Amelia Earhart: 77 Years Later

“…decide…whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying….”

Amelia Earhart was declared dead (in abesntia) on the 5th January 1939, 77 years ago. Earhart was an American aviation pioneer, setting many records, as well as an author. As the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, she was a leading light for women all over the world. For this record she received the Distinguished Flying Cross, presented to her by Vice President Charles Curtis, becoming the first woman and civilian in history to receive the DFC.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act…You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.”

Throughout her childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career; she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields.[1] So perhaps it is unsurprising that she went on to became a female pioneer in aviation; something more or less unheard of for women in that era. During an attempt in 1937 to circumnavigate the globe via flight, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean. Despite an air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard, the most costly and intensive in U.S. history up to that time, there was no sign of Earhart or her plane.

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Yet to this very day, seventy seven years later, fascination with her life, career and disappearance still continue.[2] Two possible theories have prevailed among researchers and historians; the ‘crash and sink theory’ and the ‘Gardner Island hypothesis’. The first theory is simple enough – supporters believe that Earhart’s plane ran out of fuel and Earhart and Noonan had to ditch at sea. Understandably, this is the most widely accepted explanation for the disappearance. Earhart’s stepson, George Palmer Putnam Jr, has been quoted as saying he believes “the plan just ran out of gas”. [3] The mystery is what keeps us interested, according to Tom Crouch the Senior Curator of the National Air and Space Museum. The second theory is completely different. The U.S. Navy and Earhart’s mother expressed belief that the flight had ended in the Phoenix Islands, now part of the Republic of Kiribati, some 350 miles southeast of Howland Island their intended landing destination. In 1940, Gerald Gallagher, a British colonial officer and licensed pilot reported his findings of a “skeleton…possibly that of a woman”. The remains were sent to Fiji where it was concluded they were from a male, however in 1998 an analysis of the data by forensic anthropologists did not confirm these findings, concluding instead that the skeleton had belonged to a tall white female. However the bones were misplaced in Fiji long ago and have not been found since.[4]

Finally there are those who believe Earhart was captured by Japanese forces. However, despite the claims of individuals to support this theory, there is little concrete evidence. The various theories only add to the mystery surround Earhart’s disappearance, a mystery that has only served to maintain the interest in the unresolved circumstances surrounding her disappearance for the past seventy seven years.

 

[1] ‘Biography’ The Official Website of Amelia Earhart

[2] ‘The Mystery of Amelia Earhart’, Social Studies School Service, Retrieved June 3, 2012

[3] Eliot Kleinberg, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance still haunts her stepson, 83, Palm Beach Post, Dec 27 2004

[4] Phil Gast, DNA tests on bone fragment inconclusive in Amelia Earhart search, CNN, March 4 2011

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