The Search for Amelia Earhart Nears an End

For the last few days, the Niku VII expedition has been scouring the reef off Nikumaroro, hoping to solve the 75 year old disappearance of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan. Unfortunately, the expedition appears to be coming to a premature end. But why?

Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance?

We first looked at Amelia Earhart’s famous disappearance back in July 2011. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery(TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia and Fred landed on a reef off Nikumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory.

Troubles and Setbacks?

On July 16, the expedition experienced a “frustrating and crazy day.” Its Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) collided with land, necessitating time-consuming repairs. The Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) experienced technical difficulties. Then the boat’s throttle controls went haywire.

On July 17, the AUV got stuck twice underwater, the second time at a depth of 2,368 feet. They sent the ROV after it and recovered the AUV…but just barely. The ROV was forced to go to the edge of its maximum depth. Fortunately, the operator was able to use its claw to extract the AUV from a cave. And of course, this necessitated more repairs, this time to the ship’s power train.

On July 18, TIGHAR was able to resume its search for the plane. They decided to use the ROV to check out two strong targets. After a closer look, one target turned out to be a “large coral boulder.” The other target was manmade. However, it was determined to be a piece of wreckage from the British freighter SS Norwich City.

“Adding to the problem are the limitations of side-scan sonar. It works best when utilized over a flat, sandy floor. And the reef slope is not flat nor is it sandy. In addition, the wreckage of the SS Norwich City is strewn about the area, which will make it difficult to distinguish aircraft parts. So, even if Amelia did crash on the reef, TIGHAR will be hard-pressed to locate the aircraft.” ~ David Meyer, The Earhart Expedition: And so it Begins…

A Premature Ending?

Last night, TIGHAR reported ”there is very little point in extending the trip.” Apparently, the expedition failed to find anything on the initial shelf, 250 feet below water. The next shelf lies 1,000 to 1,200 feet under water. This is where the wreckage of the SS Norwich City lies. For all intensive purposes, this appears to be the expedition’s last hope. Barring a miracle, they plan to give up and return to Honolulu later today.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

And that’s all she wrote.

It’s a disappointing and strange ending for an expedition that began with such high hopes. TIGHAR has been trying to fund this trip for years. They experienced some early setbacks, but just a day ago, there was talk of extending the trip an extra day or two. Now, they’ve decided to completely abandon it instead.

We’ve been a bit skeptical of success for awhile now. The odds that Amelia reached Nikumaroro are fairly low. The supporting evidence is interesting, but quite thin.

The biggest difficulty with the TIGHAR hypothesis has always been the lack of falsifiability. In other words, it’s impossible to test. In a proper scientific expedition, researchers attempt to refute their own hypothesis. That’s the essence of the scientific method. But due to the nature of this problem, there’s really no way to do that. Simply put, unless Amelia Earhart’s plane is found elsewhere, it’s impossible to prove she didn’t crash at Nikumaroro.

“Given what we now know about this place, is it reasonable to think that an airplane which sank here 75 years ago is findable? The environment is incredibly difficult, with nooks and crannies and caves and projections; it would be easy to go over and over and over the same territory for weeks and still not really cover it all. The aircraft could have floated away, as well.” ~ Niku VII Expedition, July 19 Update

See what we mean? The plane could’ve crashed at Nikumaroro and drifted anywhere. Or maybe not. It’s just impossible to know without finding the plane itself.

TIGHAR is trying to make the best of a bad situation. They claim the data will be useful, not just to them but also “to anyone doing ocean and reef research in the area.” Still, it’s difficult not to look at this as a major disappointment.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart

The Earhart Expedition: And so it Begins…

Yesterday, the Niku VII expedition landed on the tiny island of Nikumaroro. Over the next 7 to 10 days, the members hope to solve a spectacular mystery that has baffled experts for 75 years…the disappearance of famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.

Amelia Earhart (1928)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, No copyright found; checked by staff December 2000

Background

We first looked at this mystery back in July 2011. Amelia Earhart was a famed aviatrix and the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia and Fred landed on a reef off Nimumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory.

The Niku VII Expedition

On July 3, TIGHAR launched it latest expedition to Nikumaroro from Honolulu on the R/V Ka’Imikai-o-Kanaloa. The goal is to search the underwater reef slope for any remaining debris from Amelia’s Lockheed Electra 10E.

The voyage took a little longer than anticipated and arrived yesterday rather than the scheduled date of July 9. Based on the updates provided by TIGHAR, the voyage itself was rather uneventful. The crew used much of the time to prepare for its mission.

