• Matt

AMELIA EARHART DISAPPEARANCE

Updated: Nov 9



The story of Amelia Earhart and her disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century. During a flight to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in July 1937. Her plane wreckage was never found, and she was officially declared lost at sea.


This amazing American aviation pioneer and writer became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and the first person ever to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. She set many more flying records in her time and championed the advancement of women in aviation, being instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots.


It was on her second attempt to become the first pilot ever to circumnavigate the globe in which the mysterious disappearance occurred. On June 1, 1937, Amelia took off from Oakland, California, in her twin-engine Lockheed 10E Electra, on an eastbound flight around the world. She was accompanied on her flight by navigator Fred Noonan. They flew to Miami, then down to South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, then east to India and Southeast Asia.


On June 29 the pair reached Lae, New Guinea , where they had racked up 22,000 miles. They only had 7,000 more miles to go before their final landing back in Oakland.


A photo in the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum showing Amelia with the loop antenna which provided 500 miles of radio contact. The trailing, 250ft. wire antenna which would have provided greater radio contact was left behind in Miami as she began the 27,000 mile flight. She would be out of radio contact for most of the 2,556 miles from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island. It was during this leg of her flight that the plane went down and was never found.

On July 2, Earhart and Noonan departed Lae and headed for the tiny Howland Island which was to be their next refueling stop. It was the last time the pair were seen alive. She and Noonan lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, anchored off the coast of Howland Island, and disappeared en route.


A massive search was authorized by president Franklin D. Roosevelt, but after two weeks of scouring the area by air and sea, the pair were never found. On July 19, 1937, Earhart and Noonan were sadly declared lost at sea. The official position from the U.S. government is that Earhart and Noonan crashed into the Pacific Ocean but many theories about what happened have been put forward by scholars, aviation enthusiasts and conspiracy theorists alike.


Photo on display of Leo G. Balarts, Chief Radioman of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter "Itasca" during Amelia Earhart's last flight. Also one of the Morse code keys he used during his career.
 

CRASH & SINK THEORY


This theory suggests that the Electra ran out of fuel whilst they searched for Howland Island, and thus crashed into the open ocean somewhere near the vicinity of the island. Over the past fifteen years several expeditions have been made in an attempt to locate the plane's wreckage on the seafloor. With the help of high-tech sonar and deep-sea-robots no one has been able to yield any clues into the Electra's crash site.

 

GARDNER ISLAND THEORY


One of the most credible theories was put forward by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). They theorize that Earhart and Noonan veered off-course from Howland Island and landed some 350 miles to the Southwest on Gardner Island, now named Nikumaroro, which is in the Republic of Kiribati. At that time the island was uninhabited.


Navy planes flew over the island a week after Earhart's disappearance and they noted recent signs of habitation but found no evidence of an airplane.


The pair could have survived as castaways on the island for days or even weeks before succumbing to dehydration and starvation. Since 1988, TIGHAR have made several expeditions to the island and have turned up some interesting artifacts that support their theory. Some of the items include:

  • A piece of Plexiglas that may have been from the Electra's window.

  • A woman's shoe dating back to the 1930's.

  • Improvised tools.

  • A woman's cosmetics jar from the 1930's

  • Bones that appeared to be part of a human finger.

On another expedition back in June 2017, TIGHAR took four forensically trained bone-sniffing border collies to search the island for skeletal remains of Earhart or Noonan. Alas, the search turned up fruitless, no bones or DNA could be found.


After reading about this theory we were a little perplexed why no one decided to check out the island if signs of habitation had been detected by the Navy search planes? Just because no aircraft was seen, that does not mean they were not stranded on the island. The Electra could have crashed into the sea and the survivors managed to drift on debris to the island. This being said, in August 2019, Robert Ballard, the ocean explorer known for locating the wreck of the Titanic, led a team to search for Earhart's plane in the waters around Nikumaroro. They also found no signs of the Electra.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORIES


There are numerous conspiracy theories that have been put forward:

  • Earhart’s flight was an elaborate scheme to spy on the Japanese, who captured her after she crashed.

