Amelia Earhart - 1937 World Flight - Search Efforts

Search Efforts

Beginning approximately one hour after Earhart's last recorded message, the USCG Itasca undertook an ultimately unsuccessful search north and west of Howland Island based on initial assumptions about transmissions from the aircraft. The United States Navy soon joined the search and over a period of about three days sent available resources to the search area in the vicinity of Howland Island. The initial search by the Itasca involved running up the 157/337 line of position to the NNW from Howland Island. The Itasca then searched the area to the immediate NE of the island, corresponding to the area, yet wider than the area searched to the NW. Based on bearings of several supposed Earhart radio transmissions, some of the search efforts were directed to a specific position on a line of 281 degrees (approximately northwest) from Howland Island without evidence of the flyers. Four days after Earhart's last verified radio transmission, on July 6, 1937, the captain of the battleship Colorado received orders from the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District to take over all naval and coast guard units to coordinate search efforts.

Later search efforts were directed to the Phoenix Islands south of Howland Island. A week after the disappearance, naval aircraft from the Colorado flew over several islands in the group including Gardner Island, which had been uninhabited for over 40 years. The subsequent report on Gardner read: "Here signs of recent habitation were clearly visible but repeated circling and zooming failed to elicit any answering wave from possible inhabitants and it was finally taken for granted that none were there... At the western end of the island a tramp steamer (of about 4000 tons)... lay high and almost dry head onto the coral beach with her back broken in two places. The lagoon at Gardner looked sufficiently deep and certainly large enough so that a seaplane or even an airboat could have landed or takenoff in any direction with little if any difficulty. Given a chance, it is believed that Miss Earhart could have landed her aircraft in this lagoon and swum or waded ashore." They also found that Gardner's shape and size as recorded on charts were wholly inaccurate. Other Navy search efforts were again directed north, west and southwest of Howland Island, based on a possibility the Electra had ditched in the ocean, was afloat, or that the aviators were in an emergency raft.

The official search efforts lasted until July 19, 1937. At $4 million, the air and sea search by the Navy and Coast Guard was the most costly and intensive in U.S. history up to that time but search and rescue techniques during the era were rudimentary and some of the search was based on erroneous assumptions and flawed information. Official reporting of the search effort was influenced by individuals wary about how their roles in looking for an American hero might be reported by the press. Despite an unprecedented search by the United States Navy and Coast Guard no physical evidence of Earhart, Noonan or the Electra 10E was found. The United States Navy aircraft carrier Lexington and battleship Colorado, the Itasca (and even two Japanese ships, the oceanographic survey vessel Koshu and auxiliary seaplane tender Kamoi) searched for six–seven days each, covering 150,000 square miles (390,000 km2).

Immediately after the end of the official search, Putnam financed a private search by local authorities of nearby Pacific islands and waters, concentrating on the Gilberts. In late July 1937, Putnam chartered two small boats and while he remained in the United States, directed a search of the Phoenix Islands, Christmas (Kiritimati) Island, Fanning (Tabuaeran) Island, the Gilbert Islands and the Marshall Islands, but no trace of the Electra or its occupants was found.

Back in the United States, Putnam acted to become the trustee of Earhart's estate so that he could pay for the searches and related bills. In probate court in Los Angeles, Putnam requested to have the "death in absentia" seven-year waiting period waived so that he could manage Earhart's finances. As a result, Earhart was declared legally dead on January 5, 1939.

Read more about this topic:  Amelia Earhart, 1937 World Flight

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