The Odd Vanishing of Amelia Earhart

Strange and subtle theories surrounding the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart.

It's been more than 80 years since the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart, but the world is still not sick of asking the question: where is she? On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and the often-forgot-about navigator, Fred Noonan, took off from Lae, New Guinea, in what was to be one of the final legs of her around-the-world solo flight.

They were aiming for Howland Island, a tiny island in the central Pacific Ocean. They never made it. Despite tireless search operations by the United States Coast Guard and Navy, neither of them, or their Lockheed Electra 10E, were ever seen again. Now, the burning question everyone has been asking ever since: what the hell happened?

Did they simply crash? Could it possibly be that simple? Different people have different theories, and many of them may seem a tad tinfoil hat at first glance, but are they really all that crazy upon further inspection? Let's dig a little deeper on some of the most compelling and credible theories, and then maybe you can decide for yourself, or better yet, argue about them with some of your friends, or, if you don't feel like burning any friendships, some stranger at a bar.

Out of Gas

The simplest answer is often correct, and in the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart, the easy answer is that she ran out of gas. Not the sexiest of theories granted, but it is the official position of the United States government. Let's back up a bit. Amelia was supposed to have plenty of gas to make it safely to Howland Island, where she was scheduled to re-fuel and again be on her way around the world.

Somewhere along the way Amelia was forced to take the Electra 10E up to 10,000 feet, instead of her regular cruising altitude of 7,000 feet. This is where experts account for her quicker-than-expected loss of fuel, leading them to believe she died in an open-ocean crash somewhere short of the island. All this is incredibly plausible, as Earhart was described as "frantic" in her final transmissions, and the communication was sporadic and broken.

It's hard to imagine anything more terrifying than running out of fuel with nothing but ocean in sight, so this theory holds water. Although her last known words are widely disputed, Amelia was known to be cavalier with her radio communications, so it's not inconceivable that she simply went radio silent. However, these words are the most credible: “We must be on you, but cannot see you — but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet,” Earhart said.

Over the years, the area where Earhart supposedly went down has been thoroughly combed by some of the best technology modern society has to offer. Nothing. The search teams never even came away with a single clue, but given the vastness and depth of the ocean this is not all that shocking. If you're the practical, no-nonsense type, this is likely the theory you ascribe to. Not a lot of risk to hold this position, but that being said, the odds are probably in your favor.

Castaway on Nikumaroro Island

Another possibility in the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart is that she made an emergency landing in Nikumaroro Island, 350 miles away from Howland. She was, after all, and expert aviator and pioneer in her field, so her pulling something like that off is not off the table.

In fact, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, is investigating the theory that Earhart and Noonan were stranded there, waiting for a rescue team that never came. Their lives ended on that tiny island in the Pacific. There is some evidence to this theory, as some of her last transmissions had her on line 157 337, making it possible she could have ended up on Nikumaroro. If she overshot Howland there was not much choice because she'd be surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean.

More interestingly, radio operators received 57 messages that could have been from Earhart, and if she did indeed send those transmissions, the Electra 10E must have landed in relatively decent condition. A campsite was even discovered on the island, giving more credence to this theory.

In addition, human bones were found on the island, which many have linked to Earhart and Noonan. Some of the bones were said to have belonged to a tallish women — Earhart was 5'8, or, slightly above average. What took place on that island? Did they starve to death? Were they victims of over-exposure? Stranger, were they eaten by giant crabs? If they did somehow make it to Nikumaroro, the exact fate of the two pioneers will likely never be known.

Earhart the Spy

The Marshall Islands Conspiracy involves Earhart and Noonan as spies for the United States government. This one is a little bit off-the-rails, as this would mean Earhart'scircumnavigation of the entire earth would have been for information on the Japanese — who soon enough would bomb Pearl Harbor. Nothing in Earhart's life would indicate this, but hey, she must be that good a spy — being the first woman to fly around-the-world is a good cover, I suppose.

But let's follow this thread a bit further. Earhart makes an emergency landing on the island and feigns innocence, all the while getting intel on the Japanese. Maybe they were found out and executed. Some think they did the job and moved back to the United States under fake names —Earhart became Irene Bolam and lived in New Jersey until she died in 1982.

Rollin C. Reineck, a retired air force colonel, is a big proponent of this theory — he even went as far as to write a book about it. In his mind, the plan to get pre-war recon on the Japanese went south, and they had to be rescued by some special operations force. Is this credible? Well, for one thing, Irene Bolam denied it. But a spy would deny it, wouldn't they? Most likely, Reineck peddled this for monetary reasons — he was selling a book! It's a little too Tom Clancy, but that doesn't stop it from being a view held by many who are entranced by the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart.

Japanese Prisoner

Earhart and Noonan weren't spies, they just happened to get lost and crash landed in the Marshall Islands. However, the Japanese weren't buying and took them both prisoner. They were then taken to the island of Saipan, where they were executed, or possibly died of dysentery in a Japanese prison. Witnesses from the Marshall Islands claimed to have seen the Electra crash land, making the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart all the more strange.

Some base this theory on a mysterious archival photo of a bunch of people sitting on a dock, two of whom are alleged to be Earhart and Noonan. The picture is a little grainy, and kind of lame evidence to go on. To make it worse, this picture was recently discovered to be taken in 1935! Earhart and Noonan went missing in 1937, so what would they be doing sitting on that dock somewhere in the pacific? Probably because it wasn't them. Still, this doesn't stop the fact-free crowd from pushing the theory that they died on Saipan.

One thing we know for sure: Amelia Earhart was never found. Beyond that, your theory on the odd vanishing of Amelia Earhart is up to you, I'm not gonna hold your hand any longer on this. The woman was never found, so you could technically dig your heels in on any of these theories and argue about it for another 80 years.

fact or fiction
Joseph Farley
Joseph Farley
Read next: Chad Alan Lee
Joseph Farley

Joseph Farley is a North Jersey based writer who loves short fiction and stand-up comedy

See all posts by Joseph Farley