The spy theory emerged from a 1943 film about Earhart called Flight for Freedom and starring Rosalind Russell, but no evidence supports its veracity. Also, newspapers and media outlets all over the world were tracking her progress on their front pages and on the airwaves, so it would have hardly been a secret mission.

  • Earhart crash-landed, was captured by the Japanese military and died while being held prisoner on the island of Saipan.

In 2017 a photo buried in the National Archives for nearly eighty years was discovered by investigators. The photo is said that it may depict Earhart and Noonan days after their disappearance. The team, led by former Executive Assistant Director of the FBI Shawn Henry, claim Earhart crash-landed in the Marshall Islands and subsequently captured by the Japanese military and died whilst being held prisoner on the island of Saipan.


Whilst scouring the archives for records related to Earhart, retired federal agent Les Kinney uncovered a photo from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) that shows a group of people standing on a dock, whilst in the background a ship towing a barge with an airplane on the back can be seen. Kinney believes that the plane on the barge is the Electra, and that two of the people on the dock are Earhart and Noonan.



It is not the first time that this theory has been put forward, it first surfaced in the 1960's after accounts from Marshall Islanders who supposedly saw the Electra aircraft land and witnessed Earhart and Noonan being taken into Japanese custody.

  • Earhart survived a Pacific Ocean plane crash, was secretly repatriated to New Jersey and lived out her life under an assumed name.

An author of a book published in 1970 claimed that Amelia survived the Pacific Ocean plane crash and was taken prisoner by the Japanese. At the end of World War II, U.S. forces purportedly found her in Japan and secretly repatriated her to New Jersey. There, Earhart took the name Irene Bolam and became a banker. When the real Bolam got wind of the book’s claims, she vigorously denied being Earhart and sued the author and publisher for $1.5 million. (The lawsuit was later withdrawn, though Bolam may have settled out of court.) Numerous experts investigated Bolam’s life and compared her photos to Earhart’s, they all agreed that Bolam, who died in 1982, was not the missing aviator.

  • Earhart survived and somehow made her way to Guadalcanal.

In 1943 several Allied airmen reported seeing Earhart working as a nurse on Guadalcanal. The person they saw probably was Merle Farland, a nurse from New Zealand, who was said to resemble the lost pilot. According to the 1977 book Lonely Vigil: Coastwatchers of the Solomon Islands, Farland caused a “something of a stir” on Guadalcanal, where she was the only woman among legions of troops awaiting transport. The rumor of her true identity may have been triggered by the hallucinations of soldiers suffering from malaria and other diseases.

  • Earhart crashed on New Britain Island.

New Britain Island was roughly along the flight path Earhart took on the final few legs of her round-the-world flight. In 1943 an Australian army corporal on patrol in the island’s jungle claimed to have found an aircraft engine bearing a Pratt & Whitney serial number. Earhart’s plane had a Pratt & Whitney engine, but so did many planes used in the area before and during World War II. It’s unlikely that Earhart, who maintained in radio transmissions that she was running out of gas near Howland Island, would have had enough fuel left to fly to New Britain, some 2,000 miles away.

  • Earhart was captured by the Japanese and became Tokyo Rose.

A rumor circulated that Earhart had spread Japanese propaganda over the radio as one of many women collectively referred to as Tokyo Rose. Her husband, George Putnam, actively investigated this lead at the time, listening to hours of recorded broadcasts, but he did not recognize the voice as his wife's.

  • Earhart was captured by the Japanese and traveled to Emirau Island.

It seems an unlikely place to find Earhart due to it being far from the spot where her last radio transmission was heard. A U.S. Navy crew member during World War II told of being sent to the island and spotted a photo of Earhart in the hut of a local man. The photo showed Earhart standing with a Japanese military officer, a missionary and a young boy. Naval intelligence officers were alerted, who allegedly took the photo from the hut against the owner’s wishes. The photo has since never been found. Since Emirau Island had been a haven for Europeans stranded after a shipwreck in 1940, it’s likely the photo contained a lookalike and not the real Amelia.

