One of the longest and most baffling mysteries of aviation history – the disappearance of aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan – may finally be solved after 87 years. Brave and spunky, Amelia Earhart was a rare female pilot in 1937. That alone made her a celebrity, but when she failed to return after her attempt to fly around the globe, her name became legendary.
Amelia Earhart was on the final leg of her round-the-world flight when she, her navigator, and her plane vanished. The search for her failed to turn up any wreckage or other clues. Earhart became the most famous missing person in American history. But a recent sonar image might finally reveal the fate of Amelia Earhart.
A Woman Ahead of Her Time
Amelia Earhart pushed back against the gender stereotypes of the 1930s. She did not fit the mold of the typical American housewife. Instead, she longed for adventure. Aviation was in its infancy then and flying soon became her passion.
Throughout her twenties, Earhart racked up flying hours and honed her aviation experience. She also collected notable achievements. She was the first female to cross the Atlantic by plane and the first to make a solo transatlantic flight. An outspoken advocate for women’s rights, Earhart became good friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, another woman ahead of her time.
The Flight Around the World
After checking off so many other aviation firsts, Amelia Earhart set her sights on a lofty goal. She wanted to be the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe. Purdue University, where she was a guest faculty member, supplied her with a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra for the journey.
She selected Fred Noonan to accompany her as her navigator. Her airplane was outfitted with a radio so she could communicate with flight towers around the globe, but it did not have a geolocation system. That technology didn’t exist in 1937. She and Noonan had to find their way using maps and charts.
Off to a Good Start
After a few aborted attempts, Earhart and Noonan departed on their round-the-world flight on June 1, 1937. Their departure caused a media circus. Earnhart had become a national celebrity and a household name, so newspaper and radio reporters were eager to cover her journey.
Earhart and Noonan made several stops in South America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. They frequently radioed their location to flight towers along the way, as well as to reporters. The American public enjoyed following the adventures of Earhart and looked forward to regular updates.
Earhart in New Guinea
Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. Here, they planned to refuel the plane and restock their supplies. They had flown more than 22,000 miles at this point. They had only 7,000 miles left to go.
This last leg of the flight, however, would be the most dangerous. It required Earhart to fly over the open Pacific Ocean. Her stops would be less frequent. And the only land she could stop at were tiny islands in the vast ocean.
On to Howland Island
At 10 a.m. on July 2, 1937. Earhart and Noonan flew the Electra from Lae Airfield intent on making it to the tiny Howland Island, their next stopping point. The plane had been refueled and had more than enough fuel to reach Howland Island.
At 3 p.m., Earhart radioed that her altitude was 10,000 feet but noted that they would have to fly lower to get under the clouds. At 5 p.m., the flight tower heard from her again. This time, Earhart said she was flying at a speed of 150 knots and an altitude of 7,000 feet. Her position was near Nukumanu Islands. This was her last radio transmission. What happened next has been debated ever since.
Amelia Earhart Vanished
When the control towers could not raise Earhart and Noonan on the radio, either by voice or Morse Code, boats and planes were sent to search for the lost pair. It was assumed that the plane crashed, either into the ocean or on one of the small islands in the region.
After extensive searches that have spanned decades, no trace of Earhart’s Electra has been found. The fate of Earhart and Noonan was unknown. Naturally, rumors swirled, and people speculated what could have happened. Some people believed that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese or that they were living as castaways on a deserted island. Other people suggested that they had been abducted by aliens or that the entire flight had been a stage publicity stunt.
An Ongoing Search
In the more than eight decades since Amelia Earhart vanished, searchers have continued to comb the waters of the South Pacific in hopes of finding her or her plane. All that effort may have finally paid off.
Tony Romeo has long been interested in the Amelia Earhart mystery. He finally decided to conduct his own search. He and his team of 16 launched their search in September 2023 and gave themselves a 100-day window in which to gather data.
Using State-Of-The-Art Technology
Under the umbrella of his South Carolina-based sea exploration company, Romeo purchased an underwater drone to aid in the search. Not just any underwater drone. This state-of-the-art drone, a Norwegian Hugin 6000, came with a hefty price tag of $9 million.
Romeo explained that he sold some of his real estate to fund the purchase. The Hugin 6000 is powerful enough to peer into the deepest depths of the ocean. Maybe not the deepest depths, but at least to a depth of 19,700 feet.
Scanning the Area Around Howland Island
Romeo and his crew started their search around Howland Island, and well as the area between Papua, New Guinea, and Hawaii. In all, they scanned an area of more than 5,200 square miles.
With the scanning work complete, the team spent much of December pouring over the data and looking for anomalies.
A Remarkable Find
Several weeks into the review of the sonar data, Romeo and his team made a remarkable find. One of the scans showed the fuzzy outline that appears to be a plane in about 16,000 feet of water. It is approximately the size of Earhart’s Electra.
Romeo explained, “In the end, we came out with an image of a target that we believe very strongly is Amelia’s aircraft.” The image seems to show the hatch open on the plane. Romeo notes that this could prove that Earhart and Noonan were able to free themselves from the downed plane.
The Next Step
To confirm the discovery as a plane and to attempt to identify it as Earhart’s Electra, Romeo and his team plan to employ an underwater camera to get a closer look at the object on the sonar scan.
According to James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist, Romeo’s discovery is intriguing and could write the final chapter on Amelia Earhart, however he cautioned, “We need to see more.” Delgado added, “Let’s drop some cameras down there and take a look.” That’s exactly what Romeo has planned.