A big mystery

The pilot and her navigator were flying over the Pacific Ocean looking for the 2.6-square-kilometer Howland Island. They needed to stop there for fuel as they completed the last quarter of their nearly 47,000-kilometer flight around the globe.

The pilot sent a message to a ship awaiting their arrival saying the sky was blocked by „cloudy weather, cloudy.“

Later, the pilot sent another 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.“

Eventually, there were no more messages. The hunt for the lost plane began quickly, lasted over three weeks, cost millions, and didn’t find a trace of the aircraft or the people in it: pioneering woman aviator Amelia Earhart and experienced navigator Fred Noonan.

The flight was Earhart’s attempt to be the first woman to pilot a plane around the world, but it turned her into one of the most enduring mysteries of modern history.

Pre-flight Earhart

Born in 1897, Earhart’s interests were never what was expected of a girl of her era. Instead of sewing or playing with dolls, she climbed trees and hunted. 

She wasn’t inspired to become a pilot until years after she finished high school. The first time flying caught her interest was at an air show in Toronto, Canada, watching a stunt pilot fly narrowly by her. A few years later in 1920 at age 23, she took her first ride in an airplane at a California air show and became determined to learn to fly.

Amelia gets her wings

Earhart worked multiple jobs in 1921 to afford flying lessons and her own aircraft. Within six months, she had a plane, and in under a year she passed her pilot’s license test from the National Aeronautic Association. Within the next two years, she set an altitude record for a woman of nearly 4,300 meters and earned an international pilot’s license.

The biggest break in Eahart’s life was an invitation to fly over the Atlantic with pilot Wilmer Stultz in 1928. It made her the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. 

She worked with George Putnam, a famous publicist and her future husband, to write and promote a book about the experience. It made her a celebrity. She was in ads and often quoted in national news advocating for aviation and women’s empowerment.

Her fame helped earn financial backing for her aeronautical ambitions. About two months before her 35th birthday in May 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. A few months later, she became the first woman to fly solo across the continental U.S. and back. These feats and others made her ever more well-known and beloved.


What happened to Amelia Earhart?

In 1937, Earhart set off from Florida planning to fly around the world going west to east. She and her navigator had made it most of the way when they disappeared.

There are many theories about what happened to them. One of the strongest suggests Earhart died on the island Nikumaroro a few hundred kilometers south of Howland Island. In 2018, scientists examined bones found on the island in 1940. The results showed that they match Earhart’s physical features more than 99% of other possible people.

But photos published in January 2024 call that conclusion into question. A sea exploration company that spent 100 days using an advanced underwater drone to scan the sea floor around Howland Island discovered something they say resembles Earhart’s plane in size and shape nearly 4,900 meters under the ocean.

The grainy images have attracted international attention. The next step is to get an underwater camera to the site to take up-close photos of the object and see if it truly is Earhart’s plane and if the mystery of what happened to one of the most daring women of the 20th century can finally be laid to rest.



navigator – Navigator, Nautiker

square-kilometer – Quadratkilometer

need to – müssen

fuel – Treibstoff, Kraftstoff

cloudy – bewölkt

must be on you – müssten ganz in der Nähe sein

hunt for – Jagd nach

trace of – Spur von

pioneering – bahnbrechend, wegweisend

aviator – Pilot

enduring mystery – anhaltende Mysterie

sewing – nähen

caught sb’s interest – erweckte jemandes Interesse

fly narrow – aus nächster Nähe vorbeifliegen

determine to do sth. – entschlossen etwas zu tun

to get wings – ein Traum wird Wirklichkeit

altitude record – Höhenrekord

ads – Werbung, Anzeigen

advocating for aviation – befürworten der Luftfahrt

fame – Ruhm, Bekanntheit

financial backing – finanzieller Rückhalt

aeronautical – aeronautisch, flugtechnisch

feat – Kunststück, Meisterleistung

set off – hier: abheben

disappear – verschwinden

suggest – hier: annehmen

examine bones – Knochen untersuchen

call into question – in Frage stellen

underwater drone – Unterwasserdrohne

sea floor – Meeresgrund

resemble – ähneln, gleichen

grainy image – körniges Bild

take up-close/close-up photos – Nahaufnahmen machen

most daring women – gewagteste Frauen

be laid to rest – die letzte Ruhe finden

Excite Your Senses

On our YouTube channel, you can follow along as a native speaker reads this month’s Learning Nugget accompanied by music and pictures.

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