Vanished Pioneer; Expedition Soon Might Solve 1937 Mystery of Amelia Earhart

With no trace of plane or flyers ever found, Earhart has been the object of a frenzy of speculation about how she died, with theories ranging from the plausible to the bizarre.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca was stationed off Howland to help Earhart navigate by radio, and the U.S. government built a small airstrip at the island. A sailor stood atop an island house ready to communicate with Earhart with red signal flags, and an American official planned to give Earhart and Noonan red and yellow silk leis.

Throughout the long night, the Itasca received brief and cryptic radio messages from Earhart that suggested she was flying in overcast skies. The Itasca dispatched a barrage of replies to Earhart, but only once did she acknowledge hearing the cutter. With Noonan apparently telling her they were near Howland, Earhart circled the Electra at 1,000 feet and told the Itasca she was running low on fuel.

At 8:44 that morning, the Itasca received one final message from Earhart: "We are on a line of position 157-337. Will repeat this message on 6210 kilocycles. Wait, listening on 6210 kilocycles. We are running north and south." Earhart's transmission was so loud that the crew was certain she was near the island.

Although amateur radio operators claimed to have picked up signals from Earhart over the next few days -- signals that suggested she had crash-landed -- the Itasca never heard from her again. President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a massive search, involving planes from the carrier Lexington and float planes from the battleship Colorado.

In a note to Putnam before the flight, Earhart wrote: "I know that if I fail or if I am lost you will be blamed for allowing me to leave on this trip; the backers of the flight will be blamed and everyone connected with it. But it's my responsibility and mine alone."

Box Story: On the Internet

* To see a 30-second film of Amelia Earhart's last takeoff -- from Lae, New Guinea, on July 2, 1937 -- visit meliavideo.html.

* To browse the Earhart archive at Purdue University, which has more than 900 items, visit

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