Though she was known for many impressive achievements, her disappearance in 1937 whilst flying over the Pacific Ocean is what usually comes to mind when we hear her name. Read on and discover the speculations on one of the greatest mysteries in history.
It Wasn't an Easy Ride to Greatness
The incidents leading up to her disappearance started with her solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean on May 21, 1932. Having already flown for four hours, Earhart ran into a problem. In a later interview, she stated, ”I saw flames shooting from the exhaust pipe. I started feeling uneasy…
It would have taken four hours for me to return, so I thought it would be safer to go ahead.” Apparently, things could have gotten even worse — she discovered that her fuel tank was also leaking.
Has the Truth Finally Been Uncovered?
After many years and being puzzled by the outcomes, a group of researchers believed that they may have finally solved Earhart’s unfortunate disappearance. Well, we do not have to wonder any longer.
The mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance may have finally been decoded.
Lockheed Electra Spotted
Something else that has baffled researchers has been the disappearance of Earhart’s plane. Although the Lockheed Electra has never been discovered, a group of scavengers came across what they thought to be part of the wreckage in 1991. The International Group of Historic Aircraft Recovery, known as TIGHAR, discovered the aluminum piece on the island of Nikumaroro.
In 2014, TIGHAR’s executive director Ric Gillespie expressed that scientists had determined that the historical object was definitely a piece of Earhart’s missing plane.
More Hard-hitting Evidence
Though many people were swayed to believe TIGHAR once this information was released, there were several detractors who weren’t so sure about the validity of Gillespie’s declaration. One detractor was known to have said that “everybody should have facts to back up [their] opinion.” According to them, Mr. Gillespie had nothing to prove his opinion to be true.
Even so, TIGHAR had also found a pot of ointment that looked like Dr. Berry’s Freckle Ointment. Earhart was known to have freckles and “considered them unattractive”, Gillespie remarked. Gillespie believed that she had taken it with her on the flight.
Died at Sea?
The most plausible theory for many years, and the official U.S. position on Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, is that while she was flying across the Pacific Ocean, she ran out of fuel during her trip and crashed somewhere in the open sea.
This meant that the Electra never made it to Howland Island, which is where Amelia Earhart was trying to get to in order to stock up on much-needed fuel.
Even to this day, there are search teams that make regular expeditions to the Howland Island vicinity in search of Amelia's plane. However, this is just one theory, there are a few others that have come to light over the years.
Another curious tale that was told around this time was the theory says that Amelia Earhart was a spy sent on a secret mission by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
I Spy With My Little Eye
This theory states that after successfully completing her mission, Amelia Earhart returned to the United States of America and had to spend the rest of her days in hiding under the alias of Irene Bolam.
Whatever the case may be, this is just a tall tale with no factual evidence to back it up.
Discovery of Bones
In 1940, some bones were discovered on the island of Nikumaroro. The bones were discovered by rescue teams that were on a mission on the Pacific island.
The team was set on finding Earhart, and they strongly believed that the bones were her remains as this area was on her flight path.
Were They Hers?
Scientists did all they could to determine the identity of the bones that were found on Nikumaroro Island. They so desperately wanted to prove that the bones were indeed Amelia Earhart’s, however, the evidence suggested otherwise. The distinguishing features pointed toward the bones belonging to a man.
But since then, the art of forensics has significantly developed over the years, and new studies have produced newfangled results.
Many historians have held on to the belief that Amelia Earhart was captured by the Japanese during her journey across the Pacific based on the image below. This photograph allegedly shows Earhart and her flying partner Fred Noonan on the Jaluit Harbor of the Marshall Islands.
Amy B Wang of the Post alludes to “a figure with Earhart’s haircut and approximate body type [sitting] on the dock, facing away from the camera.” The photo is still the center of the heated discussion to this day.
An Old Man’s Tale
In 1960, an old American coastguard whose name was Floyd Kilts shared a story he had heard 14 years prior. It was about a man who was walking on Nikumaroro and came across something awful. Kilts said that about 5ft from the shoreline he saw a skeleton and what attracted him to it were the shoes. Women’s shoes of the American kind.
Over the years, researchers thought about whether or not this story was related to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Could it be that these were in fact her remains?
It seemed as though Amelia was bound to fail at her attempt to cross the Atlantic. But fate seemed to be on her side on an earlier trip when only 20 hours and 40 minutes after leaving Trepassy Harbor, Newfoundland, Earhart arrived at a farm in Pwll, South Wales.
She later said that after scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood she pulled up in a farmer’s backyard. A farmer asked her if she had flown in from far, and she had responded, from America.
Upon returning to the United States from her history-defining trip, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross. She was the first woman ever to receive the honor. Not only that but she was also welcomed with a huge parade in New York City. Her influence crossed boundaries all over the world, near and far.
