Reader Krystal R. hit me up this week on Twitter with a kind of story request I’d never gotten before: one for a conspiracy theory that involved a missing person or UFO’s. The first story that popped into my head was the story of the last flight of Amelia Earhart, which had both…
THE LAST FLIGHT OF AMELIA EARHART
There was no doubt about it, the plane was running out of fuel.
Amelia Earhart looked down onto the vast ocean below, but the scattered clouds left shadows on the water, making it impossible to tell which of the dark spots might be the tiny island she needed to land on.
Fear would have already overtaken the hearts of most people at this point, but she remained calm and relied on her training to try and find the way to the island. Plane technology was still quite primitive back then, so finding the way involved doing things like continually whistling into a radio microphone in hopes that a Coast Guard ship stationed in the area could use it to find her plane’s location.
Problem was, her radio wasn’t picking up their replies. The Coast Guard ship could hear her but she couldn’t hear them. So she and her navigator Fred Noonan kept trying everything they could think of to save themselves as their fuel level steadily dropped. It’s strange to think about it, but even these terrifying moments were the kind of things that had drawn Amelia Earhart to flying.
PUSHING THE LIMITS
You see, Amelia Earhart had spent her whole life pursuing adventure. This wasn’t an easy thing to do for a female during her time, as girls and women back then were expected to stay at home with feet firmly planted on the ground.
But even as a child she had made her own adventures. She loved to read and devoured adventure books, using them as inspiration for her tromps around the neighborhood. Her father was an alcoholic and that overshadowed much of what happened as she grew up, but lucky for her both her parents had encouraged her to be herself no matter what.
And when she became an adult she decided on the career that allowed the most adventure: pilot.
The early days of flying were dangerous and there was a mystique around pilots who pushed the limits of what had been done. A number of these pilots ended up dead, but those who survived were often hailed as heroes. It was a field considered too dangerous for most men, let alone a woman.
For Amelia Earhart though, it was all about the adventure. She broke record after record, earning worldwide fame for her abilities and swagger. Her fame even lead her to friendships with people like President Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor (something that fueled conspiracy theories later on).
There was one record that she wanted to break more than anything though, one that would lead to the ultimate flying adventure. She wanted to fly around the world on a route following as close to the equator as humanly possible. This was a very dangerous trip to try though, so she bought a new plane and started to train for the long flight around the world. A stop near the end of the trip would be on a tiny island called Howland Island…
INTO THIN AIR
People on the Coast Guard ship were starting to get worried. Why wasn’t the radio on Amelia Earhart’s plane picking up their replies? They waited for each new radio transmission from her plane as her voice became clearer and clearer, meaning the plane was getting close. Then they heard her voice:
“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.”
It was so clear that people on the ship felt that the plane must be in the immediate vicinity. They burned oil out of the ship’s smokestacks in hopes that it would be visible from the plane. But the only reply they got was a garbled transmission that didn’t seem to mention it. Then …nothing.
The time went by yet the radio remained silent. A massive $4 million search was done of the area and nearby islands by the Coast Guard and Navy, but the plane had vanished into thin air. In it’s place theories began popping up as to what had happened to the plane, ranging from the obvious to deep conspiracy theories.
A VAST OCEAN OF THEORIES
Some popular theories state the most likely scenario: that Amelia Earhart’s plane ran out of fuel and either crashed into the ocean or an island. Many people have become obsessed with combing through old photos of her plane or searching the various islands in the area for clues. It seems like every so often there’s news of debris being found that could be from her plane, but nothing has been verified 100% yet.
The most popular conspiracy theory about what happened to Amelia Earhart’s plane is that she had been asked to spy on the Japanese by President Roosevelt. This was during the time before WWII and there was much tension between the US and Japan. This theory states that her record breaking flight was a ruse so that she could fly over islands that Japan controlled to spy on them. According to this theory her plane was either shot down by the Japanese or crashed, leading to her capture, news of which was covered up by the government. There have been some US military and Japanese people who have claimed to witness various elements of this theory, but none of their stories have been verified.
Then there’s the most out of this world theory of all, the UFO theory of her disappearance. Many people believe that her plane was intercepted by UFO’s and that’s why it disappeared into thin air even though it seemed to be so close to the Coast Guard ship. Sightings of UFO’s by pilots were on the rise at this time and became known during WWII as ‘foo fighters’. This theory of course can’t be proven, though an episode of Star Trek: Voyager imagined a possible scenario. The episode has members of the Voyager crew discovering Amelia Earhart on an alien planet, having been abducted long ago and kept in stasis.
No matter what theory you believe, there’s no denying that even though her plane seems to have vanished into thin air, her story has not. Even now she inspires others to find their own adventures, whether it’s to pursue a career in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible …or in expeditions to solve the mystery of what really happened to her.