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Amelia Earhart

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Amelia Earhart. Image Credit: Library of Congress
FACTUAL ANALYSIS: The question of what happened to Amelia Earhart continues to remain one of the biggest unanswered mysteries of the modern age.
One of history's most celebrated aviation pioneers, Amelia Earhart - who was the first female aviator ever to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean - disappeared without a trace in 1937 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe, kick-starting a decades-long mystery that continues to endure even to this day.

Previous Feats

Born in Kansas in 1897, Earhart developed a thirst for adventure from a young age and in 1928 became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a plane.

Keen to take things one step further, in 1932 she became the first female pilot to fly solo over the Atlantic in her Lockheed Vega 5B.

Her aviation feats quickly earned her celebrity status and she was seen as one of the most inspirational figures of her time, especially for young women.

Over the next few years, she went on to achieve a number of other aviation speed and distance records in a variety of different aircraft, but there was one accomplishment that she strove to achieve above all others - "a circumnavigation of the globe as near its waistline as could be".

It was her fateful attempt to do just that in 1937 that would firmly secure her place in the history books.
Circumnavigation Attempt

To make it around the entire world, Earhart needed a plane that was up to the challenge.

The aircraft she ultimately ended up with was a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra.

Earhart actually made two attempts to fly around the world. The first, which began on March 17th, 1937 in Oakland, California, ended when the plane suffered damage during takeoff in Hawaii.

Once the aircraft had been repaired, Earhart - along with her navigator Fred Noonan - took off on a second attempt from Miama on June 1st and headed eastward.

Over the next few weeks, they made good progress - over 22,000 miles in total.

On July 2nd, they departed Lae Airfield in Papua New Guinea with the intention of flying 2,556 miles to Howland Island in the Pacific - a journey of around 20 hours.

The Electra had been heavily loaded with fuel and supplies and at around 3pm Earhart communicated over the radio to state that she was reducing altitude from 10,000ft due to heavy cloud cover.

Two hours later, she reported that she was flying at 7,000ft with a speed of around 150 knots.

This, however, was when things started to go wrong.

While it isn't clear exactly what happened that day, the USCGC Itasca later reported receiving communications from Earhart stating that she was running low on gas and was at low altitude.

Complicating matters was the fact that she was unable to receive messages, meaning that the coast guard crew had no way to tell her where they were.

In her last known transmission at 8:43 am, Earhart indicated the navigational line she was flying on, but it was unclear what her position was or which direction she was going in.

After this, there was no further word and her plane was never found.
Theories

For decades, investigators have attempted to determine what happened to Earhart and Noonan.

One theory that has been popularized in recent years is that the pair came down within the vicinity of the remote Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro and may have even survived there for days awaiting rescue.

Several searches have been conducted on the atoll itself and in the ocean around it, but nothing conclusive has ever been forthcoming.

According to one story, 13 human bones were actually found on the island in 1940 by British colonial officer Gerard Gallagher, but were later lost before modern forensic analysis could be conducted.

It has also been suggested that if Earhart and Noonan had died on the atoll, their remains would have been long consumed by coconut crabs, making it impossible to find any trace of them.

Possible Plane Discovery

Back in January 2024, it was reported that South Carolina-based underwater mapping team Deep Sea Vision had captured a clear sonar image of what appeared to be an aircraft on the seafloor around 16,000ft beneath the surface and around 100 miles from Howland Island.

It may be some time, however, before the aircraft can be definitively identified.

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