The Mystery of Amelia Earhart

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The Mystery of Aemelia Earhart has captured the imagination 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.

From the time of her first ride in an airplane as a child, Aemelia Earhart was hooked on flying. Her passion led her to break flight records and become a public celebrity. In one of her letters, she hoped that the around the world flight would finally rid her of her compulsion to fly and she could settle down. Though she did not survive it, it was indeed her last flight. She vanished into the Pacific Ocean 24 hours after leaving Lae, New Guinea.

Crossing the 2,500 mile Pacific was the most dangerous part of her flight. 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.

She 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

"Please know I am quite aware of the hazards...I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others."
Earhart's letter to her husband George

speed 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

Amelia Earhart's Shoes: Is the Mystery Solved?
2001 by TIGHAR

the TIGHAR theory of what happened to the famous flyer 

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.

When last heard from at 08:43 on July 2 (20 hours and 13 minutes into the flight) Earhart said she was flying on a "157/337" line - the USCG Itasca's Radio Log.

Communication Problems

Earhart and Noonan had a poor understanding of the use of radio navigation, and to keep the plane as light as possible, some equipment was left behind. The frequencies Earhart was using were not well suited to direction finding ( she had left behind the lower-frequency reception and transmission equipment which might have enabled Itasca to locate her), and the reception quality of her transmissions was poor. Two-way communication proved impossible.

An eight-page letter written days after the disappearance by Eric Chater, General Manager of Guinea Airways and Earhart's host in Lae. The letter, which describes in detail the preparations made and the difficulties experienced by Earhart and Noonan prior to departure, had been misfiled by the recipient and only surfaced in 1992. That, and the

Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved
by Elgen M. Long


The Long theory of Earhart mystery

Itasca's Radio Log (now in the National Archives) help answer some questions which were unclear for so long.

Earhart specifically said she would use Greenwich time during the flight. She did not know that Itasca was, nevertheless, using local time. Earhart also expected that the Itasca would follow her requested radio schedule in which she listened for messages on the hour and the half hour, and transmitted messages at quarter to and quarter past the hour. As the Itasca's code message was being sent on 7500 kilocycles (they could not send voice on 7500), Earhart was tuning her receiver to 3105 to listen on the half hour. When the Itasca's transmission ended at 23:58 (11:28 for Earhart) she probably didn't even have her headphones on. Not only was the weather being sent on the wrong frequency but Earhart had repeatedly asked the Coast Guard to "report in English, not code, especially while (I am) flying." Neither she nor Noonan could read Morse code, and the morse equipment had been removed from the plane before takeoff.

From Itaska's radio log a group determined the precise location that she went down from turning her signal strength into nautical miles. It is apparent that they were flying a ladder search pattern in their attempt to find the island. If they had not run out of fuel, the pattern would have taken them right over the island.

With the aid of a sophisticated computer program, Nauticos (the deep sea exploration company that found the Titanic), using the Long's research, has identified a search area for the Electra at 17,000 feet. The search is underway.

Another Group, TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) has a different view of what happened to Earhart:

They believe that the aircraft landed successfully on the reef-flat at Nikumaroro Island at or near low tide on the smooth stretch of coral just north of the S.S. Norwich City, a ship that ran aground there in 1929. TIGHAR executive director Rick Gillespie and his team have been investigating Nikumaroro Island for over a decade.

Nikumaroro Island in 1937

A telegram dated July 3, 1937 to the Secretary of State reveals that on the evening of July 2nd, the radio station on the island of Nauru (which had heard Earhart's in-flight transmissions the night before) hears "Fairly strong signals, speech not intelligible, no hum of plane in background, but voice similar to that emitted from plane in flight last night."

The signals are heard on 6210 kilocycles, the frequency to which Earhart said she was switching in her 08:43 transmission.

Early settlers on Nikumaroro tell of an airplane wreck seen in 1940, long before any possibility of WWII activity. The wreckage is said to have been located on the reef near "where the waves break" and just north of the shipwreck.

In 1991, while conducting excavations at a site on Nikumaroro, TIGHAR found shoe fragments, a Cat's-Paw replacement heel, most of a rubber sole, and a brass shoelace eyelet. The Cat's Paw manufacturer has identified the heel as dating from the mid-1930s and the sole, which aligns with the nail holes in the heel, as probably coming from a woman's blucher oxford shoe. Analysis showed the shoe to be a size 9. Photographs of Earhart taken shortly before her flight show her wearing blucher oxford style shoes with brass shoelace eyelets and what may be a recently replaced heel (due to the lighter shade of the lower heel). However Earhart had a small foot, size 6.

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 Islander
most likely between 5'5" and 5'9" in height

In short, consistent with Aemelia Earhart. But there is a low level of certainty.

Both the Long and the TIGHAR theories have evidence to support them. Both claim to have solved the mystery. In time it should become clear which theory is correct and the Amelia Earhart mystery can finally be laid to rest.

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