been used to claim that all of the numerous incidents about Amelia in the Marshall Islands and Saipan were false. This information was referenced in "Earhart and Noonan: the Missing Link" by Duane Hamblin.
On July 9, 2017, the History Channel documentary, "Amelia Earhart: Lost Evidence," proposed that it was not Nikumaroro that Amelia landed on but an atoll in the Marshall Islands northeast of Howland Island. Their research was based on figures resembling Earhart and Noonan on a pier on Jaluit island as featured in a photograph. The theory is that after a storm affected Earhart's route, she turned west back to retrace her route and she crashed in the Marshall Islands, where she was picked up by the Japanese Navy and take to Saipan, where she was imprisoned and executed. It is further theorized that American intelligence knew she was there, and covered it up in order to prevent the Japanese from realizing that their secret code had been broken. When the US army seized the island, they then removed Earhart and Noonan's remains from the island. As yet, none of this has been confirmed, and this scenario is still theoretical. It was later revealed that the photograph, which the majority of the documentary was based on, allegedly showing Earhart and Noonan was taken in 1935, not 1937 as it was claimed, thus making the photograph completely unrelated to Earhart and Noonan's disappearance.
- Amelia Earhart Official Web site
- Amelia Earhart on Wikipedia
- Earhart Project Hypothesis, Summer 2009
- Marianas Research