5 of the wildest conspiracy theories behind Amelia Earhart's disappearance

Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesAmelia Earhart (L) with her navigator, Captain Fred Noonan, in 1937.

  • Amelia Earhart was one of the most famous aviators in the world when she vanished in 1937.
  • Her disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of all time.
  • From her being a spy to her having lived in New Jersey under an assumed identity, many conspiracy theories surround her disappearance.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amelia Earhart became the first female to fly across the Atlantic 92 years ago.

However, nearly a decade after that flight, the American aviatrix vanished over the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe by plane. To this day, the mystery behind her disappearance remains unsolved.

Here’s what we know: On July 2, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, departed from Lae, New Guinea. They were heading for Howland Island, a small island located in the central Pacific Ocean, but they never arrived. By 1939, both Earhart and Noonan were declared dead.

While the case remains unsolved, conspiracy theories abound over the late pilot’s fate. Here are five of the most compelling guesses behind what happened to them.


1. Earhart crashed her plane and drowned in the Pacific Ocean.

Keystone/Getty ImagesEarhart was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939.

Crash-and-sink theorists postulate that Earhart ran out of fuel while trying to locate tiny Howard Island, and subsequently crashed into the open ocean and drowned.

This theory is supported by the fact that Earhart and Noonan put in a number of calls to the US Coast Guard ship “Itasca,” communicating that they were low on fuel and having trouble finding Howard Island.

Despite the $US4 million rescue authorised by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to find the pilots, no trace of the aircraft, Earhart, or Noonan was ever found.


2. She landed safely but on the wrong island.

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesAmelia Earhart operates the controls of a flying laboratory, ca. 1935.

We know that Earhart was aware that she was running low on fuel, which means one of two things – she either crashed somewhere, or landed successfully.

One theory suggests that Earhart managed to land her aircraft safely – just not on Howard Island, as anticipated. The International Historic Aircraft Recovery Group believe that Earhart ultimately landed on Gardner Island, a nearby deserted island that is now called Nikumaroro, when she couldn’t locate Howard, and then perished as a castaway.

However, since her aircraft was never found this remains nothing but a theory.


3. She was captured and taken prisoner by the Japanese.

US National ArchivesSome believe this photo shows Amelia Earhart’s back.

A photo was discovered in the National Archives that depicts a woman who resembles Earhart sitting on a dock in the Marshall Islands near a man who resembles her navigator, Noonan.

The discovery of the photograph helps substantiate the theory that Earhart and Noonan didn’t crash at all, but instead landed in the Marshall Islands, where they were taken prisoner by the Japanese.

Per Insider, retired government investigator Les Kinney told NBC News that the photo “clearly indicates that Earhart was captured by the Japanese,” despite Japanese authorities’ insistence that they have no record of Earhart ever being in their custody.


4. She was a spy.

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesAmelia Earhart smiling as she leaves the US Embassy in London, 1932.

Some allege that Earhart was more than just a daring pilot out to become the first woman to fly across the globe: she was a government agent.

Randall Brink, author of the book “Lost Star,” theorizes that Earhart never intended to fly to Howard Island; rather, she and Noonan were on a mission to document the goings-on of Japanese island installations for the US government, when they were detected by the Japanese and either shot down or forced to land.


5. She lived … and then assumed another woman’s identity.

Topical Press Agency/Getty ImagesOne of the more wild conspiracies is that Amelia Earhart lived.

In 1970, a book called “Amelia Earhart Lives” was published, thus unleashing one of the wildest conspiracy theories surrounding Earhart’s death upon the public to date. Joe Klass, the author of the book, argues that not only did Earhart survive her Pacific Ocean plane crash, but that she was taken by the Japanese, found and rescued by US forces, and then secretly repatriated to New Jersey, where she assumed the identity of Irene Bolam, a housewife.

The problem, of course, was that Irene Bolam already existed. When she got wind of this news, she filed a lawsuit vehemently denying the claims.

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