Amelia Earhart was an ace aviator and the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was a passionate flyer and broke many records during her short flying career. She was also a visiting faculty member in Purdue University and inspired other young women with her love of flying. A tomboy from childhood, she loved to take up challenges, they enthralled her. In July of 1937, she took up the biggest challenge of her life, a circumnavigational flight around the planet. She was to fly in a Lockheed manufactured, Model 10 Electra aeroplane. But the ill-fated expedition never came full circle. She was declared “dead in absentia” in the January of 1939, 18 months after she was last heard from.
In the morning of July 2nd 1937, she had already covered a distance of 35,400 kms around the globe and had to cover another 11,300 kms to set the world record for the longest circumnavigational flight around the earth. After flying for 19 hours from New Guinea her next stop was planned to be the Howland Island. Howland Island is a small island covering an area of just 1.8 sq kilometres on the Pacific Ocean somewhere between Hawaii and Australia. When seen from a flying aeroplane, the island cannot be more than a tiny dot in the vast ocean. Understandably enough, Amelia had been unable to locate the island, when the radio transmission apparatus of the plane failed. Already running low on fuel, Amelia had sounded anxious in her last known transmission. She was never heard from again and she never made it to the island.
Amelia Earhart was a celebrity and her disappearance had caused a mass turbulence among people and till date remains the biggest unsolved mystery of the time. The US government spent a huge sum of 4 million dollars on the search and rescue mission in the ocean that lasted for 17 long days. People still speculate as to what happened of her. Among other stories of crash and death, and Japanese capture and imprisonment, a possibility that has been backed by the most number of evidences till now is that she had been a castaway on a Japanese island called Nikumaroro until she died of thirst and starvation.
Until five days after her disappearance, distress signals were picked up by planes flying over the island. But when the navy reached the island after a week, they didn’t find any sign of her or the aircraft. After three years, a coconut harvesting expedition team found a human skeleton on the island. It was half eaten by giant coconut crabs found on the island. When the bones were examined by a local doctor it was written off as not to be Amelia’s. In 1998, out of curiosity when re-examined, the bones were found to be that of a women’s of European descent. Encouraged by the findings, an expedition team headed for Nikumororo Island after almost 60 years of Amelia’s disappearance. Three subsequent trips to the island, lead to the discovery of further evidences of Amelia’s survival attempts on the island. Several artefacts, personal to a woman like a compact box, anti-freckle crème and other personal care products were found. A broken heel of a shoe and few aerial photographs were among the other objects found there.
Last year the group conducted their tenth expedition trip to the island in the wild hope to find more evidences and bring this enduring mystery that has baffled explorers and scientists for decades to a full circle. Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart on that fateful journey, it must have been lonely, full of struggle and pretty frightful too.