The Missing Case Of Amelia Earhart

Earhart pictured next to her plane, a Lockheed Electra before taking off to circumnavigate the globe at the equator. Photo courtesy of AP Photos

The day is July 2, 1937, and the world’s first woman to fly across the Pacific solo, Amelia Earhart, goes missing as she attempts to circumnavigate the globe at the equator. Earhart was preparing to land for refueling and for more supplies at the Howland Islands, where the Coast Guard along with the ship Itasca were deployed to aid her in landing. Earhart radioed the ship to inform them that she was low on fuel; but the Itasca could not pinpoint her location nor could she pinpoint theirs, despite the Itasca pumping miles of black smoke into the air. She radioed “one-half hour fuel and no landfall” and later tried to give information on her position.1 Soon after, contact was lost, and Earhart presumably tried to land the Lockheed on the water.2 After this, no news of Earhart emerged, and she was officially declared missing, along with her copilot, Fred Noonan. What happened to Amelia Earhart?

Theories suggest that Earhart crash landed near Nikumaroro, an island near her original destination, Howland Island. It is said that Itasca, the nearby ship sent out by the Coast Guard, was able to pick up her transmissions, which is why it is believed that she was near the Howland Islands. In 1940, the colonial administrator of Howland Islands, Gerald Gallagher, discovered thirteen bones in what seemed to be the remnants of a campfire. The bones were shipped to Fiji to be examined by Physician D.W. Hoodless, who examined the bones and determined that they belonged to a stocky, short man of European descent, which would seem to rule out Earhart and Noonan. After deciding this conclusion, Hoodless discarded the bones, completely eliminating the chance for further examination. However, the International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) took Hoodless’s original measurements and found that the bones could have possibly belonged to a tall woman of European descent.3 Earhart was known to be around 5’7 to 5’8. To entertain the bone evidence, TIGHAR Director Ric Gillespie states that the lack of bones could be caused by the island’s coconut crab population. Coconut crabs are known to grow up to three feet long, and can break open coconuts with their claws. The crabs could have possibly carried the remains of bone and flesh to their burrows for feeding.

Along with these bones, a shoe sole was found with writing on it, stating, “Cats Paw Rubber Company USA.” The sole was from the same type of shoe that Earhart was pictured wearing in Indonesia shortly before her disappearance. However, the sole belonged to a size-nine shoe, which would have been too big for Earhart’s feet, disproving the possibility of it being hers. But along with the sole, a sextant, an instrument used to find latitude and longitude, was discovered with the bones and campfire.4 This instrument could have belonged to Earhart, as it was very common for pilots to navigate through longitude and latitude using a sextant. It made sense that Earhart and Noonan could have used the instrument to determine their location after landing. To further this theory, across the island are findings of campfires, along with remains of fish, clams, birds, and turtles. Based on the way the clams were opened and the way the fish were eaten without their heads, it is more plausibly the activity of non-pacific islanders.

A less likely theory suggests that Earhart and Noonan were given orders that if they could not find the Howland Islands, to crash land near the Marshall Islands, which at the time were controlled by Japanese forces. The purpose of this could be so that the US army could move towards the area, claiming that they were “searching for Earhart.” Another claim is that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese Army and eventually killed.5 Evidence exists that shows that at the time, locals claimed seeing the plane crash on the island. Also, in 1944, an Army Sergeant named Thomas E. Devine claimed that he came across a group of US Marines guarding a hanger containing Earhart’s Electra, on the formerly settled Japanese Island Saipan.

Believed photo of Earhart and Noonan captured by Japanese Forces. Earhart is sitting on the dock, while Noonan is standing to the left | Image Courtesy of National Archives

Furthermore, a photo found in the national archives suggests that the photo contains Earhart and Noonan after landing on the Marshall Islands. However, the photo was subsequently found in a Japanese textbook  published in 1935.6 Furthermore, experts claim that at the time, Earhart would not have had enough fuel to make it to the Marshall Islands, considering that in her last radio transmission, she claimed to have only seventy-four gallons remaining.

In conclusion, despite theories ranging from survival on islands to alien interference, most enthusiasts speculate Earhart crashed into the ocean, burned up in the crash, and sank to the bottom of the ocean. However, the world will never know what happened to Amelia Earhart unless the aircraft or a body is discovered. For now, the case of Amelia Earhart remains a mystery.

  1. Women In World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002, s.v. “Amelia Earhart,” by Doris L. Rich.
  2. Candace Flemming, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart (New York: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011), 30-36.
  3. Kristina Killgrove, “The Mysterious Disappearance Of Amelia Earhart’s Skeleton,” Forbes Science Journal 02, no.1 (November 2016): 1-3.
  4. TIGHAR Project Amelia, “The Sextant Box Mystery,” Earhart Project Research Bulletin 2, no.12 (January 1999): 1-2.
  5. Johnny Dodd, “Does This Photo Prove Amelia Earhart Survived Her Flight,” Journal Of  Human Interest 14, no. 4 (July 2017): 1-2.
  6. Two Leaf Yakosubi Store, The life line of the sea My figure of the South Sea: South Sea archipelago photo book (Two Leaf Yakko Cloth Store, 1935), 34-35.
The Missing Case Of Amelia Earhart
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The Missing Case Of Amelia Earhart

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57 Comments

  • Oh mysteries, making me wonder what has happened since I used to watch Carmen San Diego. I’d like to believe the theory that involved them being able to get to a campfire and then just living out the rest of their life. This theory seems to have the most credibility and I’d like to think that they wouldn’t’ve died at sea. I wish there was more insight on this. Maybe I’ll go look for a documentary on Earhart because I really like things like this.

  • Earhart is such an interesting missing person case given her grandeur. Yes, we were in the heat of war, but being the famous woman and political ally and personal friend to Eleanor Roosevelt, you’d think she would have been promptly been rescued. I suppose it’s ignorant to assume that, given how today it is far easier to locate a missing aircraft. In any case, the utter lack of evidence to her disappearance is a baffling mystery that more than likely will never be solved.

  • I never realized that there was so many theories surrounding Amelia’s disappearance and up until now I only remember hearing about the photo that shows she could have possibly been alive. People are still wondering about this case because she was the first woman to fly solo and now she’s gone almost without a trace. Most likely it seems we’ll never be able to have a definite answer as to where she went.

  • Personally I believe in the theory that her plane crashed in the ocean and the currents just carried them both away. I had not realized though that there is possible evidence that they could have made it to an island nearby and possibly survived for some time. There are so many possibilities as to what happened that I believe we will never know. I enjoyed this article. It went through different theories and allowed the ready to choose what they thought would have happened to either one of them and if they made it out alive.

  • Earhart’s disappearance has always interested me, because of how much of an important person she was in history. It is really interesting to read about the different theories about what happened to her, each one more intriguing the other. Even though we never know what happened to her, it is interesting to see what people think happened to her. The article puts all the theories in a well-structured way that keeps the readers attention.

  • The theories all seemed very intriguing and very believable, however at the same time it still makes me wonder what actually happened to Amelia Earhart. It’s a very sad story, to just think that someone with a dream to do something went to go do it, but to never return is scary. As I kept reading there was just more and more theories, I was kinda hoping that they would say they found her remains, but then again there was nothing to conclude on that.

  • The mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart has always been a source of fascination to me. Its tragic yet amazing that this well known women is still missing to this day. I really loved how much detail was put into this article about the different theory’s as to what could have happened to Earhart. I never knew that one of the theory’s floating around was that Earhart was on orders to land near Marshall islands so that the army could move closer to the location. Overall I enjoyed this article and find it tragic that to this day we still don’t know what became of Earhart.

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