What Really Happened to Amelia Earhart?

Updated on July 21, 2019
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian History.

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart | Source

Biographical Information: Amelia Earhart

Birth Name: Amelia Mary Earhart

Date of Birth: 24 July 1897

Place of Birth: Atchison, Kansas

Date of Death: Unknown (Officially declared dead “in absentia” on 5 January 1939)

Place of Death: Unknown (Last seen travelling to Howland Island in the Pacific)

Spouse(s): George P. Putnam (Married in 1931)

Children: N/A

Father: Samuel Edwin Stanton Earhart (1867 to 1930)

Mother: Amelia “Amy” Otis (1869 to 1962)

Siblings: Grace Muriel Earhart (1899 to 1998)

Nickname: “Meeley”

Best Known For: Numerous Aviation Records; First woman to complete solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

Amelia Earhart as a young girl.
Amelia Earhart as a young girl. | Source

Quick Facts

Quick Fact #1: Amelia Mary Earhart was born to Samuel and Amelia Earhart on 24 July 1897, in the town of Atchison, Kansas. Earhart was named after her two grandmothers (Amelia Josephine Harres and Mary Wells Patton), and had one younger sister by the name of Grace Muriel Earhart. Young Amelia, along with her younger sister, were homeschooled for much of their early life. It wasn’t until the seventh grade that Amelia was finally enrolled in public school at the age of twelve.

Quick Fact #2: Even in her youth, young Amelia often defied traditional gender roles as she not only participated in boy sports (such as basketball), but also attended college and took auto repair courses. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, Amelia began working as a nurse for the Red Cross in Toronto, Canada. It was here that Earhart was first introduced to airplanes as she spent countless hours watching pilots from the “Royal Flying Corps” conduct training operations at the local airbase.

Quick Fact #3: Earhart returned to the United States after World War One ended to pursue pre-med at Columbia University. After taking her first airplane ride in 1920 with a World War One pilot named Frank Hawks, she quickly abandoned her studies in favor of flying lessons. In January 1921, Earhart began her lessons with a female instructor named Neta Snook. Earhart paid for the lessons by working as a filing clerk for the Los Angeles Telephone Company. Through hard work and devotion, Earhart was able to complete her training, and later purchased her first airplane (a “Kinner Airster”) that she nicknamed “The Canary” due to its yellow appearance.

Quick Fact #4: Within only a few years, Earhart was making all sorts of new aviation records, becoming the first woman pilot to fly solo above 14,000 feet in 1922, and becoming the first woman (1932) to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean (second person after Lindbergh’s famous flight). Using a Lockheed Vega 5B, Earhart left Newfoundland, Canada on 20 May 1932 and landed in Londonderry, North Ireland a day later using a cow pasture to land safely. For her solo flight, the United States Congress awarded Earhart the “Distinguished Flying Cross” for her heroism in flying across the Atlantic. She became the first woman to ever receive this honor.

Amelia and her husband, George Putnam.
Amelia and her husband, George Putnam. | Source

Quick Facts Continued...

Quick Fact #5: Later in 1932, Earhart completed the first solo, non-stop flight across the United States (by a woman), beginning in Los Angeles, California and ending in Newark, New Jersey nineteen hours later. In 1935, the set another solo flight record with the first recorded trip from Hawaii to the United States mainland.

Quick Fact #6: On 1 June 1937, Earhart began her second attempt to circumnavigate the globe, taking off from Oakland, California in her twin-engine Lockheed 10E Electra. In her eastbound flight, accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan, the pair flew to Miami, South America, over the Atlantic to Africa, then eastward towards India and Southeast Asia. On 29 June 1937, Earhart and Noonan reached Lae, New Guinea (22,000 miles total), with only 7,000 more miles to go before reaching Oakland, California. After departing for Howland Island from Lae (a refueling stop along the way), Earhart and Noonan lost radio contact with the United States Coast Guard cutter, Itasca, which was holding position off the coast of Howland Island. It was the last time anyone would hear or see the famous duo.

Quick Fact #7: Following the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated a massive two-week search for the pair that ended in failure. By 19 July 1937 both Earhart and Noonan were declared “lost at sea” (history.com). Scholars remain uncertain as to what happened to Earhart and her companion, as numerous theories have been proposed concerning their doomed flight. The official position taken by the United States government at the time, however, is that the pair crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Amelia Earhart in 1928.
Amelia Earhart in 1928. | Source

Theories About Earhart's Disappearance

Theory #1: Many scholars ascribe to the “Crash and Sink Theory” for Earhart’s disappearance. According to this hypothesis, Earhart and Noonan may have ran out of fuel in their approach to Howland Island. This could have been caused from improper navigation, or a miscalculation of the required fuel needed to complete the journey.

Theory #2: Another theory pertaining to the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan is the “Gardner Island Hypothesis,” which was first espoused by the “International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery” (TIGHAR). This theory suggests that Earhart and Noonan may have veered off-course in their flight to Howland Island, and may have landed some 350 miles away on Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro) which is to the southwester of Howland. At the time, the island was deserted. However, a week after her disappearance, Naval planes noted signs of habitation along Gardner Island. Many believe that the pair may have survived for several weeks as castaways on the island before finally dying, due to starvation or dehydration. TIGHAR expeditions on the island have found numerous pieces of evidence, including a window, a woman’s shoe from the 1930s, a cosmetics jar from the Thirties, as well as bones. None of the findings are conclusive, however.

Theory #3: A third theory pertaining to Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance (Known as the “Capture Theory”) suggests that the pair may have been captured by the Japanese, and were later executed. At a time when tensions between the United States and the Japanese Empire were high, this theory may hold some truth to it. Eyewitness accounts on local Japanese-controlled islands have indicated over the years that a young woman was held prisoner on one of the local islands in the area (believed to have been either American or European). However, none of the evidence is conclusive.

