Solving the Case of What Happened to Amelia Earhart: America’s Favorite Female Pilot

Amelia Earhart made history in 1932 when she became the first female pilot to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, becoming one of the most important women of the modern era. At the time, there were barely any women in the air force. Amelia essentially inspired many women to follow their dreams. But during a hopeful yet unfortunate flight around the world in 1937, she disappeared and was never heard from again.

The story and mystery of Amelia has captured the imaginations of people across the world. Her story begs many questions, including what exactly happened to her on that fateful journey. If her plane malfunctioned, where did she crash?

For years, the female pilot’s famous ill-fated journey around the world has been left a mystery, with many questions still unanswered…until now. As of late, new information has been discovered and much of the unknown is now known. After years of intense investigation, a group of researchers may have finally unlocked the secrets behind her disappearance. The case of Amelia Earhart might finally be solved.

So if you’re curious as to what happened to America’s sweetheart, read on to find out.

May 21, 1932

That was the date that a brave young woman named Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic by herself without stopping. Coming as no surprise, her trip came had its fair share of danger. Four hours into the flight, Earhart got into a bit of trouble.

May 21, 1932

Photo by Getty Images

She later reported: “I saw flames shooting from the exhaust pipe. I became uneasy…It would have taken four hours to return, however, so I thought it would be safer to go ahead.” And to make matters even worse, her fuel tank was leaking too.

A Famer’s Report

For a while, it seemed like Amelia’s trip over the Atlantic was going to end badly, but 20 hours and 40 minutes after leaving Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland, Earhart arrived at Pwll, close to Burry Port, South Wales in England.

A Famer’s Report

Photo by Getty Images

“After scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood, I pulled up in a farmer’s back yard,” she said. A farmer reportedly asked her, “have you flown far?” to which she replied, “from America.”

She didn’t know yet that she was going to make history…

Becoming a National Hero

When Earhart returned from her famous trip, she was welcomed home by a massive parade in New York City. And if that wasn’t enough, Congress also presented her with a Distinguished Flying Cross; the first ever given to a woman.

Becoming a National Hero

Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images

Amelia made an impact not just on her accomplishment but for women. “She has succeeded in proving that the flight is not beyond the knowledge and the capacity for sustained endurance which a woman can acquire,” the Manchester Guardian wrote.

The Trip That Changed Everything

But years later, Earhart’s flight across the Pacific would have different consequences. Having already accomplished being the first woman to fly across the ocean, flying from Honolulu to Oakland, California, she had bigger dreams for the next time around.

The Trip That Changed Everything

Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

After raising $80,000, Earhart and her flying partner Fred Noonan decided to go on a trip around the world. They did well, successfully flying 29,000 miles. But it was during their last stretch from Lae, New Guinea when everything changed. They had 7,000 more miles to go…

A Foreshadowing

Although that flight in 1932 was successful and she made it back alive and well to tell her story, the difficulties Amelia endured in that flight could be perceived as foreshadowing of her ill-fated future. Five years later, in 1937, her optimistic endeavor of flying around the world was cut short.

A Foreshadowing

Photo by Getty Images

After having seen that Earhart never returned, investigations began surrounding her whereabouts and what happened to her. Among the many issues regarding her disappearance is the plane she was flying.

Where did she land and why did her plane go down? It would be years until something was found…

What Happened to Her Plane?

Another mystery surrounding her disappearance is what exactly happened to her plane. She flew a Lockheed Electra aircraft, which has never been officially discovered. But a group of searchers in 1991 reportedly discovered part of what they consider to be the wreckage.

What Happened to Her Plane?

Source: Brain Sharper

TIGHAR, or The International Group of Historic Aircraft Recovery, found an aluminum part on the island of Nikumaroro in the Pacific Islands. The group’s executive director Ric Gillespie announced in 2014 that scientists concluded that the relic must be part of Earhart’s plane.

They Were Hit With Skepticism

Although TIGHAR’s findings were impressive, there were critics who displayed their skepticism about Gillespie’s announcement. One critic said that “everybody should have facts to back up [their] opinions, and Mr. Gillespie, well, he doesn’t.”

They Were Hit With Skepticism

Source: Worth Point

TIGHAR found something else too. They found an “ointment pot” that looked like Dr. Berry’s Freckle Ointment (a product from that era). Due to Earhart’s skin complexion, Gillespie inferred that she may have taken it with her. “Earhart had freckles and is known to have considered them unattractive,” Gillespie said.