The Manchester Guardian wrote that she had achieved so much in proving that flying is not beyond the knowledge and the capacity for sustained endurance that a woman could acquire.
The Trip That Never Ended
Compared to her award-winning trip across the Atlantic a decade prior, Earhart’s trip across the Pacific was to be a tragedy. She became the first person to fly solo across the ocean from Honolulu to Oakland, California. After that, Earhart raised $80,000 so that she and her flying partner Fred Noonan could go on a trip around the world.
The pair did incredibly well and it was their final stretch from Lae, New Guinea that would be their final flight. They had already flown 29,000 miles and only had 7,000 miles to go before the completion of their trip.
Never to Be Seen Again
On 2 July 1937, Earhart and Noonan were struggling to communicate with their next fuel stop in Itasca. Before catching a flight they were told to expect fairly good weather. Instead, the sky became cloudy and it was virtually impossible for Noonan to navigate by the stars.
The last form of communication received from the duo was at 8:43 am when Earhart said, “we are running north and south.” That was the last time anyone ever heard from them again.
Amelia Earhart has achieved many feats in her lifetime, and people have said many things about her, but one thing that everyone is in agreement on is that she is one of the most influential women of all time. Before embarking on her fatal flight across the Pacific, she penned one last letter.
In that letter, she wrote: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.”
A Star Is Born
In order to fully understand the story of Amelia Earhart, we need to go right back to the beginning. Amelia was born in 1897 to parents Amy and Edwin. She was delivered in her maternal grandfather’s home, federal judge Alfred Gideon Otis.
Amelia was the apple of their eyes after their first child was stillborn. Her younger sister Grace was her biggest fan and looked up to her.
Meeley and Pidge
As most children do, Amelia Earhart had a nickname. Her nickname lived on long into her adult years. Her friends and family would call her “Meeley” while her sister Grace was referred to as “Pidge”.
This was befitting of her mother’s parenting style. She wanted her kids to find what made them unique and live life by their own rules.
Ready. Set. Adventure.
Amelia Earhart’s adventurous escapades started early on in her childhood. The future pilot and her sister would run around the neighborhood getting into all kinds of mischief.
The fearless sister duo would go on all kinds of daring adventures such as hunting rodents, climbing trees, and sliding down hillsides.
A Flight in Time
At a young age, Amelia's uncle had made a ramp for her that looked like one she had been on as a child. It was intended to be used as a mini rollercoaster. Earhart got injured one day and ripped her lip as she was leaping off the ramp.
After landing and getting back on her feet, she said to her little sister, “It’s just like flying!” She said the whole incident was exhilarating.
A Legend in the Making
Amelia Earhart’s nature was to be that of an independent woman. As a child, she had the courage to do things some children would never even try. She would hunt rats with a rifle and climb tall trees. She even made a scrapbook that only contained newspaper clippings about successful women.
She knew from the first time she got on a plane that she wanted to be a pilot. She flew for the first time in 1921 after initially working as a truck driver so she could pay off her own flying lessons.
With a tale as legendary as Amelia Earhart’s, you really stop and think in amusement when you hear about her peculiar education. In her teens, Amelia lived with her grandparents. However, her mother took a very unconventional method of home-schooling her.
Earhart loved to read and on many occasions she could be found tucked away in a corner of her family’s library, reading a book. In 1909, Amelia and her sister Grace were finally able to go to a regular school. She was 12 years old when she entered seventh grade.
Unmatched in the Air
Just a year after her first flight, Earhart took to the skies in her yellow Canary and flew 14,000 feet up in the air. This flight broke the world altitude record for a female pilot at the time. Because of her record-breaking flights, she was awarded her official pilot’s license by the world governing body for aeronautics in 1923.
She was the 16th woman to ever receive one. Her record-breaking didn’t stop there. She became the first woman to fly across the U.S. nonstop from coast to coast.
Marrying Mr. Putnam
With her ever-growing popularity as a public figure, Amelia soon needed to hire a publicist. She hired George P. Putnam but their relationship developed from a working one into a romantic one. That doesn’t mean she made it easy for him. He proposed six times before she said yes.
She was set on remaining an independent woman. “You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work,” she wrote to him.
Call Me Earhart
Though George and Amelia had tied the knot in 1931, Earhart had reached a resolution to keep being addressed by her maiden name. She wanted to be known for her professional work, not for being George P. Putnam’s wife. After her record-breaking trip across the Atlantic, the New York Times published the headline “Mrs. Putnam flies Atlantic in record time.”
Amelia immediately wrote to the publisher Arthur Hays Salzberger and graciously asked him to refer to her in the paper as Amelia Earhart.
