The day is July 2, 1937, and the world’s first woman to fly across the Pacific solo, Amelia Earhart, goes missing as she attempts to circumnavigate the globe at the equator. Earhart was preparing to land for refueling and for more supplies at the Howland Islands, where the Coast Guard along with the ship Itasca were deployed to aid her in landing. Earhart radioed the ship to inform them that she was low on fuel; but the Itasca could not pinpoint her location nor could she pinpoint theirs, despite the Itasca pumping miles of black smoke into the air. She radioed “one-half hour fuel and no landfall” and later tried to give information on her position.1 Soon after, contact was lost, and Earhart presumably tried to land the Lockheed on the water.2 After this, no news of Earhart emerged, and she was officially declared missing, along with her copilot, Fred Noonan. What happened to Amelia Earhart?
Theories suggest that Earhart crash landed near Nikumaroro, an island near her original destination, Howland Island. It is said that Itasca, the nearby ship sent out by the Coast Guard, was able to pick up her transmissions, which is why it is believed that she was near the Howland Islands. In 1940, the colonial administrator of Howland Islands, Gerald Gallagher, discovered thirteen bones in what seemed to be the remnants of a campfire. The bones were shipped to Fiji to be examined by Physician D.W. Hoodless, who examined the bones and determined that they belonged to a stocky, short man of European descent, which would seem to rule out Earhart and Noonan. After deciding this conclusion, Hoodless discarded the bones, completely eliminating the chance for further examination. However, the International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) took Hoodless’s original measurements and found that the bones could have possibly belonged to a tall woman of European descent.3 Earhart was known to be around 5’7 to 5’8. To entertain the bone evidence, TIGHAR Director Ric Gillespie states that the lack of bones could be caused by the island’s coconut crab population. Coconut crabs are known to grow up to three feet long, and can break open coconuts with their claws. The crabs could have possibly carried the remains of bone and flesh to their burrows for feeding.
Along with these bones, a shoe sole was found with writing on it, stating, “Cats Paw Rubber Company USA.” The sole was from the same type of shoe that Earhart was pictured wearing in Indonesia shortly before her disappearance. However, the sole belonged to a size-nine shoe, which would have been too big for Earhart’s feet, disproving the possibility of it being hers. But along with the sole, a sextant, an instrument used to find latitude and longitude, was discovered with the bones and campfire.4 This instrument could have belonged to Earhart, as it was very common for pilots to navigate through longitude and latitude using a sextant. It made sense that Earhart and Noonan could have used the instrument to determine their location after landing. To further this theory, across the island are findings of campfires, along with remains of fish, clams, birds, and turtles. Based on the way the clams were opened and the way the fish were eaten without their heads, it is more plausibly the activity of non-pacific islanders.
A less likely theory suggests that Earhart and Noonan were given orders that if they could not find the Howland Islands, to crash land near the Marshall Islands, which at the time were controlled by Japanese forces. The purpose of this could be so that the US army could move towards the area, claiming that they were “searching for Earhart.” Another claim is that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese Army and eventually killed.5 Evidence exists that shows that at the time, locals claimed seeing the plane crash on the island. Also, in 1944, an Army Sergeant named Thomas E. Devine claimed that he came across a group of US Marines guarding a hanger containing Earhart’s Electra, on the formerly settled Japanese Island Saipan.
Furthermore, a photo found in the national archives suggests that the photo contains Earhart and Noonan after landing on the Marshall Islands. However, the photo was subsequently found in a Japanese textbook published in 1935.6 Furthermore, experts claim that at the time, Earhart would not have had enough fuel to make it to the Marshall Islands, considering that in her last radio transmission, she claimed to have only seventy-four gallons remaining.
In conclusion, despite theories ranging from survival on islands to alien interference, most enthusiasts speculate Earhart crashed into the ocean, burned up in the crash, and sank to the bottom of the ocean. However, the world will never know what happened to Amelia Earhart unless the aircraft or a body is discovered. For now, the case of Amelia Earhart remains a mystery.
- Women In World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Amelia Earhart,” by Doris L. Rich. ↵
- Candace Flemming, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011), 30-36. ↵
- Kristina Killgrove, “The Mysterious Disappearance Of Amelia Earhart’s Skeleton,” Forbes Science Journal 02, no.1 (November 2016): 1-3. ↵
- TIGHAR Project Amelia, “The Sextant Box Mystery,” Earhart Project Research Bulletin 2, no.12 (January 1999): 1-2. ↵
- Johnny Dodd, “Does This Photo Prove Amelia Earhart Survived Her Flight,” Journal Of Human Interest 14, no. 4 (July 2017): 1-2. ↵
- Two Leaf Yakosubi Store, The life line of the sea My figure of the South Sea: South Sea archipelago photo book (Two Leaf Yakko Cloth Store, 1935), 34-35. ↵