Nearly 82 years ago, famed aviator Amelia Earhart, along with navigator Fred Noonan, disappeared over the South Pacific in her second attempt to become the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe. Earhart’s disappearance is one of the most enduring mysteries in American history.
By 1937, Earhart had established herself as one of the greatest flyers of her generation and one of America’s first larger-than-life female celebrities. In 1932, Earhart became the first woman — and just the second person besides Charles Lindbergh — to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart, nicknamed “Lady Lindy,” was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first woman so honored. Also that year, she made the first solo, nonstop flight across the United States by a woman.
Earhart and Noonan were on the final leg of their 29,000-mile journey — the most difficult part of the trip — when they disappeared in the southern Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, while attempting to reach Howland Island. A massive search effort by the United States and other nations including Japan failed to find any evidence of a plane crash.
Time has not diminished the public’s fascination with Earhart. Earlier this month, divers claimed to have found part of her plane submerged in 100 feet of water off an island in Papua New Guinea. Recent expeditions by organizations such as The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery have uncovered tantalizing, but as yet inconclusive, evidence that Earhart and Noonan landed on the island of Nikumaroro.
Among the artifacts found are a piece of Plexiglass that may have come from the plane’s window, a woman’s shoe from the 1930s, and bones that could be hers. Expeditions by other groups in recent years have used deep-sea robots to comb the seafloor near Howland Island seeking clues of a crash site, but nothing has turned up yet.
Amelia Earhart was officially declared dead by the Superior Court in Los Angeles 80 years ago this month. But that hasn’t stopped conspiracy theorists from concocting scenarios, some of the tin-foil hat variety, about her fate, such as abduction by aliens. Earhart’s disappearance became the stuff of legend, and like the untimely deaths of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe and leaders like John F. Kennedy, her demise has created an enduring mystique, as well as a cottage industry of books, films, and documentaries postulating about her fate.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed source material from resources such as The History Channel, Smithsonian, and National Geographic to take this opportunity to look at the most popular and zany theories regarding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.