These may be assumptions, but not all that was discovered was based on guesses…

Did Amelia Crash Into the Sea?

While many theories surfaced after her disappearance, the most plausible theory for many years and the official U.S. position on Amelia Earhart’s disappearance was that she ran out of fuel during her trip and crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

Did Amelia Crash Into the Sea?

Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images

As vague as that sounds, it pretty much covered the main idea of what happened to her. Her plane, the Electra, never made it to Howland Island, which was the spot where Amelia was trying to get to in order to fill up her plane with fuel. Even to this day, search teams are making regular expeditions to the island’s vicinity in hopes of finding something of substance.

Was Amelia a Spy?

Another theory or you can call it an urban legend, around this time, had to do with the purpose of Amelia’s trip in the first place. There was a point where intense rumors were being heard that former president Franklin D. Roosevelt had sent Earhart on a secret spy mission.

Was Amelia a Spy?

Source: Brain Sharper

The theory was that upon successfully completing her mission, Amelia returned to the U.S. and as part of the deal, had to live the rest of her days under the name Irene Bolam. Why Irene Bolam? Who knows? But common sense will direct you to the direction that this is purely a rumor, with no evidence to prove it.

So what was it that helped solved the mystery?

Finding Bones

In 1940, bones were discovered on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro. A rescue team found the bones during an expedition to the island. The team was determined to find Earhart and truly believed that the bones were hers.

Finding Bones

Source: Brain Sharper

The team based their hypothesis on the fact that the island was very close to her flight path. However, when forensics became a reliable and scientific method in the 20th Century, scientists were eventually able to settle the debate…

Did the Bones Belong To Her?

In the 1940s, scientists were doing everything in their power to reveal the identity of the bones. And as hopeful, as they may have been in proving that the bones were indeed hers, science doesn’t work that way. All of their evidence was pointing to that not being the case.

Did the Bones Belong To Her?

Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images

The bones’ distinctive features suggested that they actually belonged to a man. Since that discovery, forensic analysis has advanced even more and new studies have provided updated results…

Was She Captured?

The photo below is an image that many historians used in support of their theory that Amelia Earhart was actually captured by the Japanese on her trip across the Pacific. The photo reportedly shows Earhart and her flying partner Fred Noonan on the Jaluit Harbor of the Marshall Islands.

Was She Captured?

Source: Brain Sharper

The theory is based on “a figure with Earhart’s haircut and approximate body type sits on the dock, facing away from the camera.” This photo is still heavily debated to this day. It is pretty far-fetched to say that a tiny figure in the image is actually her.

A Story Told

In 1960, an old American coastguard named Floyd Kilts told a story he had heard 14 years before that. He said it was about a man who was walking on the island of Nikumaroro and stumbled across something amazing.

A Story Told

Source: YouTube

“There in the brush about 5ft feet from the shoreline he saw a skeleton,” Kilts said. “What attracted him to it were the shoes. Women’s shoes, American kind…” For years, researchers wondered whether Kilts’ story was suggesting the disappearance (and discovery) of Amelia Earhart.

Before the assumed crash, Amelia and her partner were heard of on the radio system once last time…

They Were Never Heard From Again

On July 2, 1937, after Earhart and her flying partner set off for their final stretch of the journey, the last 7,000 miles, they experienced communication issues with their next fuel stop in Itasca. Before they took off, they were told that the forecast predicted fairly mild weather.

They Were Never Heard From Again

Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Contrary to the weather reports, clouds appeared, making it impossible for her partner Noonan to navigate by the stars. The last time that the duo said anything on the radio system was at 8.43am, when Earhart said, “we are running north and south.” They were never heard from again.

If anything is unanimous regarding Amelia, it’s…

One Thing is For Sure

If there is one thing that everyone is on the same page about when it comes to Amelia Earhart, it’s that she is one of the most iconic and influential women of all time. Before she embarked on the final mission, Amelia wrote a letter.

One Thing is For Sure

Photo by Getty Images

In her final letter, she wrote: “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.” That is indeed a moving message for all women of the world and one that inspired many who looked up to her.

Where It All Began

To really grasp the depth of Amelia’s story, we need to start at the beginning. She was born in 1897, a home birth, to parents Edwin and Amy in her maternal grandfather’s house, who was the federal judge Alfred Gideon Otis.

Where It All Began

Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

To her parents, Amelia was a blessing, especially considering the fact that their first child was stillborn. She also had a younger sister Grace, who looked up to her and saw her as a true hero.

