Image: Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan
Famed aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, pose in front of their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in Los Angeles, May, 1937, prior to their historic flight in which Earhart was attempting to become first female pilot to circle the globe.
updated 5/18/2007 3:53:18 PM ET 2007-05-18T19:53:18

Amelia Earhart became famous in life as a pioneer for women in aviation, but the mystery of her death has helped maintain interest in her, seven decades after she disappeared at age 39 while attempting an around-the-world flight.

An Oklahoma City museum run by a women's aviation group has unveiled an exhibition that includes personal mementos of the Kansas-born Earhart to commemorate the 70th anniversary of her 1937 disappearance and the 75th anniversary of her solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean.

Among the items displayed at the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots are a bracelet of Earhart's made of elephant hide, a scarf she wore on some long-distance flights, her pilot's license and navigation charts.

"She's still a mystery," said Margie Richison, the chairwoman of the museum's board of trustees. "She's probably the greatest mystery of the last century, and it's unsolved."

Earhart was born July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas. She went on her first flight in 1919 and three years later earned a pilot's license - a rarity for women in that era.

After a women's air derby in 1929 - in which Earhart finished third - a letter went out to all the nation's female pilots, a group that numbered less than 150, asking about interest in forming a women's aviation group. Ninety-nine of the women responded, leading to the group's name. Earhart became its first president.

School children visiting the museum Thursday recreated Earhart's trans-Atlantic journey using small model planes.

Image: Amelia Earhart's personal momentos
Amelia Earhart's bracelet and scarf are displayed at the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots in Oklahoma City.
Asked what he had learned from studying Earhart's life, fifth-grader Malcolm Davis said, "It showed that women can do anything!"

Teacher Cathy Ozeroglu said that was an important lesson for students of both genders to learn.

"Children need to know that," she said. "God has made us all equal, and we all can accomplish great things."

Earhart became a media darling in good part because of her adventurous nature, Richison said. She became the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic Ocean in 1932 and the first person - male or female - to fly from Hawaii to California over the Pacific Ocean three years later.

On May 20, 1937, Earhart began her much-publicized "World Flight" in Oakland, California. The trip, scheduled to cover about 27,000 miles (43,450 kilometers), would make Earhart the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe.

On July 1, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan took off in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra from Lae, New Guinea, on what was planned as a 2,550-mile (4,100-kilometer) journey to tiny Howland Island in the north Pacific Ocean. But the two never reached the island, and on the morning of July 2, in one of her last radio transmissions to the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, she noted her fuel was running low.

Theories about what happened are numerous. The official U.S. government position is that the plane ran out of gas and crashed at sea. Others believe they landed on another island and lived for a time as castaways, while some believe they ended up in the Northern Mariana Islands, thousands of miles (kilometers) away, after being shot down by the Japanese and were executed on suspicion they were spies.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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