Where Is Amelia Earhart?—Three Theories

John Roach
for National Geographic News
December 15, 2003

Read Amelia Earhart's 1932 acceptance speech when the National Geographic Society awarded her the Society's Special Medal for being the first woman to make a solo transatlantic crossing. Go>>

In the early morning hours of July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart was scheduled to land her airplane on the tiny Pacific Ocean island of Howland just north of the Equator. She never arrived.

Her fate remains one of aviation's greatest unsolved mysteries. Organizations and researchers have spent millions of dollars investigating the case and several books have been published that examine the differing theories.

While no theory holds what many of the Earhart researchers call a smoking gun, each theory has staunch defenders who claim mountains of evidence that support theirs as correct.

What is known is that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were flying Earhart's Lockheed Electra on a 2,556-mile (4,113-kilometer) route from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland on the third-to-last leg of an around-the-world equatorial flight. From there they were scheduled to go on to Hawaii and then California.

A U.S. Coast Guard crew aboard the cutter Itasca was at Howland to assist Earhart in this pre-radar era by providing radio bearings and a smoke plume, but owing to radio problems—either technical or operator-specific—communication was sporadic and broken.

According to Itasca's radio logs, Earhart indicated she must be near the island but couldn't see it and was running low on gas. The Electra never made it to the island.

An ensuing search effort that at its height involved more than 3,000 people, ten ships, and at least 65 planes turned up empty-handed. The official U.S. position is that Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific Ocean.

Another theory says the pair died as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited South Pacific Island. Yet another theory claims they were captured while on a secret mission to the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands in the North Pacific.

Pacific Ocean Crash?

Nauticos, a Hanover, Maryland, company that performs deep-ocean searches and other ocean research services, is leading an effort to locate Earhart's plane where they believe it crashed: in the Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of Howland.

In March and April of 2002, the company used a high-tech, deep-sea sonar system to search 630 square miles (1,630 square kilometers) of the ocean floor near Howland. They didn't find the plane, but plan to return in 2004 to continue searching.

Continued on Next Page >>




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