May 7, 2024 | Susan Napier-Sewell

Who can solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart?

Amelia Earhart

It’s likely that you know basic facts about the famous flier Amelia Earhart.

She set many records in her aviation career, her goal was to be the first pilot to fly around the world at the equator, her mysterious disappearance occurred during her second attempt to fly around the world.

Did you know Earhart’s first flight around the world attempt resulted in an accident in Hawaii?

The first attempt, in her Lockheed Electra L-10E, in March 1937, ended in a takeoff crash in Honolulu. The resulting repairs caused Earhart to change the direction of her flight plan. The original plan was to fly west, from California to Hawaii, then over the Pacific.

The changed flight plan meant they would fly eastward, in part to avoid bad weather. The downside of the eastern flight plan: the last part of the journey, flying to tiny Howland Island, would be the most arduous leg and after a difficult and long flight.

On May 21, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Oakland, CA, to Miami, FL, touching down at myriad points — among them, Brazil, Dakar, Bangkok, Australia — then to Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae on July 2, 1937; next was the 24-hour flight to Howland Island.

The Coast Guard cutter Itasca was waiting for Amelia Earhart’s plane to guide it to tiny Howland Island; however, there were difficulties: communications, cloudy weather, Earhart’s inability to receive messages, and more. tells us “when Earhart radioed, “We are circling but cannot see island cannot hear you.” She apparently only received one message from the ship, though the Itasca had been transmitting for hours. While continuing to broadcast — the radio strength of her communications indicated she was close — Earhart remained unable to see Howland Island.

“The weather around Howland was clear, but there were clouds about 30 miles northwest. And if Earhart had flown into clouds and bad weather along the way, it could have prevented Noonan from taking the sightings he needed to navigate precisely (plus, the charts he was using were a few miles off). Earhart’s last transmission made 20 hours and 14 minutes into her flight, indicated they were going to continue ‘running north and south.’ The plane never made it to Howland.”*

National Geographic reports “KHAQQ (the Lockheed Electra 10E’s call sign) calling Itasca: We must be on you but cannot see you … gas is running low … been unable to reach you by radio … we are flying at 1,000 feet.”

Earhart’s last confirmed message indicated that she was flying on a northwest-to-southeast navigational line that bisected the island, but she did not indicate in which direction she was heading. After that communication at 8:43 a.m., radio contact was lost, and no one knows what happened next.”**

What happened to the Electra, Amelia Earhart, and Fred Noonan?

Among speculations are:

  • The common belief is that the plane ran out of fuel and disappeared into the Pacific; the fuel aboard the Electra was only enough to reach Howland Island, and any other possible landing spot would have been too far.
  • Since Earhart had nixed several communication tools, did they lose contact with the Itasca and fly to the Marshall Islands, where Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese?
  • Or, did the two fly southward to the Phoenix Islands south toward the Phoenix Islands and find themselves stranded on a Nikumaroro reef?

Flying opines that “If the National Transportation Safety Board had been around to report on the mishap, it would have faulted the pilot’s preflight and en route decision-making. With two 600 hp radial engines, the Electra was capable of around 3 miles per gallon in still air. Making deductions for taxi, takeoff and climb, it would have had a reasonable fuel reserve had the air been still. But clearly, a 3,100-mile trip was a more dubious proposition, especially since pinpoint navigation could not be expected.”***

So, what do you think happened to Amelia Earhart and her plane? Will we ever find her and the answer to a decades-long mystery?

*, “The Mysterious Final Flight of Amelia Earhart,” by Sara Kettler, updated July 15, 2020.

**National Geographic,Missing! The unsolved mystery of Amelia Earhart’s last flight,” by Alec Forssmann, July 2, 2019.

***Flying, “Amelia Earhart’s Final Flight,” by Peter Garrison, December 22, 2020.

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