Do you know what Amelia’s nickname was?

Little Miss Meeley

Not everyone knows that Amelia went by a nickname and the future pilot would go by her nickname well into adulthood. Friends and family would call her “Meeley,” and her sister Grace would go under the alias “Pidge.”

Little Miss Meeley

Photo by FPG/Getty Images

Apparently, Meeley and Pidge’s mother was a huge influence on them. Mother Earhart did want to raise stereotypical girls. She wanted her daughter to find their own identity and do things their way, as opposed to the chauvinist culture they lived in at the time.

Hungry for Adventure

Amelia was always eager to get out and seek adventure and it started when she was a child. The future pilot would go on little adventures with her sister around their neighborhood. Together, the duo would do daring things that other little girls wouldn’t necessarily do, like hunt rodents, climb trees, and slide down hills.

Hungry for Adventure

Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

This only added to Earhart’s already solid reputation as a tomboy. She was the girl who would do things that girls of the time didn’t traditionally do.

And there was one thing she did as a kid that really launched her future flying career…

Her First Flight

Earhart’s taste for flying came when her uncle made a ramp for her, who wanted to make her a mini roller coaster – like the one she would ride on often. And on this ramp, Amelia took her first flight. But after gliding off the ramp, she fell off, ripping her dress and injuring her lip.

Her First Flight

Photo by Getty Images

The fall didn’t faze her as she was too excited to dwell on the minor injury. She described the experience as a “sensation of exhilaration.” After surviving her epic leap, she said to her sister, “Pidge, it’s just like flying!”

A Childhood Dream

Once she realized what daring adventures she could go on, as the roller coaster, her opportunities were endless. The young Amelia Earhart’s had a natural inclination to be independent and do the things she wanted to regardless of society’s norms.

A Childhood Dream

Photo by Getty Images

She would also make a scrapbook with newspaper articles about successful women. And the first time she ever got on a plane, she was hooked. She knew that she wanted to fly for a living. She even worked as a truck driver, earning the money she needed to pay for her own flying lessons and flew for the first time in 1921.

You might be surprised to hear of her informal education…

An Unlikely Education

People are usually surprised when they hear of Amelia’s unusual education. During her teenage years, Earhart lived with her grandparents and got a rather unorthodox form of homeschooling from her mother.

An Unlikely Education

Source: The Globe and Mail

Earhart was a fan of reading and was often found in her family’s library. When the year 1909 came around, when she was 12 years old, she and her sister finally got the chance to enroll in an actual school, entering the 7th grade.

In the Business of Breaking Records

Within one year of taking her first flight, Earhart took her yellow Canary plane and flew 14,000 feet in the air. And at that time, it was the world altitude record for a female pilot. She was clearly already on a path to make history.

In the Business of Breaking Records

Photo by Getty Images

In light of her record-breaking accomplishments, the international governing body for aeronautics gave Earhart her official pilot’s license in 1923. This made her the 16th woman to ever be given one. She also set the record for being the first woman to ever fly across the U.S. nonstop, from coast to coast.

Her fame led her to marry a certain someone…

She Married Her Publicist

Unsurprisingly, Earhart became a public figure fast, and so she needed a publicist. When she started working with George P. Putnam, she didn’t expect their professional relationship to become a romantic one.

She Married Her Publicist

Photo by Getty Images

She played hard to get, where Putnam proposed to her six times before she said yes. Her reluctance to get married was explained her letter to him: “You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work.”

She Kept Her Name

Despite getting married in 1931, Earhart was adamant about keeping her maiden name. When the New York Times published the headline “Mrs. Putnam flies Atlantic in record time,” Amelia called in to complain, albeit politely.

She Kept Her Name

Source: Twitter

Amelia wrote to the publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger and nicely asked him to, from that point onwards, refer to her in the paper as Amelia Earhart. She wanted to be remain known as she was as a professional, not in reference to her husband.

Amelia also started her own organization…

The Ninety-Nines

Amelia Earhart was passionate about being a role model for girls and women, which was indeed unpopular in her era. She took her efforts to promote gender equality to create an organization called the Ninety-Nines.

The Ninety-Nines

Photo by Getty Images

She called it the 99s due to the following fact: out of the 285 licensed American female pilots of the time, 99 of them, including Earhart, congregated to support each other. The organization went international and helps women from 44 different countries.