Amelia Earhart in 1928.
Amelia Earhart in 1928. | Source

Additional Theories

Theory #4: A fourth theory regarding the pair’s disappearance (Known as the “Spy Theory”) is that Earhart and Noonan were spies for President Roosevelt and the United States. Individuals who subscribe to this school of thought believe that the disappearance was staged by the American government, after the pair successfully completed an aerial reconnaissance of Japanese-held islands in the area. This theory then posits that Earhart and Noonan returned safely to the United States and assumed new identities. This theory was held in high-esteem by many until 1949, when both the United Press and United States Army concluded that the theory was both groundless and unwarranted.

Theory #5: A fifth theory, known as the “Tokyo Rose” theory, coincides with the Japanese hypothesis. It posits that Earhart and Noonan were captured after crash-landing somewhere in the Pacific. Instead of being executed, however, the theory suggests that Earhart was one of several women who were forced to serve as “Tokyo Rose” (making propaganda broadcasts for the Japanese Empire). Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, took a keen interest in this theory. After listening to several broadcasts, however, he was unable to personally identify Earhart’s voice.

Theory #6: A sixth and final theory, known as the “New Britain Hypothesis,” appears more credible, given its logic and amount of evidence. The theory suggests that Earhart and Noonan may have turned back mid-flight in their approach to Howland, due to lack of fuel or other issues experienced on-board. In doing so, the pair would have tried to reach Rabaul, New Britain (approximately 2,200 miles from Howland Island). Many continue to ascribe to this theory as Australian veterans from World War II came across aircraft wreckage during one of their patrols in April of 1945. Their description of the wreckage fits Earhart’s Electra airplane (in both details, serial numbers, and its color-scheme). Given their location and lack of navigational equipment at the time, however, the Australian soldiers could only record a rough position on their maps of the aircraft’s location. This map was discovered again in 1993. But additional searches of the recorded area have found no evidence of Earhart and Noonan’s plane.

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart | Source

Fun Facts

Fun Fact #1: Amelia Earhart hated both coffee and tea. She much preferred hot chocolate. Because of this, it is often been pondered how Earhart was able to stay awake for such long flights without the use of caffeine. According to her personal testimonies, Earhart would use smelling salts to aid her in staying awake.

Fun Fact #2: Despite the many pictures of Earhart in aviator goggles, she actually despised wearing them and would take them off as soon as she reached the end of a runway. The goggles were only for show.

Fun Fact #3: First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, was greatly inspired by the feats of Amelia Earhart. In response, Lady Roosevelt signed up for flying lessons after becoming friends with Earhart in 1932.

Fun Fact #4: Following Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance, the United States government launched the most expensive air and sea search in history. For two weeks, the United States government spent approximately $4 million trying to find the pair.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

— Amelia Earhart

Quotes by Earhart

Quote #1: “The most effective way to do it, is to do it.”

Quote #2: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Quote #3: “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”

Quote #4: “Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”

Quote #5: “Mostly, my flying has been solo, but the preparation for it wasn’t. Without my husband’s help and encouragement, I could not have attempted what I have. Ours has been a contented and reasonable partnership, he with his solo jobs and I with mine. But always with work and play together, conducted under a satisfactory system of dual control.”

Quote #6: “The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one’s appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship.”

Quote #7: “I have often been asked what I think about at the moment of takeoff. Of course, no pilot sits and feels his pulse as he flies. He has to be part of the machine. If he thinks of anything but the task in hand, then trouble is probably just around the corner.”

Quote #8: “The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.”

Quote #9: “Women must pay for everything. They do get more glory than men for comparable feats, but, they also get more notoriety when they crash.”

Quote #10: “Aviation offered such fun as crossing the continent in planes large and small, trying the whirling rotors of an autogiro, making record flights. With these activities came opportunity to know women everywhere who shared my conviction that there is so much women can do in the modern world and should be permitted to do irrespective of their sex.”

Poll

Do you feel that Earhart and Noonan's disappearance can be explained by any of these theories?

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Conclusion

In closing, Amelia Earhart remains one of the most fascinating individuals to have arose from the Twentieth-Century, given her accomplishments in both flying and the feminist movement. Although many theories exist about her disappearance, none have succeeded in explaining Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance with a high-level of certainty. With expeditions into the Pacific increasing over the last fifteen years in search of the pair’s missing plane, the implementation of high-tech sonar, robots, and deep-sea craft may eventually unravel the mystery of Earhart’s disappearance; a mystery that has been eighty-two years in the making.

Works Cited:

Articles/Books:

History.com Editors. “Amelia Earhart.” History, A&E Television Networks. 15 April 2019. Accessed 2 May 2019. https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/amelia-earhart.

Images/Photographs:

Wikipedia contributors, "Amelia Earhart," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Amelia_Earhart&oldid=892737373 (accessed May 4, 2019).

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Larry Slawson

    Comments

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      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        6 months ago from Sunny Florida

        Very interersting article about Amelia Earhart! I do think we will ever know for sure what happened to them, but I would assume their plane ran out of fuel, and they have landed at one of these sites.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        6 months ago from North Carolina

        Haha, thank you Eric! I'm glad you enjoyed!

        Supposedly, there was an expedition planned for the Pacific earlier this year. A team of researchers claimed that they knew the location of Earhart's plane. But I never heard anything more about it haha. Guess it didn't pan out for them.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        6 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        No question, Noonan and Amelia fell in love and safely escaped to a place they could fill out their love in solitude.

        A wonderful article as usual from you.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        6 months ago from North Carolina

        Thank you Cristine! I’m glad you enjoyed :)

      • cristina327 profile image

        Cristine Santander 

        6 months ago from Manila

        Nice hub!! Quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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