How Emelia Earhart's Plane Got So Far Off Course

Howdy folks and greetings from the Great Plains of North Texas!

In yesterday's post about the disappearance of Emelia Earhart and her navigator in the South Pacific, we talked about the evidence that proved they crash landed on a small, uninhabited island.

Bones were found which matched her age, gender, height and weight as well as other items which added to the evidence of the island being the final destination for the pair.

Today's story

But today I wanted to explain what happened that they didn't make it to the intended target which was a little island called Howland Island. It was just a tiny speck, 2 miles long and a mile wide.

There was a ship waiting for them there named the Itasca which they were in radio contact with. It was a U.S Coast Guard Cutter which was there to signal her and guide her in.

Modifications may have done more harm than good

Emelia's aircraft, a Lockheed Electra 10E, had been customized for the flight including the antenna layout. This caused problems communicating with the Itasca.

Sometimes they could hear her but they couldn't respond, their frequencies were mismatched. Their last radio transmission from her was this: "We are running on line 157-337...We are running on line." source

This was normal and meant that they had taken the plane's line of position relative to the Sun's location as it rose.

Back in 1937 planes flying on long trips had to have a navigator on board to make sure they stayed on course using the constellations at night and the Sun primarily, and adjusting for wind speed and direction and the altitude of the craft, was very technical.


Emelia's navigator, Fred Noonan, was a top professional who was highly skilled and had tons of experience both in the air and on the ocean. He worked for and planned out the routes for Pan American Airlines.

This trip was tremendously important

To Emelia. She was fighting for women's rights and she knew that if something went wrong it would set back the movement and she'd be blamed since she was a woman.

She knew even the smallest mistake would be blown out of proportion so she planned her route with great care and tried to leave nothing to chance.

There's a great article here which goes into detail on precisely what happened to get them off course but suffice it to say that Fred made a mistake early on in their 2500 mile flight which compounded itself as the flight progressed.

Here's Fred and Emelia:


We know that because of the data that he radioed back to the island they were on when they started that last leg.

He calculated their altitude being wrong and it threw off all his calculations and by the time they got close to Howland Island they were 100 miles off course.

Another factor was that it was cloudy so he couldn't use the constellations to correct course.

When they took off the forecast was for clear weather or they may have postponed but can you imagine forecasting the weather without satellites?

Emelia would have had an alternate plan in case they couldn't find Howland Island.


When they thought they were arriving but couldn't see any island she headed to the Phoenix Islands but not knowing their own location and burning reserve fuel, she landed at the first land she saw which was Nikumaroro.

This map shows the situation well. The "From Lae" line is the planned path. The blue line is where they ended up:



So it was a combination of Fred's miscalculation, cloudy weather, and not being able to radio back and forth with the Itasca that doomed the flight.

That last message that the Itasca received was NOT the last message received from Emelia though. Incredibly, a 15 yr old girl in Florida received her last transmissions and I'll talk about that in the next post.

Thanks so much for reading folks, God bless you all!


Comments 39


Though I suppose google might tell me about this girl in Florida. πŸ€”

Can’t wait to hear the rest!

28.01.2020 20:43

Haha! Howdy dfinney! I wasn't really going for that effect but I guess if I accidentally did then that works. Have you been interested in the Emelia Earhart story before?

29.01.2020 01:01

ish.... I of course have heard of her and know about her disappearance. And have heard theories that she lived. But message to a girl in Florida?!!!


29.01.2020 01:20

Yes it's an amazing story that will be fun to tell. She didn't send the message to Florida but the girl picked it up, well you'll see tomorrow. lol. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

29.01.2020 01:47

I know right!....the suspense!

29.01.2020 05:12

Howdy there steemitboard and thank you for the upvote and for keeping track of so many stats!

29.01.2020 01:11

Howdy there steemplus and thank you so much for the upvote!

29.01.2020 01:24

You sure? I mean, maybe she was just using google maps? Lol.

29.01.2020 00:07

lol...good one sir galenkp! It's pretty amazing to think they were still using the stars and sun to navigate with. And what they could see below them. But technology changed that situation pretty fast.

29.01.2020 01:53

And yet, planes still go missing. MH370 is a good example.

29.01.2020 01:59

Exactly. A perfect example of how even today they can disappear.

29.01.2020 17:25

Hi janton, highly interesting how so many little hiccups added to the final outcome. The traditional way of sailing ships in the olden days was based on the sun and stars too.

29.01.2020 03:59

Yes, they were just a few years away from having much better technology but then that's what adventurers and pioneers do, they go out and risk everything!

29.01.2020 17:28


29.01.2020 09:27

Even though it all ended tragically, she is still a hero!

29.01.2020 16:04

Exactly. She was totally brave, courageous, and a pioneer and risk taker.

29.01.2020 17:48

Very extraordinary personalities!
Nice story though rather tragic!

29.01.2020 19:03

Howdy sir kaminchan! yes it is very sad indeed but they knew they were taking on alot of risk by trying to accomplish this flight. Very brave of them!

29.01.2020 20:15

You make it impossible for me not to read the next post :)

29.01.2020 20:15

lol..I wasn't really trying to make it into a "cliff-hanger" but if that was the effect then I guess I will take credit!

29.01.2020 20:26

Excellent story going Cowboy! Amelia was a woman with a lot of spirit and determination to even take off on that trip. Although I’ve read about her before it never grows tired.

29.01.2020 23:43

I agree, she was very brave and adventurous and who knows what she would have gone on to accomplish if she had survived!

30.01.2020 01:38

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30.01.2020 00:27

Well howdy there steem-ua! Thank you so much for the upvote!

30.01.2020 01:40

Dispatcher gave Her bad directions....?


Src dispatcher meme search

30.01.2020 03:08

Haha! Those guys must be real pieces of work!

30.01.2020 16:57

How interesting to know that a 15 year old girl received the last transmissions. Nicely done Jonboy! : )

30.01.2020 17:21

It's nuts isn't it? With all the best technology of the day that the military and government had and they weren't receiving her distress calls! Other private radio operators heard it too but as far as we know she is the only one that wrote everything down.

30.01.2020 20:27

Brilliant story of a heroic woman πŸ‘ŒπŸ™πŸ’

Posted using Partiko Android

01.02.2020 07:12

I agree clitadias and howdy today! Thanks for stopping by.

01.02.2020 17:47

Hope you are having a great day jantonπŸ™πŸ‘πŸ˜Š

03.02.2020 17:32

Well, she landed, which would be good, if they didn't disappear!!! Oh boy! This is getting intense!

01.02.2020 21:58

Howdy again Miss Lena! yes, it was quite a tragedy.

02.02.2020 04:37

This is all really interesting to me. I didn't know a vast majority of this information and while this doesn't say much about me, I had forgotten that she disappeared.

02.02.2020 05:56

Well it was a long time ago and way before most of our times! For some reason I have kept reading articles and theories about her disappearance during my life so it really got my attention when I found out they had so much circumstantial evidence.

02.02.2020 17:17

Even the WWI pilots flying over the English Channel needed to navigate somehow, and in the heavy clouds it was nearly impossible. Imagine having to do it over the seemingly never ending ocean! Indeed, the slightest miscalculation.

02.02.2020 18:34

Yes, navigation was still very difficult at that time, it was just a few years after that when they came out with equipment on planes which let them know where they were but then pioneers and adventurers take those kind of risks. Much braver than I would have been!

02.02.2020 20:54