Becoming a Pop Icon

Her reputation as a symbol of female empowerment has entered her into the realm of being a pop icon. Amelia Earhart has been represented many times. One song even addresses the pilot’s disappearance: “Amelia” by Joni Mitchell.

Becoming a Pop Icon

Source: The Independent

“I was thinking of Amelia Earhart and addressing it from one solo pilot to another…sort of reflecting on the cost of being a woman,” Mitchell wrote. Earhart has also been portrayed in movies such as Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian and Amelia, by Amy Adams and Hilary Swank, respectively.

Something else of Amelia’s also went missing, many years later…

Her Car Was Stolen

As strange as it sounds, decades after vanishing, Amelia Earhart’s vintage car also went missing in 2018. There are only 14 models of the green and black 1932 Hudson Essex Terraplane in the world and Earhart’s, which was owned by car collector Jim Somers, was reportedly stolen.

Her Car Was Stolen

Photo by JIM SOMERS/Getty Images

The car was eventually found in an L.A. neighborhood less than a week later. Earhart actually promoted the car during the era of the Great Depression. But after Jim fixed the engine and did some cosmetic work, the car is now worth between $250,000 and $500,000!

A New Breakthrough

A new breakthrough may finally be able to shed new light on the case of Earhart’s disappearance. Professor Richard Jantz, a professor at the University of Tennesee, has made a discovery that potentially proves a popular theory, whilst throwing others to the side.

A New Breakthrough

Source: YouTube

While many have speculated about the nature of her disappearance, this new information might be the confirmation that historians and fans have been looking for.

What is the new evidence? See next…

Was She Eaten By Crabs?

Before we move on to the new evidence, one more theory worth exposing was one that involves crabs. Although TIGHAR went on 13 separate expeditions to the island of Nikumaroro to try and uncover Amelia Earhart’s remains, there is a possibility that giant coconut crabs that inhabit the island may have already beaten them to it.

Was She Eaten By Crabs?

Source: Inverse

Crabs may have eaten her remains a long time ago. The thing is that there’s no substantial evidence to suggest that this happened. But the organization doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned on the Pacific island.

The New Results

Richard Jantz, the professor at the University of Tennessee, now believes that those bones found on the island really do belong to Amelia Earhart. After the evidence was forgotten after their 1940 analysis, Jantz inspected them once again through a collection of photos.

The New Results

Source: ABC News

Although he didn’t have the bones in front of him physically, Jantz was confident that he could process the photos through a computer program and decipher both the gender and ancestry of the person.

Was it a match?

A Direct Match

Using the measurements of the bones as well as the photos, Jantz compared his findings with Earhart’s height and weight at the time of 1937. He managed to gather information from both documents about Earhart as well as photos of her.

A Direct Match

Photo courtesy Library of Congress/Getty Images

After close inspection and cross-referencing, Jantz came to the conclusion that the bones discovered in Nikumaroro were indeed a direct match to Earhart. He essentially confirmed his theory and added a piece to the puzzle.

Getting Closer to Solving the Mystery

Professor Richard Jantz is an important piece in the Amelia Earhart puzzle. Unlike other researchers who tried to uncover the mystery, his findings are a convincing piece of evidence and the bones can potentially lead to other proof.

Getting Closer to Solving the Mystery

Photo by Getty Images

“From a forensic perspective, the most parsimonious scenario is that the bones are those of Amelia Earhart,” he wrote. “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers.”

Someone Similar

Some said that if the bones didn’t belong to Earhart, then they at least belonged to a woman from a similar background. Jantz said: “[They were] more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99 [percent] of individuals in a large reference sample.”

Someone Similar

Source: YouTube

“If the bones do not belong to Amelia Earhart, then they are from someone very similar to her.” This just means that Earheart most likely was the one who ended up on Nikumaroro and the bones were indeed hers.

Is It True?

If we take Jantz’s words as the truth, this would mean that Floyd Kilts, that old coastguard who told that story all those years ago, was right. It would also mean that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, both died as castaways on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro.

Is It True?

Photo by Getty Images

While theories are still being considered, Jantz was able to make a convincing argument and provide information that can lead others to find more information and eventually solve the mystery completely.

All in All

All theories aside as to how Amelia and her partner disappeared on their flight, one thing is for sure, and that’s the fact that Amelia was an important historical figure for all people, especially women.

All in All

Photo by Getty Images

Her bravery and determination is something every boy and girl, man and woman can look up to. And maybe one day her case will be closed and her remaining family can get the closure it needs.