Amelia Earhart: Inspiration and Mystery
Part 4: Her Final Flight
She would not be the first to fly around the world. Famed pilot Wiley Post had done that, in 1933. But Amelia wanted to become the first woman to pilot a plane around the world. She and Putnam planned the expedition, taking care of all the many details. They were ready to go in 1937, with experienced airman and sailor Fred Noonan as navigator. (This was to be an around-the-world flight, not necessarily a solo flight.)
They took off from Oakland on March 17, 1937, and flew to Honolulu. Three days later, they took off from Honolulu, but one of the plane's tires blew out, forcing the flight to be grounded. In the process, the plane was damaged. The journey had to be postponed.
A few months later, they tried again, beginning this time from Miami, on June 1. This time, they met with success. This was not to be a nonstop flight. Earhart and Noonan planned to stop many times, for refueling; but their goal was to circle the globe. They stopped in South America, Africa, and India, before arriving in New Guinea on June 29. They had flown most of the way, 22,000 miles. Only 7,000 miles remained. However, those 7,000 miles would all be over the vast Pacific Ocean, which had few places to land if something went wrong.
They took off on July 7, intending to land on Howland Island, some 2,500 miles away. It was a tiny island, but it was plenty big enough to accommodate an airplane landing.
They never made it.
The last report anyone received from the plane was over the Nukumanu islands, about 800 miles from New Guinea. A U.S. Coast Guard ship was stationed at Howland Island, ready to guide Earhart to the island. But Earhart and Noonan never appeared.
The events surrounding their disappearance remain controversial to this day. What is known for sure is that sporadic radio communications were received from the plane about the time that it should have been close to Howland Island. What is not known at all is what happened to the plane or its occupants after that. Earhart and Noonan were never heard from again, and their plane was never found.
The U.S. Government spent $4 million searching for the plane. At that time, that was an extraordinary amount of money. U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships searched the area thoroughly but found not trace of the missing plane or its occupants. Future searches using the most cutting-edge technology have failed to turn up any clues, either.
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