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Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart is nearly as well known today as she was the day she disappeared, 63 years ago, And she is still mourned. In 1928 she captured the imagination of the American public and the attention of the world when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Flying made her the most famous female aviator in history. Disappearing made her a legend.

President Herbert Hoover presenting the gold medal of the National Geographic Society to Amelia Earhart, in recognition of her non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic, Washington, D.C.
Photo: Underwood & Underwood, June 21, 1932. Library of Congress.

Listen to and read the related 'Voice from the Sea' pieces and Odyssey Logs by Roger Payne.

Amelia Earhart disappeared while attempting to be the first pilot to fly around the world at its widest expanse, the equator, in addition to being the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe. Somewhere over the vast reaches of the pacific while enroute to Howland Island, she and her plane vanished without a trace.

Earhart left Miami with Fred Noonan, a highly regarded navigator of the day who was to guide her around the globe from his seat in the rear of the Electra. Their only method of communication while underway in the noisy craft, was by passing notes on a fishing pole.

They flew south to Brazil, then across the Atlantic to Africa. Flying east from Senegal, the pair was now one quarter of the way around the world. Pilot and navigator had established a routine: they were airborne before sunrise and on the ground by late afternoon. The priority for Earhart as she stated: "Was seeing that our faithful sky steed was well groomed and fed."

The full metal plane, a Lockheed 10 (also called the Electra) shimmered in the sun as it passed above the landscapes of India, Siam, Malaya and Australia. Their time preoccupied by landing fields, fuel stops, the odors of gasoline, sweat and the ever present roaring of the motors. Of the other sites and sounds and odors around her Earhart said; "the delectable perfumes of flowers, spices and fragrant countryside, the sounds and songs and music of diverse peoples.....we clutched what we could".

Amelia Earhart standing with Mayor Walker of New York City and crowd of well wishers, New York, NY.
Photo: Library of Congress: photographer not identified, 1932

Earhart and Noonan had flown 24 legs, covering over 19,000 miles, when on June 29th they reached Lae, New Guinea, six weeks after setting out. Ahead of them, some 18 flying hours away, lay their next destination, a tiny speck of U.S. territory called Howland Island on which the US government had hurriedly bulldozed a landing strip for her flight. After that, only Hawaii stood between Howland Island and home. They stayed in Lae for most of three days and on July 2nd, 1937 left for Howland Island 2,556 miles away, the longest leg in her around the world flight. In her last dispatch for the press Earhart wrote "It is the last ditch I must hop before I can get back to tell George, my husband, "There you are, I've done it"'

As the world now knows, Earhart and Noonan never arrived at Howland island. Over the years there have been numerous theories as to what happened. Earhart's final radio transmission seems to indicate a lost pilot flying a search pattern, looking for the tiny island. The most plausible theory seems to be that the chart she was using showed Howland Island in the wrong place. All that is certain, is that she was low on fuel by this stage and time was running out. A message was received from Earhart by the U.S. Coastguard, giving their direction of flight but nothing else: "We are on the line of position 157?337. Will repeat this message on 6210. We are running North and South." And that was the last that was ever heard from Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Extensive searches were mounted at the time, but no trace of the Electra or its crew were ever found. In the past 63 years many others have tried to piece together evidence but nothing has withstood closer scrutiny.

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