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The mystery of Amelia Earhart

Published June 09. 2012 09:01AM

One of the most enduring aviation mysteries of the last century is the disappearance of historic aviatrix Amelia Earhart.

But new evidence suggests the mystery could be closer to being solved. Earhart who held several aviation records was an author and aviatrix before she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean with her navigator Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932 and also became the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean twice in that same year. She also received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1932.

In 1936, Earhart decided she would make the longest flight around the globe planning a course that would cover 29,000 miles on a route around the equator. As part of this endeavor she was hoping to create some publicity that would help sell her next book.

She made the first attempt to circumnavigate the globe on St. Patrick's Day 1937, but when the landing gear collapsed and the tire blew out, she was forced to postpone the historic global trip.

It was not until June first the same year, she and Noonan were able to take to the air from Miami to begin their round the world excursion. The first leg of her flight actually began in Oakland but it was not until she landed in Miami, Fla. that she announced the goal to fly around the world. The flight continued making several stops over the next few weeks in South America, Africa, India and Southeast Asia before reaching New Guinea on June 29, 1937 just three days before she disappeared. At that point she completed a staggering 22,000 miles in the air and had only 7,000 miles to go straight over the Pacific Ocean.

Earhart and Noonan took off from New Guinea around midnight, July 2, 1937 heading for Howland Island, but she never arrived there. Her last known position was recorded as near the Nukumanu Islands after only 800 miles into the flight.

The United States Coast Guard and United States Navy launched search efforts after they lost contact with the aviatrix near Howland Island and several radio operators thought they heard signals from Earhart but they were so low and unintelligible that no one knew for sure if it was her.

No one, that is until now.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery or TIGHAR has been searching for answers to solve the mystery of Earhart's disappearance and at a conference last week, researchers presented a paper stating that Earhart just didn't vanish and there may have been radio proof of her survival after the crash. The search by the Navy and Coast Guard was driven by radio transmissions but when they failed to locate the craft and its crew, they gave up the search. The researchers believe that may have been premature.

Post search radio transmissions had long been believed to be bogus were reviewed by the researchers who came to a startling conclusion. Those transmissions may actually have been the final efforts by Earhart and Noonan to seek out help. Researchers re-analyzed over 120 radio transmissions that took place from July 2, 1937 until July 18, 1937 and discovered that over fifty of them appear to be legitimate calls from her.

The last known transmission of her position indicated she was on a compass heading that took her toward Howland Island but before she would have reached there, the plane would have also flown over another island named Gardner Island. It is on this island, the TIGHAR researchers believe Earhart and Noonan landed and were alive for several days broadcasting distress signals as long as possible.

The researchers theorize that they kept transmitting until the waves swept the plane off the narrow island. They do not say how long they believed the two survived on the deserted atoll, but it is believed it was there was where the pair spent their final days before perishing. In fact TIGHAR researchers have recovered a lotion bottle from the island they believe belonged to Earhart.

A competing theory is her plane, "The Electra", simply ran out of fuel forcing the pair to ditch it in the ocean resulting in their deaths.

The conventional conclusion is that Earhart and Noonan died in the Pacific somewhere in that summer of 1937, but that hasn't stopped theorists and speculators from embellishing the mythology around the famous pilot. One crazy theory is that Earhart was drafted by the Roosevelt Administration to spy on the Japanese under the cover of her around-the-world flight. This theory was popularized in a 1943 movie called Flight for Freedom, but it was later dismissed by researchers who examined Japanese records after the war.

Another claim is that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese who held them in captivity until they died. Supposedly their captors on Saipan had a briefcase that was owned by Earhart as well, but all of these claims appear to be baseless and false.

A related theory was that Earhart was not only captured but pressed into service involuntarily as one of the "voices" for the propagandist Tokyo Rose. Various Tokyo Rose transmissions were listened to by researchers and while speculation insists she could have been one of the "Roses", they concluded she really was no voice match for any of the radio voices.

In the end, while the mystery remains for now, TIGHAR appears to have made great steps in solving this case and hopefully someday soon, they will be able to solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart once and for all.

Til next time …

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