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What Happened to Amelia Earhart?

June 30, 2020 in History

By History.com Editors

The trailblazing aviator’s disappearance remains a source of fascination—and controversy.

On the morning of July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Lae, New Guinea, on one of the last legs in their historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Their next destination was Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean, some 2,500 miles away. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter, the Itasca, waited there to guide the world-famous aviator in for a landing on the tiny, uninhabited coral atoll.

But Earhart never arrived on Howland Island. Battling overcast skies, faulty radio transmissions and a rapidly diminishing fuel supply in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra plane, she and Noonan lost contact with the Itasca somewhere over the Pacific. Despite a search-and-rescue mission of unprecedented scale, including ships and planes from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard scouring some 250,000 square miles of ocean, they were never found.

In its official report at the time, the Navy concluded that Earhart and Noonan had run out of fuel, crashed into the Pacific and drowned. A court order declared Earhart legally dead in January 1939, 18 months after she disappeared. From the beginning, however, debate has raged over what actually happened on July 2, 1937 and afterward. Several alternate theories have surfaced, and many millions of dollars have been spent searching for evidence that would reveal the truth of Earhart’s fate.

The Castaway Theory

In her last radio transmission, made at 8:43 am local time on the morning she disappeared, Earhart reported flying “on the line 157 337…running north and south,” a set of directional coordinates that describe a line running through Howland Island.

In 1989, an organization called the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) launched its first expedition to Nikumaroro, a remote Pacific atoll that is part of the Republic of Kiribati. TIGHAR and its director, Richard Gillespie, believe that when Earhart and Noonan couldn’t find Howland Island, they continued south along the 157/337 line some 350 nautical miles and made an emergency landing on Nikumaroro (then called Gardner Island). According to this theory, they lived for a period of time as castaways on the tiny, uninhabited island, and eventually died there.

U.S. Navy planes flew over Gardner Island on July 9, 1937, a week after Earhart’s disappearance, and saw no sign of Earhart, Noonan or the plane. But they did report seeing signs …read more

Source: HISTORY

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