She was the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and one of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel.
But the disappearance of American aviator Amelia Earhart has remained a mystery since her plane disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean more than 85 years ago.
The Kansas native was flying a Lockheed Model 10 Electra with navigator Fred Noonan when the aircraft vanished near Howland Island on July 2, 1937.
At the time, she was attempting to become the first woman to complete a circumnavigational flight of the globe.
So what went wrong? MailOnline reveals the top five theories surrounding the disappearance, from drowning in the Pacific Ocean to being eaten by crabs, or even assuming another woman’s identity.
Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer who was a widely known international celebrity during her lifetime – but the circumstances of her death remain a mystery. She’s pictured here in 1931 in the cockpit of her gyroplane
Earhart was flying a Lockheed Model 10 Electra when the plane vanished on July 2, 1937. In the last in-flight radio message heard by Itasca, Earhart said: ‘We are on the line 157 337 …. We are running on line north and south.’ The numbers 157 and 337 refer to compass headings – 157° and 337° – and describe a line that passes through the intended destination, Howland Island.
Earhart was on one of the final legs of the circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 when her plane tragically crashed.
Who was Amelia Earhart?
Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer who was a widely known international celebrity during her lifetime.
Her accomplishments inspired a generation of female aviators, including the more than 1,000 women pilots of the Women Airforce Service Pilots who served during the Second World War.
She was married to American publisher, writer and explorer George P. Putnam.
In 1932, at the age of 34, Earhart became the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.
Five years later, the female aviator set herself the challenge of being the first woman to fly around the world.
Earhart was flying a Lockheed Model 10 Electra when her plane vanished on July 2, 1937.
The 39-year-old was heading to Howland Island when it is thought that she and her navigator Fred Noonan had trouble with their radio navigation equipment.
Despite a rescue attempt lasting 17 days and scouring more than 250,000 square miles of ocean, the pair were never found.
Decades after her presumed death, Earhart was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1968 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1973.
This final fatal flight departed Lae Airfield in Papua New Guinea and was heading east with a destination of Howland Island, a trip of 2,556 miles.
Both Earhart and Noonan were communicating with a nearby Coast Guard ship, USCGC Itasca, before their plane lost contact.
In the last in-flight radio message heard by Itasca, Earhart said: ‘We are on the line 157 337 …. We are running on line north and south.’
The numbers 157 and 337 referred to compass headings – 157° and 337° – and described a line passing through their intended destination, Howland Island.
A popular and relatively straightforward theory is that the plane crashed into the sea when it ran out of fuel and then sank.
Both Earhart and Noonan were either instantly killed upon impact or were unable to get out and drowned, the theory goes.
It’s generally agreed that the wreckage lies beneath the waves near the planned destination Howland Island or another island around 350 miles southeast called Nikumaroro.
Experts recently detected code on an aluminium panel that was found washed up on Nikumaroro in 1991, which could be part of Earhart’s missing plane.
It’s possible that Earhart diverted the plane towards Nikumaroro when she couldn’t find Howland Island prior to crashing.
Another theory suggests the duo made a landing near the coral reef around Nikumaroro and were able to transmit radio signals.
According to the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), Earhart used the aircraft’s radio to send multiple distress calls.
In the week after the plane vanished, there were 120 reports from around the world claiming to have picked up messages from her.
In all, 57 of these calls were determined to be credible, TIGHAR claims, while others were ‘transparent hoaxes’, which may have led the genuine ones to be discredited.
It’s generally agreed that the wreckage lies beneath the waves near Nikumaroro island (pictured), around 350 miles southeast of Howland Island, the planned destination
Earhart was flying a Lockheed Model 10 Electra with navigator Fred Noonan (right) when their plane vanished near Howland Island
Earhart (born 1897) standing in front of the Lockheed Electra in which she disappeared in 1937
One of her transmissions said the plane was ‘part on land, part in water’, possibly on a reef at the mercy of the tides.
Navigator Noonan was seriously injured and needed immediate medical attention, the transmission allegedly said.
However, no plane was seen by Navy pilots surveying the islands several days after her disappearance, suggesting the plane may have been pushed off the reef into deeper water.
One of the more gruesome theories concerns the coconut crab (Birgus latro) – a massive carnivorous species of terrestrial hermit crab.
These carnivorous beasts weigh up to 9lbs (4kg), with a body length of 16 inches, and have large claws with which to crack open coconuts.
They are found on multiple Pacific islands in the area where Earhart and Noonan are thought to have disappeared, including Nikumaroro.
The theory goes that the duo were able to land the plane on Nikumaroro but were ultimately eaten by the crabs, known for being the world’s largest land invertebrate.
In 1940, three years after the plane disappeared, British colonial officer Gerard Gallagher discovered parts of a skeleton on Nikumaroro.
Richard Jantz, a professor on skeletal biology at the University of Tennessee who analysed the skeleton, has said it’s almost 100 per cent certain the remains are hers.
Coconut crabs can weigh up to 9lbs (4kg) with a body length of 16 inches, and have large claws with which to crack open coconuts
‘Analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99 per cent of individuals in a large reference sample,’ he said in his 2018 study.
‘This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.’
Not all the bones to make up an entire skeleton were found, but a 2014 study suggests the crabs dragged some of them back to their burrows.
Coconut crabs are known to eat birds, rodents, other crabs and carrion, but are not particularly vicious hunters and are don’t have a taste for humans.
If the crabs were in any way involved with the story, it seems most likely they ate the remains after Earhart and Noonan perished on the island.
Possible evidence that the aviators briefly lived on Nikumaroro has been found, including a shoe, ointment bottle and a sextant, an instrument used for navigation.
Earhart was on one of the final legs of the circumnavigational flight of the globe in 1937 when her plane tragically crashed
Most theories maintain that she died nearby or on Nikumaroro island, but this fourth theory puts her final days on Saipan, an island northwest of Nikumaroro.
The most popular theory is that she crashed and died in the sea on July 2, 1937, after noting poor visibility and lack of fuel
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