The Most Convincing Theories About Amelia Earhart's Unsolved Disappearance

One theory believes she returned to the United States under a new name. 

By Gina Tron

She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. The trailblazing pilot and author went missing in 1937, while trying to fly nonstop around the equator, along with navigator Fred Noonan.

Radio transmissions were heard from her plane before it went missing. In one recording, Earhart said she was running low on gas. When she went missing, she was one of the most famous people in the world. So, it’s no surprise that her disappearance still conjures up theories and mystery to this day.

Theory 1: Crashed into the ocean

They ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Earhart did say that she was running low on gas over the radio, as she was nearing Howland Island.

In 2002, a deep-sea sonar system provided by an ocean research company called Nauticos searched 630 square miles of the ocean floor near the Island. They searched for the plane again in 2006. The search didn’t yield any results. In 2009, a team organized by the Waitt Institute for Discovery searched a spot west of Howland the size of Delaware. Although none of the expeditions turned up anything, at least thousands of miles can be eliminated from future searches.

Theory 2: Lived as a castaway

There is a theory that Earhart and Noonan landed their plane on Nikumaroro Island, which is 350 nautical miles southwest of Howland. Theorists believe they may have done this after being unable to find Howland Island.

Researchers think they may have gone to this particular island because of Earhart’s last radio transmission which indicated that the plane was flying on a northwest to southeast navigational line, and if they missed Howland, they would fly either northwest or southeast on the line to find it. To the northwest of Howland is open ocean but to the southwest is Nikumaroro. 

In 1937, a British party explored the island hoping to potentially colonize it. A colonial officer took a photograph of the shoreline, which showed unidentified object that TIGHAR thinks could be a plane’s landing gear. This led some people to theorize that Earhart and Noonan were perhaps castaways on this island. When the island was colonized in 1938, colonists did report finding some airplane pieces.

In 1940, 13 bones were found buried near the remains of a campfire. Also found were two pairs of shoes—one belonging to a man and one belonging to a woman, in addition to a navigation device. The bones were shipped to Fiji, where they were measured before being lost. TIGHAR researchers determined the bones, based on their sizes, could match Earhart’s size and build.

Theory 3: Taken hostage by the Japanese

Some believe that they were taken hostage by the Japanese as US spies.

Theoriests believe the two may have landed on the Marshall Islands, which were controlled by Japan. One theory suggests that they were not only taken captive by Japan, but they were also returned to the United States with new names. Some believe that Earhart took the name Irene Craigmile and, later, Irene Bolam when she got married. A book entitled "Amelia Earhart Survived" suggests that Earhart did just that.

High school science teacher and Earhart enthusiast Dick Spink said he has spoken to many witnesses in the Marshall Islands who said that Earhart and Noonan did, in fact, land there. He has even spent $50,000 of his own money searching for Earhart’s landing spot. A History Channel documentary "Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence" claims new connections between Earhart and the Marshall Islands. One piece of evidence is a pre-WWII archival photograph of a dock on one of the Islands.

The filmmakers claim the photo is of Earhart and Noonan. The documentary suggests that the Japanese imprisoned them on the island before they executed them.

[Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

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