Mystery of Aemelia Earhart has
captured the imagination of young and old, amateur and professional,
since she disappeared on July 2, 1937 on her flight over the Pacific
which would complete
her around-the-world flight - the longest (following the equatorial
route) and the first by a woman.
the time of her first ride in an airplane as a child, Aemelia Earhart
was hooked on flying. Her passion led her to break flight records
and become a public celebrity. In one of her letters, she hoped
that the around the world flight would finally rid her of her compulsion
to fly and she could settle down. Though she did not survive it,
it was indeed her last flight. She vanished into the Pacific Ocean
24 hours after leaving Lae, New Guinea.
the 2,500 mile Pacific was the most dangerous part of her flight.
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca was standing off Howland Island
for several days to act as a radio contact for her. Radio communications
in the area were very poor and the Itasca was overwhelmed with commercial
radio traffic as a result of the celebrated flight.
and her navigator, Fred Noonan, left with 1100 gallons of fuel,
good for around 24 hours of flight (the flight should have been
about 19 hours), but she ran out of fuel 2 hours early. She carried
as much as possible. The plane was so heavy on takeoff she wasn't
sure even to the end if she could get it off the runway.
intended destination was Howland Island, a tiny piece of land a
few miles long, 20 feet high, and 2, 556 miles away. Their last
positive position report and sighting were over the Nubian Islands,
about 800 miles into the flight.
4 hours and 18 minutes, she called in and reported her speed and
height - the right
know I am quite aware of the hazards...I want to do it because
I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried.
When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others."
Earhart's letter to her husband George
and height for optimal fuel consumption. Management tables had been
prepared for Earhart by Lockheed's Kelly Johnson. She signed off
with her signature line, "everything OK." There is disagreement
over what happened next.
theory put forward by Elgen M. Long is that a combination of weather
and equipment failure forced her to use more fuel than expected
and come in toward Howland Island too far north. First a storm forced
her to go higher to avoid it. The climbing used a great deal of
fuel and then she had to fight a strong headwind. This also used
more fuel. After 10 hours they spotted a ship, which they assumed
was the half way marker. Instead it was probably a different ship
farther north. She spoke to Leo Bellarts on the Itaska
but she was apparently unable to hear him as he attempted to guide
her in. He sent morse code, but she had left her
code equipment behind. She was 100 miles from Howland Island but
her radio direction finder was malfunctioning. If it was clear they
could have seen Howland Island from 50 feet or more if high enough
and they would almost certainly have found it. But because of the
weather they could not find it. She sent her last message giving
her position as she plunged into the water. As she reached to crank
the transmitter, the engine coughed. The Long theory is that they
died on impact or drowned.
last heard from at 08:43 on July 2 (20 hours and 13 minutes into
the flight) Earhart said she was flying on a "157/337"
line - the USCG Itasca's Radio Log.
Earhart and Noonan had a poor understanding of the use of radio
navigation, and to keep the plane as light as possible, some equipment
was left behind. The frequencies Earhart was using were not well
suited to direction finding ( she had left behind the lower-frequency
reception and transmission equipment which might have enabled Itasca
to locate her), and the reception quality of her transmissions was
communication proved impossible.
eight-page letter written days after the disappearance by Eric Chater,
General Manager of Guinea Airways and Earhart's host in Lae. The
letter, which describes in detail the preparations made and the
difficulties experienced by Earhart and Noonan prior to departure,
had been misfiled by the recipient and only surfaced in 1992. That,
Itasca's Radio Log (now in the National Archives) help
answer some questions which were unclear for so long.
specifically said she would use Greenwich time during the flight.