The 99s Legacy Lives On
Amelia Earhart consistently worked to promote opportunities for women in aviation. Her mission was to promote gender equality and this came to fruition in the form of her organization, the Ninety-Nines. It was so aptly named this because out of the 285 licensed American female pilots at the time, 99 of them, including Earhart, came together to support one another.
The organization has since gone international and looks after women from 44 different countries around the world. Earhart was a true representation of the idea that women could do anything that men could.
Because of her reputation as a symbol of equality, Earhart has been portrayed multiple times in pop culture. “Amelia” by Joni Mitchell speaks about Earhart’s disappearance. “I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another… sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman,” wrote Mitchell.
We’ve also seen her depicted in movies such as "Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian" and "Amelia", by Amy Adams and Hilary Swank.
Her Car Was Stolen and Found in L.A.
Astonishingly, decades after Earhart went missing, her vintage car also disappeared in 2018. The world only has 14 models of the green and black 1932 Hudson Essex Terraplane. Earhart’s was reportedly stolen from car collector Jim Somers. The vehicle was discovered less than a week later in an L.A. neighborhood.
Earhart advocated for the car during the Great Depression. After salvaging and refurbishing the car, Somers’ model is now worth anything between $250,000 and half a million dollars.
A Step in the Right Direction
All the new developments we have now may have cleared up the decades-long mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Prof. Richard Jantz, a professor at the University of Tennessee, believed that he can prove a popular theory and dispel many others.
Though there have been many wild and wonderful speculations on her untimely disappearance, this discovery might finally be the answer to any questions historians and fans alike may have had.
There is not enough evidence to prove that this really happened, and most people had forgotten about the Nikumaroro bones since the 1940s when Jantz took a fresh look at them through a collection of photographs.
Even though he didn’t have the physical bones to study, Jantz was convinced that through a computer program he could determine both the gender and ancestry of the person.
It's a Match
Using the photos and the measurements of the bones, Jantz spent a long time inspecting the bones and compared them to Amelia’s weight and height at the time of her disappearance.
After assembling all the information he could find from documents about Amelia Earhart and the photos, he was convinced that it was her.
Jantz Is Convinced He Has Found Her Remains
Despite Jantz's certainty, there were many other researchers who also covered the case and they are not as confident they belong to Amelia. Jantz wrote that from a forensic perspective, the most strict scenario is that the bones were those of Amelia Earhart.
He added that until reliable evidence can be presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they were.
Jantz is resolute about one thing; if these bones do not belong to Amelia Earhart, then they definitely belonged to someone with a similar build and background. He said that such a profile is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference pool.
He believes that this strongly advocates for the bones on Nikumaroro Island to be those of Amelia Earhart.
How True Is It?
If we are to take Jantz’s words as reality then we’d have to believe that Floyd Kilts, that old coastguard that told that story many moons ago, was indeed right and his story was not just an old man’s tale. This would most likely mean that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan died on Nikumaroro Island.
Regardless of what the truth is, Amelia lived a full and daring life and gave her life to advocating for gender equality. Her story ends with her doing the thing she loved most, flying.
A Nurse’s Aide
Before the flying bug bit, Amelia developed a passion for helping the sick and needy. In 1918, she left junior college to become a nursing aide in Toronto, Canada during World War I. After the war, she joined the pre-med program at Columbia University. She dropped out after her parents asked her to move in with them in California.
She was studying in New York City at the time. In the mid-1920s, she moved to Boston to become a social worker at Denison House, a settlement house for immigrants.
Just six months after Earhart began taking flying lessons, she bought her first plane for $2,000. It was a second-hand Kinner Airster. It was a bright shade of yellow so she named it “The Canary.” She had been warned against buying a Kinner Airster because her instructor, Anita Snook, believed that it had some structural problems and was not a suitable plane for beginners.
Earhart pushed her warnings aside and purchased it anyway. On 12 October 1922, Amelia flew her plane to an altitude of 14,000 feet setting a world-height record for female pilots.
The International Celebrity
Earhart was known far and wide for her achievements. Back when she started flying there weren’t many female pilots in the world so her fame rose quickly. After her flight across the Atlantic, she became an instant celebrity. Details of her flight were shared worldwide.
She wrote about the flight in her book "20 Hrs. 40 Mins," and traveled around the United States on a lecture tour.
The Fun of It
Determined to justify the acclaim that the Atlantic crossing had brought her, she crossed the Atlantic again in 1932. However, she never made it to her intended destination of Paris, France. Despite experiencing a few problems and landing in Ireland, she made the journey in a record time of 14 hours and 56 minutes.
In 1932, she wrote and published another book titled "The Fun of It." She wrote about her life and her love of flying.