“The atmosphere aboard is rather like the mood aboard an LST as it approaches an island the troops have to take. They are going into action soon; all ‘weapons’ have been cleaned and checked and rechecked, plans refined and massaged. There is a palpable sense of pressure and stress, but in a good way; everyone is impatient to get started with the mission.” ~ TIGHAR Update, Dateline: At Sea, July 11, 2012

During the voyage, the crew finalized a search grid for the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Upon arrival, they mapped the ocean floor using SeaBeam sonar technology. They will use this information, along with “local knowledge,” to work the edge of the reef slope over the next 7 to 10 days.

Afterward, the crew sent the AUV into the water for a four hour test in order to get a feel for the area and do some “micro-planning.” Unfortunately, the AUV malfunctioned and the crew lost many hours diagnosing the problem, namely a non-turning prop.

While the problem was being fixed, the crew deployed its Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) for a test run over the wreckage of the SS Norwich City. On a side note, the SS Norwich City ran aground on Nikumaroro’s reef in November 1929. It was still quite visible at the time of Amelia’s disappearance.

Much of the search will be done using the AUV. The AUV is essentially a robotic submersible that operates on programming rather than on human manipulation. At the end of each search mission, the data is collected and batteries are switched out. Then the AUV is launched again. As it conducts another mission, the crew will have the opportunity to analyze the data and flag any potential areas of interest. Later, these areas of interest will be explored by the ROV. Unlike the AUV, the ROV is operated by human hands. It contains a manipulator arm to move objects. It also has strong lights and video cameras in order to provide images to its operator.

This is not a salvage expedition. Instead, TIGHAR merely hopes to test its hypothesis that large pieces of wreckage survived the crash and subsequently sank into the extremely deep waters off the reef slope. Thus, the objective is to “locate, identify, and photograph any and all surviving aircraft wreckage.” If any debris is located, it will most likely be left untouched…for now. But the images of it will be used to fund and mount a salvage expedition at some point in the future.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

And so it begins.

We’re extremely interested in this expedition. However, we’re also quite skeptical of success. The odds that Amelia reached Nikumaroro are fairly low. The supporting evidence is interesting, but razor thin. There’s the 1937 Bevington Photo. Also, island residents reported finding aircraft debris in the vicinity around 1940.

RG: Let me repeat this back to be sure I understand. No plane arrived or crashed while you were at the island. But, people said that before the people came a plane had crashed there near the ship. And when you refer to the ship you mean the ship that was on the reef, that was aground.

ES: It is true.

RG: Did you ever see any part of that plane?

ES: Only the frame, a piece of steel. [Mr. Tofiga offers clarification, &“Uh, it’s not a piece. The term she uses ‘afiti,’ it could be this long or this long.” Moves his hands close together then far apart. “ But it’s steel. Only the framework.”]

RG: And where was this piece?

ES: Nearby that wrecked ship. It was not far from there. From about here to that house. [She points to a house across the road.]

Source: Transcript Of Ric Gillespie’s Videotaped Interview With Emily Sikuli, July 27, 1999

Our biggest problem with the TIGHAR hypothesis is it represents a sort of backward approach to science. They constructed the hypothesis that Amelia and Fred crashed on Nikumaroro’s reef. Then they collected evidence and attempted to fit it into their story. They’ve spent all their efforts attempting to prove their hypothesis, stretching the available evidence in the process.

A proper scientific expedition would do the opposite – attempt to refute its own hypothesis. In other words, TIGHAR should’ve tested their hypothesis as severely as possible. They should’ve been trying to refute it, not support it. If it managed to survive every attack on it, then they would’ve been in a position to consider the possibility their original hypothesis was correct.

With that being said, there is a slim possibility TIGHAR is correct and the Lockheed Electra crashed on the reef. If this is the case, it could still prove difficult to locate it. Most likely, it broke up while on the reef and the large pieces slipped down the reef slope. And that presents a problem.

“The water is extremely deep at the slope, plunging beyond 3,000 feet in certain places. The Niku VII expedition will be equipped with high-freqency side-scan sonar and will be able to take ‘photographs’ at that depth. However, any surviving pieces of the aircraft likely took a beating on the reef before they sank. And once that happened, underwater currents might have torn them into shreds.” ~ David Meyer, The Search for Amelia Earhart Begins Today!

Adding to the problem are the limitations of side-scan sonar. It works best when utilized over a flat, sandy floor. And the reef slope is not flat nor is it sandy. In addition, the wreckage of the SS Norwich Cityis strewn about the area, which will make it difficult to distinguish aircraft parts. So, even if Amelia did crash on the reef, TIGHAR will be hard-pressed to locate the aircraft.

 

Amelia Earhart’s Lost Skeleton?

In 1940, a work party unearthed a partial skeleton on the island of Nikumaroro. Several months later, British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher learned about the skeleton and radioed his superiors that it was “just possibly that of Amelia Earhart.” Did this skeleton really belong to the famed aviatrix?

