Researchers think it’s likely they’ve finally found her. Since she went missing 75 years ago, the mystery of Amelia Earhart has remained unsolved. On July 2, 1937, during the first attempted around-the-world flight by a woman pilot, Earhart’s Lockheed Electra vanished just before she was scheduled to land on tiny Howell Island in the South Pacific. After a final radio transmission stating her nearby location, she and her navigator Fred Noonan were never heard from again. Speculation has been that their plane ran out of gas out at sea, but through the years, there have been numerous clues that indicate that the plane made it to nearby Gardner Island (now renamed Nikumaroro), where it is believed Earhart and Noonan lived as castaways before eventually perishing.
The Current Theory
Over 800 artifacts and bones have been catalogued thus far, and researchers have crafted a likely scenario of what happened:
- The last radio transmission placed them on a line toward Nikumaroro, and theoretically they landed on there on a flat shallow reef. They sent distress signals for several nights. Signals at the time were intercepted and identified as coming from the area of Nikumaroro.
- Navy fliers a week later flew over Nikumaroro and noticed no airplane but did see signs of habitation. They did not stop because they thought the island was inhabited — except Gardner had not been inhabited since 1892.
- Earhart and Noonan lived for a time as castaways eating fish, turtles and birds before they eventually succumbed.
- Three months later a photo of the island was taken which recent analysis by forensic specialists say shows the upside down landing gear consistent with that of a Lockheed Electra, thus prompting the current search for the missing plane.
- Evidence of a camp site was discovered in 1940 and has been the subject of an ongoing excavation, revealing animal and human bones, metal buttons, a zipper, a jar of freckle cream made in the USA at the time (Earhart was sensitive about her freckles), a sextant box with a serial number matching the type Noonan would have used and even a human skull.
- Artifacts identify an American woman castaway in the 1930’s, but nothing with Earhart’s name on it has been found.
TIGHAR (say “tiger”) Makes the Discovery
The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been the leader in the search for Amelia for the last 23 years. They have just completed their 10th expedition to Nikumaroro, this time in an attempt to locate the missing plane in an area just off the northwestern coast. This is where it is believed the plane landed in the shallow shoreline reef before being washed out to sea and down the side of the deep underwater mountain.
The $2.2 million expedition used underwater submarines with sonar in the search and finished the trip disappointed after initially finding nothing. But in a turn of luck after returning home, a careful study of the high resolution video revealed two manmade debris fields which a forensic imaging specialist has verified as synonymous with that of a broken apart plane. This is as close to a smoking gun as researchers have ever come in the quest to find out what happened to Earhart and Noonan. The plan now is to raise more money for a trip to retrieve the debris and hopefully identify it as their Lockheed Electra. And hopefully Amelia’s story will finally have a closing chapter.