The Mystery of Amelia Earhart

It is unlikely that any other travel mystery has attracted more interest or speculation worldwide than the unexplained disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Recognized for her many daring accomplishments in aviation, her ultimate fate is still a puzzling one. After successfully crossing the Atlantic, the U.S. from coast to coast in 1932, and soloing from Hawaii to California in 1935, her next venture to fly around the world, unfortunately, would be her last. The first part of the 4-stage journey went well, but problems arose after leaving Lae, New Guinea in July 1937 enroute to Howland Island in the Pacific. Climbing to 10,000 feet to avoid the strong headwinds, the Lockheed Electra was gradually veering off course. With a rapidly depleting fuel supply, the plane was now heading into the sun and too far southwest in the opposite direction. About 20 hours into the flight, the last radio communication from Earhart was received by the Itasca, a Coast Guard boat stationed at Howland. An intensive search by 10 ships and 66 planes was launched, but no trace of the plane, Earhart, or her navigator, Fred Noonan, was found.

Officially, it was determined that the aircraft simply ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, with no survivors. But, as happens with most tragic events, curiosity arose, as aviation experts, researchers, scientists, and journalists offered explanations and possibilities. From newspaper headlines to radio commentaries, everyone had an opinion as to what had happened. Rumors circulated that “America’s sweetheart” was one of the voices of the infamous Tokyo Rose; this, of course, proved to be nothing more than material for the tabloids.

One of the more credible theories was that the two made it to the Phoenix Islands and survived on Nikumaroro, the once uninhabited Gardner Island, as castaways until their death. Certainly, Robinson Crusoe readers were intrigued, but there does seem to be some real evidence to support this theory. Even the U.S. Navy and Earhart’s mother felt the flight had ended somewhere in the Phoenix Islands. Richard Gillespie of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) based his investigation of the crash on the aircraft’s last known position, as well as on reports of a plane wreck and a man and woman living on Nikumaroro in 1939. Various items were recovered, which included aircraft parts unique to a Lockheed Electra and a bit of footwear similar to that worn by Earhart in flight attire. TIGHAR’s recent expedition in July-August 2007 discovered bronze aircraft bearings and a zipper pull, possibly from a flight suit. These artifacts are only circumstantial evidence, but TIGHAR continues to investigate Lockheed aircraft crashes, as well as other types of aircraft lost near the Phoenix Islands. George Putnam, Jr., Earhart’s stepson, has enthusiastically supported the Group’s research.

Just as convincing to some people, however, is the possibility that they were not heading to Howland Island as reported, but were on a secret mission directed by FDR to the Marshall Islands (then controlled by the Japanese). In this scenario, it is thought that the Japanese intercepted their last radio transmission and captured them upon landing. Here, they were held as hostages and eventually killed in Saipan. In 1949, Army Intelligence along with the United Press and Jackie Cochran, another world famous aviatrix and close friend of Earhart, completely dismissed the theory that the Japanese were involved in the disappearance. They based their conclusion on an extensive search of Japanese post-war files.

Others have presented evidence pointing toward a safe rescue and return to the US. Retired AF Colonel Reineck, considered an expert on the subject, explored this conspiracy theory in his book Amelia Earhart Survived, published in 2003. He writes that the plane was purposely ditched in the Marshall Islands, as planned by the U.S. government. While on a rescue mission for Earhart, they would then gain access to Japanese pre-war intelligence. Brought back to the U.S., different identities for security reasons would be assumed. Thus, Amelia Earhart became Irene Cragmile, married Guy Bolam, and lived in New Jersey until her death in 1982. Photographs of Irene Bolam and handwriting evidence would seem to prove that Earhart and Bolam were one and the same.

Although this does sounds plausible, it was contradicted with a televised series Undiscovered History by the National Geographic Channel in 2006. The broadcast was based upon an earlier book with the same theory, Amelia Earhart Lives, written by Joe Klaas in 1970. However, the real Irene Bolam, a banker in the 1940’s, denied that she was Earhart and filed a $1.5 million claim against the publishers, McGraw-Hill, who withdrew the book from the market and settled out of court. Other researchers and forensic specialists analyzed both women’s lives and photographs and came to the same conclusion — this was not Earhart.

The story of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance is a fascinating one, a legend and a mystery to this day.

Sharon Slayton

Filed Under: Travel mysteries

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Comments (6)

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  1. Jerry says:

    Gee, how did she get lost?

    I thought women were the ones that always asked for directions!

  2. James,

    For another angle on the Earhart mystery and for a good read which does contain evidence of where the Earhart & Noonan Electra is to be found, read: Incidentally the evidence written on the edge of a WWII map is the only evidence in the world which leads to the resting place of Earhart and Noonan. All other attempts at solving the mystery are based on hypothesis.

    This is a modest effort at solving the mystery and we have just come back from East New Britain after another attempt at finding aircraft wreckage seen by an Australian Army patrol in WWII.

    They did not identify the wreckage, it looked as if it had been there some years and was not a WWII aircraft wreck. The USAAF replied to the news of the find that the wreckage was not theirs.

    Whose aircraft is it ?

    We had a wonderful time camped by a crystal clear river and entered the jungle daily in our search for the wreckage. The local people assisted us and in return we left all our equipment with them and tended the kids with medical treatment. All in all the team enjoyed the trip as they always do.

    I see your blog is about travel. Well, I would recommend travelling to East New Britain for a holiday. The volcano at Rabaul is still blowing great clouds of ash and can be viewed safely from Kokopo. I recommend the Kokopo Beach Bungalows run by Simon Foo. He can be contacted at:

    “Taklam Lodge” can also be googled on the www. for views of the settings.

    The bungalows are built in traditional style (but with corrugated iron roof) and the cost is modest. The dining is excellent with large fresh coconut crabs at $20 and other delicious seafood as well as meats of course.

    Best Regards,

    David Billings

  3. Sharon says:

    David, Very interesting indepth report…enjoyed reading.


  4. melissa says:


    is she still alive??????

  5. Margaret says:

    No! if she was alive she would be 113!!! so does that answer your question?

  6. Marc Silverstein says:

    I saw the TV special and just donated, thanks!

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