Amelia Earhart smiles from inside her airplane

Everett Historical/

What Happened to Amelia Earhart?

In 1937, pilot Amelia Earhart was on a mission to become the first woman to fly around the world. About two-thirds of the way through her trip, she vanished and was never heard from again. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard searched the Pacific Ocean for weeks, but they never found Earhart or her plane. We asked two experts what they think happened.

- Ric Gillespie, Founder of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery

I’ve been investigating the Earhart case for more than 30 years. I think she landed on a tiny island called Nikumaroro (nik-uhmuhr- OHR-oh), where she likely died a few weeks later. The island is near where Earhart reported flying just before she disappeared.

  • Operators reported hearing radio distress calls they believed were from Earhart. These calls were traced to an area within a few miles of Nikumaroro.
  • We’ve searched the island and found many artifacts. They include a jar of face cream and scraps of metal most likely from a plane.
  • It’s not surprising that the Navy pilots didn’t see Earhart. I’ve flown over the island, and it’s extremely difficult to see people on the ground, even if you know someone is down there.

- Dorothy Cochrane, Aviation expert at the National Air and Space Museum

I believe that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were very close to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. Her last radio calls were to the Coast Guard waiting there. But they couldn’t find the island, ran out of fuel, and crashed into the ocean.

  • Nikumaroro is 350 miles past Howland Island, where the pair intended to stop. They did not have enough fuel to fly that far off course.
  • People have been searching Nikumaroro since 1937 but have found no evidence that can directly be tied to Earhart. And those radio calls were never confirmed to be from Earhart.
  • The Navy saw no signs of Earhart, Noonan, or their plane. If they had landed on Nikumaroro, someone would have seen her—it’s a very tiny island.
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