She did not know that Itasca was, nevertheless, using local
time. Earhart also expected that the Itasca would follow
her requested radio schedule in which she listened for messages
on the hour and the half hour, and transmitted messages at quarter
to and quarter past the hour. As the Itasca's code message was being
sent on 7500 kilocycles (they could not send voice on 7500), Earhart
was tuning her receiver to 3105 to listen on the half hour. When
the Itasca's transmission ended at 23:58 (11:28 for Earhart)
she probably didn't even have her headphones on. Not only was the
weather being sent on the wrong frequency but Earhart had repeatedly
asked the Coast Guard to "report in English, not code, especially
while (I am) flying." Neither she nor Noonan could read Morse
code, and the morse equipment had been removed from the plane before
Itaska's radio log a group determined the precise location
that she went down from turning her signal strength into nautical
miles. It is apparent that they were flying a ladder search pattern
in their attempt to find the island. If they had not run out of
fuel, the pattern would have taken them right over the island.
the aid of a sophisticated computer program, Nauticos (the deep
sea exploration company that found the Titanic), using the Long's
research, has identified a search area for the Electra at 17,000
feet. The search is underway.
Group, TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery)
has a different view of what happened to Earhart:
believe that the aircraft landed successfully on the reef-flat at
Nikumaroro Island at or near low tide on the smooth stretch of coral
just north of the S.S. Norwich City, a ship that ran aground there
in 1929. TIGHAR executive director Rick Gillespie and his team have
been investigating Nikumaroro Island for over a decade.
Nikumaroro Island in 1937
telegram dated July 3, 1937 to the Secretary of State reveals that
on the evening of July 2nd, the radio station on the island of Nauru
(which had heard Earhart's in-flight transmissions the night before)
hears "Fairly strong signals, speech not intelligible, no hum
of plane in background, but voice similar to that emitted from plane
in flight last night."
The signals are heard on 6210 kilocycles, the frequency to which
Earhart said she was switching in her 08:43 transmission.
Early settlers on Nikumaroro tell of an airplane wreck seen in 1940,
long before any possibility of WWII activity. The wreckage is said
to have been located on the reef near "where the waves break"
and just north of the shipwreck.
1991, while conducting excavations at a site on Nikumaroro, TIGHAR
found shoe fragments, a Cat's-Paw replacement heel, most of a rubber
sole, and a brass shoelace eyelet. The Cat's Paw manufacturer has
identified the heel as dating from the mid-1930s and the sole, which
aligns with the nail holes in the heel, as probably coming from
a woman's blucher oxford shoe. Analysis showed the shoe to be a
size 9. Photographs of Earhart taken shortly before her flight show
her wearing blucher oxford style shoes with brass shoelace eyelets
and what may be a recently replaced heel (due to the lighter shade
of the lower heel). However Earhart had a small foot, size 6.
Gallagher found bones in 1940 and corresponded by radio with Tarawa Atoll.
He reported at first that natives had discovered a human skull "just
possibly that of Aemelia Earhart." He was asked by the Western
Pacific High Commission to keep the information secret and to see
what else he could find out. He next reported:
search has now produced more bones (including lower jaw) part of
a shoe a bottle and a sextant box. It would appear that:
(a) Skeleton is possibly that of a woman,
(b) Shoe was a woman's and probably size 10,
(c) Sextant box has two numbers on it... 3500 (stenciled) and 1542-
sextant being old fashioned and probably painted over with black
The bones found on the island by Gallagher and sent by him to Figi
were intercepted and analyzed by Dr. Lindsay Isaac of Tawara in
an unauthorized examination. With unknown methods, he concluded
that the bones were from an elderly Polynesian male.
The bones went on to their proper destination on Figi. They were
analyzed in 1941 by Dr. D.W. Hoodless. He concluded that the incomplete
skeleton was most likely that of a short, stocky European (or half-caste),
and definitely a male. He recorded his measurements and observations,
and his handwritten notes survive.
in 1997 by TIGHAR, using Dr. Hoodless's measurements and observations
but applying modern forensic methods, came up with different conclusions.
They concluded that the skeleton was:
more likely female than male
more likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander
most likely between 5'5" and 5'9" in height
short, consistent with Aemelia Earhart. But there is a low level
the Long and the TIGHAR theories have evidence to support them.
Both claim to have solved the mystery. In time it should become
clear which theory is correct and the Amelia Earhart mystery can
finally be laid to rest.
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