The circumference of the Equator is an imaginary line that measures 24,901 miles around the center of the earth.
It’s was also what an ambitious young aviator named Amelia Earhart set her sights on – being the first to fly around it.
Everything about Amelia’s life brought her to this destiny. Youthful years were spent dropping in and out of college, toying with a career in medicine but working as a nurse in Toronto, Canada for the Red Cross in 1917 and 1918 helped Amelia to know what she didn’t want to do. Her aspirations bounced around as much as she did geographically, portending the life ahead.
Nothing seemed to satisfy her restless spirit until she discovered the joys of flying. It became her obsession and odd jobs to save enough to buy her own plane were her ticket to see the world and hone her skills.
Amelia’s love of aviation coincided perfectly with America’s love of the skies.
Thanks to Amy Phipps Guest, an adventurous billionaire willing to finance a flight across the Atlantic, Amelia got her first break aboard the Friendship plane.
It left America in June of 1928 and landed in Wales, making Amelia the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. She became an instead star and worked to rid herself of the passenger seat. This motivated her to fly as often as she could, earning seven solo records (in time and distance) across America.
(Photo credit: The Star)
The 1930s were Amelia’s “Lady Lindy” time. She was the female version of Charles Lindenburg who married her promoter George Putnam and branded a unique combination of the feminine flapper with a fly-girl fearlessness. She toured and rallied for women, advocating for their rights and serving on countless committees.
She introduced her own clothing line and earned a ranking as an honorary major in the U.S. Air Service. Women were not in the business of branding and creating their own value proposition.
Amelia was quite revolutionary when you think about the lengths she went to breaking barriers for women across more than the field of aviation.
Amelia also channeled her energies and knowledge into books. She wrote about her journeys and travels in “20 hours, 40 minutes” and “The Fun of It”.
These increased her popularity allowing her to monetize the pearls she wore for photo shoots and the silver wings from the airforce. They were a stepping stone her greatest challenge – flying around the world.
She knew this dream would be extremely difficult, risky and expensive. After flying solo across the Atlantic in 1932 on the five-year anniversary of Charles Lindberg’s TransAtlantic, Amelia hadn’t forgotten the harrowing experience that lasted nearly 15 hours. Bolstered by her Gold Award from the National Geographic Society and a Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, Amelia finally set off on May 20th in 1937 to meet her destiny.
She left Oakland California in a Lockheed Electra plane flying east with the help of a navigator, Fred Noonan. Crossing the States and headed down the East Coast of Central and South America, they flew over the Atlantic to Africa and rounded the edge of Arabia before reaching Lae, New Guinea.
With one final leg – only 7,000 miles to go – before landing on Howland Island to refuel, they could head home. The greatest risk was landing on the small island (less than 2 miles long) in the middle of the ocean.
The coast guard ship was ready, waiting to signal their approach, but for some reason the plane never arrived.
There is endless speculation and theories abound about what happened. The truth haunts fans, researchers and theorists who want answers, and some wonder the following:
- Did the plane crash in the ocean before reaching the small island? If so, why? Was it shot down by the Japanese who forbid Westerners from entering this territory? Or did the plane just crash on its own?
- Was Amelia asked by President Roosevelt to spy on the Japanese, and to use her flight as a cover for the American government? Did the Japanese know this? After all, she was good friends of the Roosevelts.
- Maybe Amelia and Fred crashed but were rescued and shuttled away quietly into a witness protection program (because they were spies) to live out her days in secrecy in New Jersey.
- The most popular modern assertion is that the plane crashed on the island of Nikumororo, a few hundred miles from Howland and Amelia and Fred lived there as castaways. The remains of 13 bone fragments suggest for many that this is a very real possibility.
- But others suggest the plane crashed and they were captured. Photos that look like Amelia and Fred (tested using facial recognition data) surfaced, suggesting they survived the crash and were seen on a dock. They were either killed afterward or imprisoned by the Japanese government and left to die.
In this last theory, it would be impossible to return Amelia and Fred with the advent of WWII and the later bombing by America of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Had they died in custody before the end of the war, the American government would look weak and Americans would be angry knowing the government had not negotiated their release.
Various reporters and researchers like Mike Campbell and Thomas Devine have collaborated on books like “Eyewitness: The Amelia Earhart Incident” and “The Truth at Last.” Mike served as a journalist in the Department of Defense and as a public affairs writer. His theories rest on 14 years of research and eyewitness accounts that suggest the pair were killed in a completely different place on the island of Saipan.
Photo credit: Bored Panda
This would put them thousands of miles from the Howland Islands and suggest the government knew the truth about their capture. Mike says that American troops discovered Fred was beheaded and that Amelia died of dysentery in prison. This could also explain the government’s desire to hide the truth and files that were reportedly destroyed that would solve the mysterious events.
It’s always hard to know what to believe. Americans love a good mystery – where is Jimmy Hoffa buried and who killed JFK? Not to belittle the seriousness of the situation, it is highly unlikely that there will never be enough conclusive evidence to know for sure. I’d be naive to think our government, like any, is not without its secrets. All have reasons (justified or not) for keeping certain truths hidden.
Like all great heroes that never die, however, and simply ride off into the sunset, Amelia’s life is everlasting. Her exploration of geography and her desire to live life on her own terms continues to underscore compelling truths about our human spirit when given the space to map its own destiny. We all have the power to push the limits of our existence and to be tenacious about how we want to live.
Maybe Amelia’s haunting disappearance is a reminder of life’s elusive truths – what is the meaning of life and how are we to decide? The circumstances of her death become unimportant in the end if we focus instead on Amelia’s ambitious life: to chase dreams, push boundaries and open doors.