Amelia Earhart on Tour at Langley Research Building, November 1928
Front row, left to right: E.A. Meyers, Elton Miller, Amelia Earhart, Henry Reid, and Lt. Col. Jacob W.S. Wuest.
Back row, left to right: Carlton Kemper, Raymond Sharp, Thomas Carroll, (unknown person behind A.E.), and Fred Weick.
Photographed by NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics)
Source: NASA

Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance?

We first looked at Amelia Earhart’s famous disappearance back in July 2011. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery(TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed on a reef off Nikumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory. Now, TIGHAR is on route to Nikumaroro. They hope to test the hypothesis that large pieces of wreckage survived the crash and subsequently sank into the extremely deep waters off the reef slope.

The Lost Skeleton…of Amelia Earhart?

British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher was the first officer-in-charge of the so-called Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme, which was the British Empire’s last real attempt at colonial expansion. In early September 1940, he moved to Nikumaroro in order to establish it as the centre of the new colony.

During his first month, a native work party told Gallagher about a skull they’d discovered on the island. He checked it out and found a number of bones along with some other items. On September 23, 1941, he sent a telegram to the Acting Administrative Officer in Tarawa, David Wernham.

“Please obtain from Koata (Native Magistrate Gardner on way to Central Hospital) a certain bottle alleged to have been found near skull discovered on Gardner Island. Grateful you retain bottle in safe place for present and ask Koata not to talk about skull which is just possibly that of Amelia Earhardt. [sic]” ~ Gerald Gallagher, September 23, 1941

Later that day, Gallagher sent a second telegram to Jack Barley, Resident Commissioner, Ocean Island.

“Some months ago working party on Gardner discovered human skull – this was buried and I only recently heard about it. Thorough search has now produced more bones (including lower jaw) part of a shoe a bottle and a sextant box. It would appear that

(a) Skeleton is possibly that of a woman,

(b) Shoe was a womans and probably size 10,

(c) Sextant box has two numbers on it 3500 (stenciled) and 1542– sextant being old fashioned and probably painted over with black enamel.

Bones look more than four years old to me but there seems to be very slight chance that this may be remains of Amelia Earhardt. If United States authorities find that above evidence fits into general description, perhaps they could supply some dental information as many teeth are intact. Am holding latest finds for present but have not exhumed skull. There is no local indication that this discovery is related to wreck of the ‘Norwich City’.” ~ Gerald Gallagher, September 23, 1941

Gallagher was instructed to keep the situation “strictly secret.” He proceeded to provide more information. For instance, he described the shoe  as “a stoutish walking shoe or heavy sandal.” And he reported the “remains of fire, turtle, and dead birds” near the skeleton.

Eventually, Gallagher sent the bones to Fiji. They were intercepted by Dr. Lindsay Isaac who proceeded to conduct what appears to be an unauthorized examination. Dr. Isaac eventually concluded the bones belonged to an elderly Polynesian male and sent them on to Fiji.

Dr. D.W. Hoodless (who apparently possessed no forensic training) examined the remains and ultimately determined they came from a male measuring 5 feet, five and one-half inches. These bones have since disappeared. However, Dr. Hoodless’s notes, measurements, and observations survived.

The 1997 Examination

In 1997, a group of forensic anthropologists conducted a reexamination of sorts, using Dr. Hoodless’s notes as well as modern forensic techniques.

“Based on the information now in hand, Jantz and Burns both concluded that the remains found on Nikumaroro in 1939-40 represented an individual who was:

  • More likely female than male
  • More likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander
  • Most likely between 5′5″ and 5′9″ in height”

Source: Amelia Earhart’s Bones and Shoes?, Karen Ramey Burns, Ph.D., Richard L. Jantz, Ph.D., Thomas F. King, Ph.D., and Richard E. Gillespie

In other words, the bones appeared consistent with Amelia Earhart’s sex, ethnic origin, and height. However, the researchers noted there was no way to be certain without the actual bones.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Although TIGHAR has produced an interesting circumstantial case that Amelia crashed on Nikumaroro, it’s far from conclusive. One way of proving it would be to locate the actual bones from 1940. Another possibility is to locate the missing pieces of the skeleton that were never found. Unfortunately, this could prove impossible due to the presence of large coconut crabs on the island.

“In 2007 we conducted a taphonomy experiment with a small pig carcass to see how quickly the crabs would eat the remains, and how far, if at all, the crabs dragged the bones. The primary answers were ‘pretty quickly’ and ‘all over the place.’” ~ Patricia Thrasher, TIGHAR President

As we mentioned earlier, TIGHAR is currently planning to comb Nikumaroro’s underwater reef slope for Amelia’s plane. Hopefully, this will produce results. If not, TIGHAR’s best bet might be to locate the bones examined by Dr. Hoodless. But do they still exist? It seems possible. After all, the papers revealing the existence of the bones weren’t found until 1997. Who knows? These mysterious bones might still be out there somewhere, waiting for another chance at discovery.

