Finding Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart made history in 1928, becoming the first women to cross the Atlantic, taking off in Newfoundland and landing in Wales. She made headlines again in 1935 when she became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, Calif.

After joining Purdue University in 1935 as a female career consultant (yes, that was a thing back then), Earhart began planning for her third trip into history and her first flight around the world on the Lockheed Electra. Her plan was to circumnavigate the globe, flying along the equator and making stops in several countries. Partnered with Fred Noonan, her second navigator, the around-the-world flight began in Miami on June 1, 1937. At the 22,000 mile mark, Earhart and Noonan began their approach to Howland Island. That’s where radio contact was lost and the pair disappeared. just 7,000 miles shy of accomplishing the world-wide feat.

And that is where the mystery kicks in.

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The planned flight path.

What’s New?

So, what happened? This has long been one of history’s more popular mysteries.

The Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum offers its own theories on the pair’s fate.

Some theorized the pair ran out of fuel looking for Howland Island, and had to ditch in the Pacific. Others thought they may have crash landed on another small island. Some speculated they were captured by the Japanese, accused of espionage, then held as bargaining chips in the event war erupted between the U.S. and Japan.

More speculation has been mounting in the news recently, fueled by the work of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).

Discovery News writes that TIGHAR’s research indicates Earhart may have lived as a castaway before dying stranded. And other recent reports, also based on TIGHAR’s work, suggest a possible crash site.

What’s Next?

TIGHAR plans to spend $3 million dollars on a 30-day expedition in 2014 to find the remains of the Electra in the Pacific Ocean by the island of Nikumaroro. The organization hypothesizes along castaway lines, suggesting that Earhart and Noonan survived the initial crash landing but died on the island. Artifacts — including a jar of freckle cream, buttons, and makeup — were found near the island and are the sorts of clues that have informed TIGHAR’s plan.

But TIGHAR’s expedition carries its own controversy, as some rich dude is alleging they’ve already found the site and are pretending they haven’t to make more money off rich dudes. That much probably isn’t true, as this particular rich dude appears to be of the Bond villain variety, with interest in bankrupting the nonprofit and form a for-profit in its stead. Seriously.

That’s not to say TIGHAR is beyond skepticism, though. This article on CNN points out some of the potential flaws in the organization’s thinking. Among them: Nikumaroro was one of the first after Earhart went missing. Writes Earhart’s biographer, Susan Butler:

At that time, three planes catapulted from the battleship USS Colorado searched the area. If one of the three pilots had sighted anything even slightly promising, the pilot would have reported it. The pilot who sighted the plane would instantly have been the hero of the hour.

But hey. It’s been a long time and we still don’t have an answer. Why the hell not?

photo credit: Wikimedia Commons