75 years ago, Amelia Earhart went missing—and the search for her continues

75 years ago this month, pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart vanished. Today, a group of searchers looking for proof that her plane crashed on a remote Pacific atoll returned to Hawaii, having failed to find evidence that her plane crashed on Nikumaroro. More on the ongoing search: CNN, NatGeo, CSM, Guardian. There are many theories about what happened, but no closure.

Earhart's birthday is today. If she were still alive, she would be celebrating her 115th birthday. Google has a doodle up in her honor:

Over at the Open Culture blog, Mike Springer has a post about her life.


The famous American flier and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off on July 2, 1937 from Lae, Papua New Guinea in a custom-made Lockheed Electra 10E airplane on the most perilous leg of their attempted round-the-world journey.

Their goal was to reach tiny Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean, more than 2,500 miles from Lae. As Earhart and Noonan neared the end of their 20-hour flight (it was still July 2–they had crossed the International Dateline) they planned to make contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, stationed just off the island, and use radio signals to guide their way in. Howland Island is only a half mile wide and a mile and a half long. The communications crew of the Itasca heard several radio transmissions from Earhart, but for some reason she and Noonan were apparently unable to hear the ship’s responses. “We must be on you,” Earhart said, “but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” They never made it.

Two great video clips in the post, including one with Earhart speaking about her work in a vintage newsreel.

If you're in Washington, DC any time soon, you really must check out the small but excellent exhibit on Earhart at the National Portrait Gallery. I visited over the weekend, and it was one of my favorite museum experiences in years. It includes artifacts from her life, photographs, portraits, even her aviator's helmet.

And my favorite item: the letter she wrote her soon-to-be husband George Putnam, before they were married, explaining the terms under which she would agree to marry him. Those terms included a mutual agreement to allow each other to fall in love with other people. Amelia Earhart, polyamorous pioneer?

You can view more videos from the Earhart exhibition here.

Image: A detail from Amelia Earhart’s first pilot’s license. "She was only the sixteenth woman to receive a pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the governing body of sports aviation."


  1. My mother’s longtime companion used to hang out with (or possibly pester) her at the airport when he was a child and she was working on her plane.

  2. Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart? 
    Who holds the stars up in the sky? 
    Is true love just once in a lifetime? 
    Did the captain of the Titanic cry? 

    I studied in the Amy Johnson building at Sheffield University for  a time as part of my Masters Degree…

  3. She’s on Howland Island with C. Eliot Friday. Everyone knows this. For years, we’ve known this. The Piddle-Diddle report made it plain in the 80s, I think.

    1.  We’ll never find her, that island keeps moving…

      I worked for a documentary company called CPG in Studio City in 1997-1998 and was a P.A. on a terrible 2-hour “Mysterious Mysteries”-type program about Earhart’s last flight, c0-produced by a group called TIGHAR. Their scientific rigor left a lot to be desired (“Here we are digging on a South Seas isle …look, a shoe…this might have belonged to a woman! So Earhart was a spy after all! CASE CLOSED”).

      For the skeptical reader without a lot of patience for conspiracies, I’d recommend Elgen Long’s “Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved” on Simon & Schuster. Long avoided conjecture and stuck to the available evidence, and his research brought him to an all-too-mundane and plausible conclusion: Earhart and Noonan were trying to make a gigantic journey to a tiny island via dead reckoning, and the odds were that they’d fail, and they failed. He has a pretty good idea of where to look for the plane, and a producer friend of mine spent several years trying to package a documentary with NatGeo to take some submersibles and actually go find the thing. But that kind of expedition is reeeeeeeeeeeeeally expensive, and what if they don’t find it? So I’m thinking that either James Cameron or Robert Ballard are going to have to get interested before anything happens.

  4. OK, Google Doodle — so I see the initial G and the ending GLE on the wings, it looks like the round front of the plane is one of the O’s, which would locate the other O… Oh my!

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