The disappearance of famed female aviator Amelia Earhart while on a daring attempt to circumnavigate the globe more than 70 years ago remains one of the most intriguing and controversial unsolved mysteries in history.
“Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart?” so goes a line from a popular song and the title of a book, and it’s also a question that has remained unanswered for the last 77 years. On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart, together with her navigator Fred Noonan, was reported missing on the way to Howland Island from Lae, Papua New Guinea aboard her Lockheed Electra. This leg was presumably the most difficult of their journey.
This was actually Earhart’s second attempt at an around-the-world flight. She failed at her initial attempt just March that same year, in which her aircraft ended up getting seriously damaged. But this did not discourage Earhart as she and Noonan went on to secure additional funds for another attempt which, according to records, began on May 20 at Oakland, California, although this was only publicized after they arrived in Miami, Florida. On June 1 the pair officially embarked on their second, 29,000-mile long attempt at circumnavigating the globe on board the newly-rebuilt plane, this time flying from west to east, making stops at cities in South America, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia.
On July 2, midnight Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), Earhart and Noonan departed from Lae to Howland Island, a small U.S.-owned land at the center of the Pacific Ocean, where staff of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s weather station located there await them with fuel and other supplies. The Coast Guard cutter Ithaca, along with other ships, were also on standby, ready to help the aviators. However, the pair faced bad weather on their journey and had troubles communicating with the Ithaca via radio. Her recorded communications with the ship showed that Earhart supposedly had difficulties receiving messages from the Ithaca, and that her aircraft was running low on fuel. Earhart’s final message was quoted as follows: “We are running north and south.”
An extensive search was immediately conducted by the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, reportedly the largest and most expensive to have ever been conducted in American history by the time it was called off on July 19, 1937. Earhart’s husband, publisher and author George P. Putnam, financed a search of his own, to no avail. With no trace of either Earhart or Noonan or even their plane to be found, Earhart was finally declared legally dead on January 5, 1939 upon her husband’s request. Still, in the decades that followed, numerous claims, myths, rumors, and conspiracy theories on their disappearance have continued to come up. But up to this day, all these things have yet to be confirmed or disproved.