A New Era of Women in Aviation
All throughout history, female pilots have played a part in revolutionizing the aviation industry. Amelia Earhart was just one of many influential women who pioneered the field.
Today the list is endless but here are a few more inspirational women we think you should meet.
The Baroness of Flight
On 8 March 1910, Baroness Raymonde de Laroche of France became the first woman to be awarded a pilot’s license by the Aeroclub de France. Her first flight with Wilbur Wright in 1908, sparked her fatal attraction to flying. She was a woman who loved living on the edge so flying a plane was fitting for her boisterous personality.
Laroche broke the women’s altitude record in 1919 by climbing to almost 13,000 feet. Two weeks later, her life tragically ended in a plane crash at Le Crotoy airfield, when a test pilot offered her a ride in an experimental Cauldron.
A Member of the Caterpillar Club
Fay Gillis Wells abandoned school to start flying in 1929. Three days after making her first solo trip, she was invited to be a passenger on an experimental aircraft where the pilot would be performing some aerobatics. On that day, she became the first woman to join the Caterpillar Club for pilots who parachute from a faulty airplane.
Alongside Amelia Earhart, she founded the 99s, an organization that aimed to foster camaraderie and promote opportunities for women in aviation. She helped create the International Forest of Friendship in Amelia Earhart’s birthplace, Atchison, Kansas.
Wartime Flying Machine
Another original member of the 99s was Betty Huyler Gillies. She started flying in 1928, whilst studying as a nurse. Between 1939 and 1941 she was the president of the 99s. She dedicated her life to fighting for the equal rights of women in aviation.
Gillies became the first pilot to join the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron on 12 September 1942. In 1981, her work in World War II earned her the Elder Statesmen of Aviation Award from the National Aeronautic Association of the U.S.
In 1942, Willa Brown Chappell became the first African-American woman member of the Civil Air Patrol. She was also the first African-American woman in the United States to get a private pilot license. She later went on to receive her commercial pilot license.
Alongside her husband, she created the first U.S. government-approved school of aviation for black people. Brown dedicated her life to helping others realize their dream of flying.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochrane was one of the most important and well-known racing pilots of her generation. She took her first lessons in flying in 1932 and got her pilot’s license three weeks after her first lesson. On 18 May 1953, she piloted an F-86 jet and became the first woman to break the sound barrier.
That same year she set the world record speeds for the 15 km, 100 km, and 500 km courses. She was inducted into the International Aerospace Hall of Fame in 1965 and the U.S. Aviation Hall of Fame in 1971.
Harriet Quimby was the first woman to earn a pilot’s license in the United States. She was awarded this honor by the Aerospace Club of America in 1911. Harriet also became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. She lost her life in 1912, just three months after crossing the English Channel, when she lost control of her aircraft.
Both she and her passenger were thrown out of the aircraft in the Boston Harbor. Though her aviation career only lasted a year, she accomplished what few women of her time could only dream of.
Call Me Jerrie
In 1964, Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world, achieving Amelia Earhart’s 1937 goal. She flew in a single-engine Cessna named The Spirit of Columbus. Mock completed the arduous flight in an incredible amount of 29 days and 12 hours. She experienced a plethora of problems along the way.
She flew through bad weather, suffered brake failure, and battled radio transmission problems before she made it back to Columbus, Ohio. She said that she undertook the flight “to see the world.”
Fight With Flight
Bessie Coleman was an American aviator. Though she was interested in aviation, Bessie was denied entry into American aviation schools. Undaunted, she moved to France to realize her dreams and was quickly accepted at the Caudron Brothers School of Aviation in Le Crotoy, France.
On 15 June 1921, she became the first woman to obtain an international pilot’s license. Coleman was put on the first public flight by an African-American woman in America on Labor Day, 1922. In 1926, during a rehearsal for an aerial show, her plane spun out of control, flinging her 2,000 feet and ending her life instantly.
Queen of the Air
Amy Johnson was born on 1 July 1903 in Yorkshire, England. She achieved fame by becoming the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia in 1930. She flew in a second-hand Gypsy Moth named Jason. Even though she had set this record, she was three days short of breaking Bert Hinkler’s record of the same route.
In 1940, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, which was an organization that ferried planes around England. On Sunday, 5 January 1941, one of the planes she was ferrying plummeted into the sea. Her body was never recovered.
Breaking Glass Ceilings
Emily Howell Warner became the first woman captain of a scheduled U.S. airline in 1976. She obtained her student’s pilot license at the ripe age of 18. Warner broke boundaries in commercial aviation, though she faced much resistance from her male counterparts.
She also became both the first woman to join the Air Line Pilots Association and the commander of the first all-female flight crew in the United States. “I mean the airplane doesn’t know if you’re male or female” joked Warner.