While few internationally missing person cases remain fresh within the collective consciousness over the course of decades, the case of Amelia Earhart continues to captivate and mystify new minds as each year passes. Earhart was a pioneer of aviation and an inspiration to countless women of her generation. Her disappearance on July 2nd 1937, alongside her navigator Fred Noonan, has never been explained. Here, we will explore what still makes Earhart such a compelling character, and the circumstances that led up to her vanishing.
The Courage and Conviction of Amelia Earhart
Kansas native Amelia Earhart was working as a nurse’s aide near Toronto during World War I when she first fell in love with airplanes. After volunteering during the 1918 flu pandemic, Earhart moved to California and began taking flying lessons. By 1922, her accomplishments had already earned her a women’s altitude record of 14,000 feet and the epithet aviatrix. Earhart studied health and medicine at Columbia University and worked as a social worker in Boston—all the while continuing her flight training, doing aerial stunts for charity, and becoming the only female member of her local pilots association.
Following Charles Lindbergh’s successful solo flight across the Atlantic, Earhart became the first woman to complete the feat in 1928. Now notorious for her skill in the skies, Earhart began writing and lecturing on her adventures, and even launched her own fashion line. Engaging in shaping women’s career paths at Purdue University, Earhart inspired many female students to take a bold leap away from studying home economics and into the fields of engineering and economics.
A Fateful Final Journey
Having enthralled the world with all sorts of aerial pursuits, in 1937 at the tender age of 39 Earhart announced that she would undertake one final voyage before retiring from flying. Never one to be unambitious, her vision was to circumnavigate the globe in its entirety. Recruiting the assistance of navigator Fred Noonan, Earhart took off on June 1st 1937. Over the course of the next month, she and Noonan successfully reported their progress to the U.S. Media. However, on July 2nd, all contact ceased. Estimations of their progress placed the daring duo above the central Pacific Ocean at the time of the disappearance.
The U.S. Navy soon began a search of unprecedented scale, recruiting several ships and a substantial fleet of airplanes—reported running up costs of as much as $250,000 a day. Finally, while the Coast Guard continued to complain of hoax radio reports, the chances of finding Earhart and her navigator were deemed one in a million. As the official search drew to a close, conspiracy theories began to spring up, including accusations that Earhart had been kidnapped by the Japanese, or that she had gone undercover on a spy mission for President Roosevelt.
Continuing Interest in the Amelia Earhart Case
While Earhart was declared legally dead on January 5th 1939, investigations into her mysterious disappearance are periodically reawakened. In 1991 the FBI reported an aluminum map case found on an atoll 420 miles southeast of Howland Island, considered to be a possible clue. If the map case were indeed Earhart and Noonan’s, extreme temperatures and a lack of fresh water would have likely sealed the adventurers’ fates.
In 2009 a robotic search of the ocean floor was undertaken, and in 2018, a further expedition to the area was launched following the discovery of human remains—however no conclusive evidence pointing to Earhart was uncovered. While a photograph was thought to have identified Earhart and Noonan alive and well on Jaluit Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the image was later found to have been two years too old to have captured the pair. A 1989 article in TIME magazine declared that Earhart had “vanished into legend”, and for now at least this appears to be true. However, among the many who continue to discover the story of Amelia Earhart, it seems that hope remains alive.
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