On this day in 1937, Amelia Earhart was last heard from, somewhere over the Pacific. She had set out, with navigator Fred Noonan, to fly around the world. She said, “I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it.” They left Miami on the first of June, and had completed all but about 7,000 miles of the trip when they landed in New Guinea. Maps of the area were inaccurate, and Noonan had some trouble navigating between the islands in the central Pacific. U.S. Coast Guard ships were stationed on the route to their next stop, the tiny Howland Island, to help guide them.
Earhart and Noonan took off from New Guinea, and were in sporadic communication with the Coast Guard cutter Itasca. The weather was cloudy and rainy, with very low visibility, and transmissions — when they came through at all — were faint and full of static. At 7:42 a.m., Earhart communicated: “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.” Her last transmission, at 8:45 a.m., was “We are running north and south.”
There’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that she and Noonan may have made a forced landing on reef near a waterless, uninhabited island called Nikumaroro, and that they may have survived as castaways for a period of some months, collecting rainwater in the leaves of tropical plants and living off fish, birds, and turtles. Scientists are analyzing DNA from a number of sources, and an underwater exploration to look for remnants of the plane is scheduled for the summer of 2012.
She had a habit of writing letters to her husband, George Putnam, before each expedition, in case it should be her last. In one, she wrote: “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”