THE famed historian, explorer and oceanographer Robert Ballard is trying to solve what is considered to be the greatest mystery in aviation history, namely the disappearance of the aircraft carrying world-renowned pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan in the Pacific Ocean 82 years ago.

The man who found the Titanic and the Bismarck at the bottom of the Atlantic is now turning his full attention to finding the aircraft in which Earhart apparently perished on July 2, 1937, while attempting what would have been the longest flight around the world at the time.


SHE was one of the most famous women on the planet in the 1930s. Born on July 24, 1897, in Aitchison, Kansas, she endured an unhappy childhood as the daughter of an alcoholic father. She was encouraged by her mother, Amy, however, to read copiously and study subjects that were not “for little girls” as Earhart herself later described her childhood.

Earhart moved with her mother and sister to Chicago, and then became a nurse in Toronto in Canada during the Spanish flu pandemic – it was there that saw an aviation display and became interested in flying.

Her parents got back together again and moved to California where Earhart had her first flight in 1920. She took flying lessons and qualified as a pilot, only the 16th woman in the USA to do so, and quickly she began setting records – in 1922 she flew up to 14,000ft, a world record for a woman flier.

With her parents finally divorcing, Earhart moved to Massachusetts and became known for her flying which she described in her newspaper columns.

In June, 1928, she was one of three people who made the arduous West-East flight across the Atlantic – the first woman to do so. It made her famous overnight, and soon she had her own line of fashion and invested in commercial passenger airlines.

In 1932, she made the first solo transatlantic flight by a woman and then, in 1935, made the first solo flight from Hawaii to California.


HAVING set numerous long-distance records, written several books as well as becoming acknowledged as the leading woman pilot in the USA, Earhart announced that she would try to fly around the world in 1937 – the first woman to attempt the feat. Leaving her husband, film producer George Putnam, behind her, she and navigator Fred Noonan, co-navigator Henry Manning and adviser Paul Mantz took off from Oakland, heading to Hawaii, on March 10, 1937. However, the Lockheed Electra aircraft crashed on take-off. After it was repaired, Earhart and Noon left Miami on June 1, this time heading west to east.

They made stops in South America, Africa, the Indian sub-continent and south-wast Asia before taking off for the longest part of the journey from New Guinea to Howland Island, half-way between Hawaiii and Australia, where a US coastguard ship, the Itasca, was waiting to provide radio guidance. It would receive the last messages from Earhart.

“We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low,” Earhart radioed at 7:42 am. Both Earhart and the Itasca’s crew believed that her plane was near Howland. At 8:45am Earhart said that she was “running north and south”. It was her last message.


PLENTY, and most of them bonkers. Some claimed that she survived and was captured by the Japanese, with bones found on Howland reported to be hers – but they have been lost. Most sensible experts say the Electra ran out of fuel and is now at the bottom of

the Pacific.


IF he can’t, it’s a good bet that no-one can. “I wouldn’t be going if I wasn’t confident,” Ballard said.