 

TABLOID PRESS AND SATIRICAL MAGAZINES


Over the years the story of Amelia's disappearance has been the butt of many satirical stories in the tabloid press and magazines, claiming over the top reports of sightings combined with badly cropped photo images. It's a shame that such an inspiring woman has had her name put through such idiotic stories, but I guess that's all part of being in the public spotlight.


 

AMELIA EARHART BIRTHPLACE

DATE(S) VISITED: NOVEMBER 1, 2022
LOCATION: ATCHISON, KS
MAP

The beautiful house was built in 1861 in a Gothic Revival style and is on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River and the Amelia Earhart bridge which was named after her. In 1897 Amelia was born in the home, which belonged to her maternal grandfather, Alfred Gideon Otis (1827–1912), a former judge, president of the Atchison Savings Bank and a leading citizen in Atchison. The Earharts attended nearby Trinity Episcopal Church where Amelia was baptized.



The birthplace was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and is now a museum featuring memorabilia and artifacts about Amelia Earhart. The house served as a private residence until 1984 when a local citizen, Dr. Eugene J. Bribach, contributed $100,000 to the Ninety-Nines to acquire the property. Since 1984 the building has been maintained by the Ninety-Nines, an international group of female pilots of whom Amelia was the first elected president.



Team H had such an insightful and uplifting (pardon the pun) time in getting to experience the life and times of this awe inspiring woman. She was certainly an innovator and not afraid to break away from the social norms of the time.


We certainly learned some history that was not previously known to us, like the fact she was a fashion designer and created a clothing line called Amelia Fashions in 1933. She had been interested in flying apparel for women for years and at the beginning of her career had to wear aviation suits that were designed for men and poorly fitted for a woman as there was nothing else available. Amelia’s fashion line was made up of wrinkle-free dresses, skirts, pants, and outerwear. Some of her designs even used materials such as parachute silk and fabric used for airplane wings. The outfits were crafted for practicality and designed to suit the needs of active women and she certainly broke the mold for traditional women’s dress during the 1930s.


We really hope that more people can be inspired by this woman's story and be lifted up by her spirit and tenacity. If you find yourself in Atchison, please go and visit this stunning collection in her beautiful former home.


 

AMELIA EARHART BRIDGE

DATE(S) VISITED: NOVEMBER 1, 2022
LOCATION: ATCHISON, KS
MAP

The Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge spans across the Missouri River on U.S. Route 59 between Atchison, Kansas and Buchanan County. This 2-lane, cantilever bridge was originally built in in 1937–1938 by the Works Progress Administration and it was designed by Sverdrup & Parcel. Originally named the Mo-Kan Free Bridge because it did not charge a toll (the adjacent railroad bridge served as a crossing for rail traffic as well as cars and pedestrians prior to the construction of the free bridge). The bridge was renamed for aviator Amelia Earhart in 1997 to honor the centennial of her birth in Atchison. The illumination along the trusses and xenon spotlights that shone straight up into the sky from the top of the bridge's two peaks were installed and debuted during the Amelia Earhart Centennial Celebration on July 24, 1997.


A photo of the original bridge can be seen at the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum.

The bridge was the topic of a preservation debate on whether to replace it with a new four-lane bridge or to keep it and build a second bridge. Alas, the bridge was demolished on October 9, 2013 after the new memorial bridge was finally finished constructed.


The bridge as seen from Amelia Earhart's birthplace home on the banks of the Missouri River.

The Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge that stands today was designed by HNTB and is a network tied arch bridge which spans four lanes with ten foot shoulders. Because of the Missouri River flood during the summer and fall of 2011, construction had to be stopped. Work on the bridge was started again toward the end of 2011. The bridge's arch was built on-site, rather than barged in like some tied-arch bridges and completed on June 14, 2012, and opened to traffic in December 2012.


Team H driving over the bridge as we say goodbye to Atchison, KS.
 

For even more photo's of our visit to Amelia Earhart locations check out our Facebook gallery page.

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