On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart flew towards a lost island in the middle of the Pacific, Howland, one of the last stops of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Approaching this tiny atoll, she makes radio contact with the Itasca , a US Coast Guard launch that has anchored off Howland, and asks to be radio-guided back to the mainland.
In her last authenticated message, Earhart indicates that her flight path follows a bisector at the island from northwest to southeast without specifying in which direction she is heading. After this communication received at 8:43 a.m., radio contact was lost and to this day, no one knows the rest of her journey.
A Last Fatal Fligh
Earhart had already won the hearts of households around the world with her aerial prowess when she decided, in 1937, to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by plane: a grueling 47,000 km journey along the equator. After repairing the damage inflicted by a failed first attempt in March, she finally took off on May 21 from Oakland, California, with her navigator Fred Noonan.
Forty days, 35,000 km and more than 20 stopovers later, the pair arrived in Lae, on the east coast of Papua New Guinea. On the morning of July 2, Earhart and Noonan embark on the part of the trip they dread the most: the stretch that will take them to the island of Howland, an atoll in the central Pacific. More than 4,000 km of ocean separates them from this stretch of sand which will be their next refueling point.
In addition to being the first woman to set solo flight records, Earhart was also the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, a military decoration awarded to her by the United States Congress in 1932 for ” heroism or extraordinary acts performed in flight. »
After a few hours of flight, while they were on their final approach to the island, Earhart contacted the Itasca by radio. The ship receives its transmissions, the signal is so strong that at one point the radio operator rushes to the deck to look for Earhart’s plane in the sky but the transmissions returned by the ship do not reach the aviator and its navigator, who are now flying blind above the clouds.
The Electra will never reach the island of Howland and the massive search operations will find no sign of the missing plane and its crew. Two weeks later, the United States declared Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan lost at sea. According to the official US government thesis, the Electra , unable to establish radio contact with the Itasca , ran out of fuel and would have ended up in the ocean.
In Search Of Amelia
Some believe this photograph taken on Jaluit Atoll in the southern Marshall Islands is of Earhart and Noonan in 1937. The image has since been dated to 1935.
Over the past 15 years, several expeditions have been launched in an attempt to locate the aircraft wreckage. With the study of the last transmissions of the crew and the calculations made according to the known data on the reserves of fuel of the Electra , the researchers succeeded in restricting the search area to an area of 1,600 km². Some believe that Earhart and Noonan went north and the Marshall Islands where they crashed and were captured by the Japanese who controlled the area at the time. Eyewitnesses claim that they saw them in a prison camp in Saipan, however the physical evidence supporting these testimonies remains insufficient.
Others, such as members of the association TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) believe that the plane headed south and the Phoenix Islands where it could have landed on the reef of the island of Nikumaroro (then Gardner Island). The two airmen would then have spent several days or even several weeks there as shipwrecked.
Members of TIGHAR have mounted several expeditions to the island where they have discovered the remains of a camp and various objects. Called “Seven Site”, it corresponds to the description of the place where 13 human bones were discovered in 1940, when Nikumaroro was under British control. The bones were then sent to Fiji where two doctors examined them and concluded that they belonged to a man. Subsequently, these bones were lost but the report survived.
The most recent study dates back to July 2017 when the TIGHAR association and the National Geographic Society teamed up to send four detection dogs to the island of Nikumaroro accompanied by a team of archaeologists to see if there were any remains. undiscovered bones. These specially trained dogs are able to signal the presence of human remains or traces of human decomposition. As soon as they arrived at Seven Site, the dogs with higher than radar hit rates sounded the alarm, but the team did not dig up any bones. They took soil samples from the area for later analysis in hopes of finding traces of human DNA.
New analyzes carried out on the thirteen bones discovered in 1940 could also come to support the theory of the castaways. In 2018, a forensic analysis contradicted the conclusion of the Fiji medical team: the bones would be those of a woman whose height and morphology approach those of Earhart. Forensic anthropologist Richard Jantz used photographs and Earhart’s clothing to analyze measurements of the bones. The evidence he collected, he claims, “strongly supports the conclusion that the bones from Nikumaroro Island are those of Amelia Earhart” or that they “belong to someone who looked a lot like her.” . »
Also in 2018, the TIGHAR association published an article in which it analyzed the radio transmissions of the night the Electra disappeared. In July 1939, several radio listeners in places as far away as St. Petersburg, Florida and Toronto, Canada reported hearing a woman’s distress calls. TIGHAR believes that this voice was that of Amelia Earhart and their article explains how these transmissions could have traveled such great distances.
Earhart often joked about her trip around the world that she did it “just for fun”, but the search to understand her tragic fate is now very serious, and has been for more than 80 years. The day Earhart first flew with World War I pilot Frank Hawks, she made a decision that would change her life. “After climbing two or three hundred feet, I knew I had to fly,” she later recalled. Today, those seeking to solve the mystery of her disappearance are as determined as Amelia was to fly.