This week in history: Amelia Earhart began her solo transatlantic flight on 20 May 1932

13 May 2015

By Pan Macmillan

20 May 1932: Amelia Earhart began her solo transatlantic flight

Amelia Earhart initially earned her place in the history books in 1928, when she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic ocean in a plane. She was travelling as a passenger on Friendship, a Fokker FVII piloted by Wilmer (Bill) Stultz and Louis (Slim) Gordon, which after over 20 hours touched down in Burry Port, South Wales. Immediately hailed in the press as ‘Lady Lindy’ (a reference to the pioneering Transatlantic aviator Charles Lindberg) she self-deprecatingly likened herself to ‘a sack of potatoes’ in the hold. However, just four years later, on 20 May 1932, Earhart left Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, bound for Paris at the controls of her own Lockheed 5B Vega.

Poor weather conditions blew her slightly off course. But in just under 15 hours, she landed safely in a small village outside Londonderry in Northern Island, becoming the first woman to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.

Born in Atchison, Kansas in 1897, Earhart caught the flying bug in 1920 when she took a ride on a plane at an air fair in Long Beach, California. By the following year, she had purchased her first plane, and in 1923, she became only the 16th woman to be issued with a pilot’s license by The Federation Aeronautique. But it was while attempting to become the first woman to circumnavigate the earth that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared somewhere in the Pacific between Hawaii and Australia on the 2 July 1937. What happened to them remains a mystery. However, a fragment of aluminium thought to be from Earhart’s plane, first found on the remote Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro in 1991, and subject to new research recently, led to fresh theories about her disappearance being published by International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar), in 2014. Though much disputed, their current line of thought is that Earhart and Noonan made a forced landing on Nikumaroro and perhaps survived for a time as castaways on this remote island before perishing there. But this is still only a theory, and not everyone is convinced by the supporting evidence, with doubts persisting about the whether the fragment can ever definitely be proved to have come from Earhart’s plane.