The Disappearance of Amelia Earhart


On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart American icon, aviation pioneer and author, disappeared over the Pacific. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, she set speed, altitude and distance records, wrote books about her accomplishments and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety Nines an international organization dedicated to providing professional opportunities to women in aviation.

It was during an attempted circumnavigation of the globe (another first), in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, that Earhart went missing on a leg to Howland Island an atoll located approximately halfway between Australia and Hawaii. [1]

The attempt had been problem plagued from the beginning. On March 17, 1937, Earhart and a crew, consisting of first navigator Harry Manning, second navigator Fred Noonan and technical advisor Paul Mantz, flew the first leg from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii; where after servicing, the flight resumed with only Earhart, Noonan and Manning on board. While attempting to take off Earhart ground-looped (a rapid rotation of an airplane while still on the ground often due to a wing digging in). Some said they saw a tire blow, others including Mantz cited pilot error.

Following repairs on the mainland a second try, this time flying west to east and with only Earhart and Noonan on board. The pair departed Miami on June 1, 1937, and after stops in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia they arrived in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. The remainder of the trip (7,000 miles or 11,000 kilometers) would be over the Pacific

On July 2, 1937, midnight GMT they took off from New Guinea, their destination, the aforementioned Howland Island, a tiny spec of real estate 6,500 feet (2,000 meters) long and 1,600 feet (500 meters) wide, 2,556 miles (4,113 kilometers) away.

The American Coast Guard cutter Itasca was on station acting as picket to guide them in when they got close.

Their last known position report placed the Electra some 20 miles southwest of the Nukumanu Islands, approximately one-third of the way to their destination.

What then went wrong, and why is a matter of conjecture, all that's known for certain is that the Lockheed Electra disappeared in an area a goodly fraction of the continental United States. A huge sea and air search was mounted but failed to locate either Earhart, Noonan or the aircraft and it was assumed they were lost at sea.

Some theorized they ran out of fuel, others they couldn't find the island [2] or contact the Itasca for bearings; to still others that they were captured by the Japanese, accused of espionage, and held hostage to be later executed (a World War 2 movie “Flight For Freedom” furthered a myth that Earhart was spying on the Japanese at the behest of the Roosevelt administration).

To this day, in spite of tantalizing clues, the mystery remains.


[1] Politically Howland Island is an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the United States. Geographically together with Baker Island, a second uninhabited atoll, it forms part of the Phoenix Islands a group of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs.

[2] Apparently Howland's charted position was off by about 5 nautical miles (10 km).




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