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Coast Guard History

Frequently Asked Questions


What was the Coast Guard’s role in the search for Amelia Earhart?

On 2 July 1937 at 0000 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred J. Noonan departed Lae, New Guinea for the next leg of her 29,000 mile around- the-world flight. The intended destination of this leg was tiny Howland Island, an atoll approximately 20 feet high, a few miles long, and 2,556 miles distant. Their last positive position report and sighting were over the Nukumanu Islands (about 800 miles into the flight). While engaged in a routine cruise to deliver food, water, and other supplies to U.Ss Department of the Interior personnel on Baker, Jarvis, and Howland Islands, the Coast Guard cutter Itasca was ordered to remain in the vicinity to serve as a radio beacon and plane guard for Earhart’s flight to Howland.

Earhart and Noonan, however, had little practical knowledge of radio navigation. The frequencies Earhart was using were not well suited to direction finding and the reception quality of her transmissions was poor. Furthermore, she left behind the lower-frequency reception and transmission equipment that might have enabled Itasca to locate her. As a result, contact was lost with Earhart after six hours of frustrating attempts at two-way communication.

A coordinated search led by the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lexington and including Itasca found no physical evidence of either flyer or their plane. Modern analysis indicates that after passing over Nukumanu, Earhart began to vector off course, unwittingly heading for a point approximately 100 miles NNW of Howland Island. A few hours before their estimated arrival Noonan calculated a sun line, but without a successful radio-frequency range calculation, a precise fix on their location was impossible. Researchers generally believe that the plane ran out of fuel and that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan perished at sea.

A photo of the radio room aboard the USCGC Chelan, sister-ship to the Itasca

The radio room aboard the Itasca's sister cutter, CGC Chelan, in the mid-1930s.
 Itasca's radio room and the associated radio equipment would have been the same as appears here.


Last Modified 9/15/2016