It was 75 years ago today that Amelia Earhart vanished. The famous American flier and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off on July 2, 1937 from Lae, Papua New Guinea in a custom-made Lockheed Electra 10E airplane on the most perilous leg of their attempted round-the-world journey.
Their goal was to reach tiny Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean, more than 2,500 miles from Lae. As Earhart and Noonan neared the end of their 20-hour flight (it was still July 2–they had crossed the International Dateline) they planned to make contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, stationed just off the island, and use radio signals to guide their way in. Howland Island is only a half mile wide and a mile and a half long. The communications crew of the Itasca heard several radio transmissions from Earhart, but for some reason she and Noonan were apparently unable to hear the ship’s responses. “We must be on you,” Earhart said, “but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” They never made it.
The prevailing assumption is that Earhart and Noonan simply ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific. But there is some evidence to suggest they may have made it to Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro), some 350 nautical miles southeast of Howland. Tomorrow an expedition to Nikumaroro will set out from Hawaii on a mission to explore the ocean floor around the small island, searching for evidence of Earhart’s plane. Expedition organizers hope to finally solve the mystery. In the meantime you can learn more about Earhart’s extraordinary achievements, including her triumphant 1932 solo trans-Atlantic flight, by listening to Earhart herself (above) in a fascinating newsreel. And below you can watch the very last footage of Earhart, made as she and Noonan took off from Papua New Guinea on that fateful day exactly 75 years ago.