Aircraft have gone missing ever since they first took to the air. As their range and endurance increased, aircraft would venture further and further afield and eventually to cross oceans. This resulted in there being more lost aircraft never to be found again. And one of the most puzzling happened to one of the most famous women aviators of all time. Her name was Amelia Earhart. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on the 2nd July 1937 whilst attempting to fly around the world.
They had already flown across South America, Africa and a large part of Asia before they landed at Lae in New Guinea. The next leg of their flight would take them out into the Pacific Ocean towards a refuelling stop on the small island of Howland. It would be a flight of two thousand five hundred miles.
A US Coastguard ship was already at the island to lend assistance and to guide the aircraft in if it had problems finding the speck of land in the middle of the ocean. The aircraft was a Lockheed Electra and had twin propeller engines. At seven forty-two on the day in question, the ship picked up a radio message from Earhart reporting that they should be close to the island but couldn’t see it. But more worrying, was that she also reported that their fuel was running low.
Sixteen minutes later, she radioed that she could not hear any messages sent from the ship. At eight forty-three am, the ship received their last message. “We are on a line 157 337… We are running north and south.” That was the last that was heard from them.
So, what happened to them? The obvious answer relates to their first transmission that they were running low on fuel and hadn’t found the island. It is then believed they ran out of fuel and ditched into the sea. No wreckage was ever found but that is not too surprising.
Another theory which stands up to some scrutiny is that they force-landed on Gardener Island, now known as Nikumaroro Island. It is only a little over four and a half miles long by one and a half miles wide. It is thought that it may have been possible for the aircraft to have made it to the island and that Earhart decided to do this instead of searching for their original destination. We just don’t know.
But the mystery doesn’t end there. Over the years, there have been a number of expeditions to the deserted island to investigate this theory. Although none of it is conclusive, a number of items and human remains have been found there. These included evidence of a campfire, male and female shoes, a skull and thirteen bones and a box which could have contained a navigation instrument. So, could they have both survived on the island? Several months after the disappearance, the first investigation found a “overnight bivouac” on the island.
There are of course, more ludicrous theories including one that says they flew to the Marshall Islands where they were taken prisoner by the Japanese and executed as spies. Another has it that they became spies for the Japanese and secretly re-entered the United States as spies. These theories fall down on one particular fact; they are eight hundred miles away from where they were heading. With low fuel, they could not have reached there.
From a personal note, I have flown various aircraft for over thirty years and running short of fuel looking for a speck of land in an unforgiving environment makes me believe that they ditched in the ocean and perished either immediately or soon after. But we can never be sure…yet.