The Mystery of Amelia Earhart has captured the attention of young and old, amateur and professional, since she disappeared on July 2, 1937 on her flight over the Pacific which would complete her around-the-world flight - the longest (following the equatorial route) and the first by a woman.
Earhart's disappearance on July 2, 1937, remains one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries. Did she run out of fuel and crash at sea? Did her Lockheed Electra develop engine trouble? Did she spot the island from the sky and attempt to land on a nearby reef? What were her last moments like? What was she doing? What happened?
Here’s the story as what was documented:
The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca was standing off Howland Island for several days to act as a radio contact for her. Radio communications in the area were very poor and the Itasca was overwhelmed with commercial radio traffic as a result of the celebrated flight.
Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan, left with 1100 gallons of fuel, good for around 24 hours of flight (the flight should have been about 19 hours), but she ran out of fuel 2 hours early. She carried as much as possible. The plane was so heavy on takeoff she wasn't sure even to the end if she could get it off the runway. Their intended destination was Howland Island, a tiny piece of land a few miles long, 20 feet high, and 2, 556 miles away. Their last positive position report and sighting were over the Nubian Islands, about 800 miles into the flight. After 4 hours and 18 minutes, she called in and reported her speed and height - the right peed and height for optimal fuel consumption. Management tables had been prepared for Earhart by Lockheed's Kelly Johnson. She signed off with her signature line, "everything OK." There is disagreement over what happened next.
The theory put forward by Elgen M. Long is that a combination of weather and equipment failure forced her to use more fuel than expected and come in toward Howland Island too far north. First a storm forced her to go higher to avoid it. The climbing used a great deal of fuel and then she had to fight a strong headwind. This also used more fuel. After 10 hours they spotted a ship, which they assumed was the half way marker. Instead it was probably a different ship farther north. She spoke to Leo Bellarts on the Itaska but she was apparently unable to hear him as he attempted to guide her in. He sent morse code, but she had left her morse code equipment behind. She was 100 miles from Howland Island but her radio direction finder was malfunctioning. If it was clear they could have seen Howland Island from 50 feet or more if high enough and they would almost certainly have found it. But because of the weather they could not find it. She sent her last message giving her position as she plunged into the water. As she reached to crank the transmitter, the engine coughed. The Long theory is that they died on impact or drowned.
Millions of dollars have been spent in failed attempts to learn what happened to Earhart, a Kansas native declared dead by a California court in early 1939. The official version says Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel and crashed at sea while flying from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island, which had a landing strip and fuel. Gillespie's book "Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance," and "Amelia Earhart's Shoes," written by four volunteers from the aircraft group, suggest the pair landed on the reef and survived, perhaps for months, on scant food and rainwater.
However continuous search found new clues about the disappearance:
Gallagher found bones in 1940 and corresponded by radio with Tarawa Atoll. He reported at first that natives had discovered a human skull "just possibly that of Aemelia Earhart." He was asked by the Western Pacific High Commission to keep the information secret and to see what else he could find out. He next reported:
Thorough search has now produced more bones (including lower jaw) part of a shoe a bottle and a sextant box. It would appear that:
(a) Skeleton is possibly that of a woman
(b) Shoe was a woman's and probably size 10,
(c) Sextant box has two numbers on it... 3500 (stenciled) and 1542- sextant being old fashioned and probably painted over with black enamel.
The bones found on the island by Gallagher and sent by him to Figi were intercepted and analyzed by Dr. Lindsay Isaac of Tawara in an unauthorized examination. With unknown methods, he concluded that the bones were from an elderly Polynesian male.
The bones went on to their proper destination on Figi. They were analyzed in 1941 by Dr. D.W. Hoodless. He concluded that the incomplete skeleton was most likely that of a short, stocky European (or half-caste), and definitely a male. He recorded his measurements and observations, and his handwritten notes survive.
Reanalysis in 1997 by TIGHAR, using Dr. Hoodless's measurements and observations but applying modern forensic methods, came up with different conclusions. They concluded that the skeleton was:
· more likely female than male
· more likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific
· most likely between 5'5" and 5'9" in height
In short, consistent with Amelia Earhart. But there is a low level of certainty. Even to date, scientists never seem to give up in solving this mystery. In Dec 2010, three bone fragments turned up on a deserted South Pacific island that lay along the course Amelia Earhart was following when she vanished. Nearby were several tantalizing artifacts: some old makeup, some glass bottles and shells that had been cut open.Now scientists at the University of Oklahoma hope to extract DNA from the tiny bone chips in tests that could prove Earhart died as a castaway after failing in her 1937 quest to become the first woman to fly around the world.