On July 2, 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart took off from Lae, New Guinea, in her twin engine Lockheed Electra and flew east into overcast skies toward Howland Island, a sliver of land 2,600 miles away in the Pacific Ocean. She was never seen again.
At the time she disappeared, Earhart was a world-renowned aviation pioneer. In 1932 she had become the first woman to make a solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic, an accomplishment that earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross. The next year she became the first woman to fly nonstop, coast-to-coast across the United States. As she neared her fortieth birthday, she set her sights on a new goal, the “one flight which I most wanted to attempt,” a circumnavigation of the globe near the equator.
When she left New Guinea with her navigator, Fred Noonan, Earhart had completed all but 7,000 miles of her 29,000-mile journey. The Coast Guard cutter Itasca waited off Howland Island, where the plane was to refuel. As the arrival time approached, the Itasca received the message “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” Efforts to make radio contact failed. A massive search followed but turned up no trace of the plane.
Even today, searches for clues about Earhart’s fate continue. Some experts believe her plane ran out of fuel and had to ditch in the Pacific. Others theorize that Earhart and Noonan reached another island, where they eventually perished. So far, no solid evidence has turned up. Earhart’s sense of adventure and determination to fly farther than before still fascinate Americans. “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace,” she wrote, words she lived by to the end.