 

The Search for Amelia Earhart Begins Today!

At 8:43am on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. 75 years later, her disappearance, along with that of her navigator Fred Noonan, remains one of the most spectacular unsolved mysteries of history. Now, a new expedition could be on the verge of unraveling it once and for all.

Amelia Earhart standing with Mayor James Walker of New York (1932)
Copyrighted by Samuel O. Bancroft, no renewal in Copyright Office (verified 1998)
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Amelia Earhart’s Mysterious Disappearance?

We first looked at Amelia Earhart’s famous disappearance back in July 2011. Amelia Earhart was a famed aviatrix and the first woman to fly a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1936, she decided to attempt a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937. Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in her Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island. Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

Over the years, numerous theories have arisen to explain their disappearance. Most scholars believe Amelia Earhart crashed into the Pacific Ocean after running out of fuel. Others think she crashed on Saipan Island and was captured by the Japanese occupying forces. Still others think the disappearance was deliberate, as part of a strange spy mission.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR – pronounced “tiger”) has searched for answers to this mystery. They believe Amelia and Fred landed on tiny Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro). More specifically, they think she landed on a reef off Nikumaroro’s west end and safely evacuated the aircraft. A few days later, rising tides swept the airplane over the reef edge. Although they’ve uncovered some circumstantial evidence that might support their case, they have yet to find definitive proof for their theory.

TIGHAR’s Amelia Earhart Theory

Here’s TIGHAR’s general theory of what happened to Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan, and the Lockheed Electra 10E:

  • Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan failed to locate Howland Island. So, they continued on their present course.
  • The reached uninhabited Gardner Island. Amelia landed the Electra safely on the island’s western reef.
  • Amelia and Fred spent the next few nights sending distress signals from the aircraft’s radio.
  • It took a week for three U.S. Navy search planes to fly over Gardner Island. By then, Amelia and Fred had stopped sending distress calls, presumably because “rising tides and surf had swept the Electra over the reef edge.” Although the planes didn’t see the Electra, they did notice “signs of recent habitation.” They didn’t think much of it since they thought Gardner Island was inhabited. However, “no one had lived on Gardner since 1892.”
  • Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan survived for an unknown period of time on Gardner Island. They “caught and cooked small fish, seabirds, turtles and clams.” Amelia passed away at a makeshift campsite on the southeast end of Gardner Island. Fred’s ultimate fate has yet to be determined.
  • The wreckage of the Electra, which was swept over the reef edge, “lies in deep water off the island’s west end.”

What’s New in the Search for Amelia Earhart?

Today, TIGHAR sets sail for Nikumaroro as part of the Niku VII expedition. They plan to “conduct a thorough search of the underwater reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro for surviving wreckage from Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra.”

This is not a salvage expedition. Instead, TIGHAR merely hopes to test its hypothesis that large pieces of wreckage survived the crash and subsequently sank into the extremely deep waters off the reef slope. They plan to ”locate, identify, and photograph” any pieces of surviving wreckage. If they succeed in doing this, they will use the information they obtain to mount a salvage expedition.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

We’ve been big supporters of TIGHAR for a long time, even before this expedition was announced. We appreciate the fact that they’ve taken a very scientific approach to their search. They’ve compiled a realistic scenario and have gathered a decent amount of circumstantial evidence to support it. They’ve even located a photograph taken three months after Amelia’s disappearance. It appears to show an upside down landing gear sticking out of the water near the reef slope.

We wish them the best and will be following the expedition as closely as possible. That being said, we have our doubts they will locate the aircraft. The search won’t be easy. The water is extremely deep at the slope, plunging beyond 3,000 feet in certain places. The Niku VII expedition will be equipped with high-freqency side-scan sonar and will be able to take “photographs” at that depth. However, any surviving pieces of the aircraft likely took a beating on the reef before they sank. And once that happened, underwater currents might have torn them into shreds. So, we’re hopeful TIGHAR finds something, but realistically, we recognize it won’t be easy.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart

The Lost Photo of Amelia Earhart’s Plane?

In 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean. Can an old photograph solve the mystery behind her disappearance?

“Amelia Earhart in flying pants standing next to fence, Canada, ca. 1918″
Source: George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, Purdue University

Background on Amelia Earhart

Nearly 75 years ago, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan vanished while attempting a circumnavigational flight around the Earth. For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has searched for them, focusing most of its efforts on tiny Gardner Island.

In less than a month, TIGHAR will return to Gardner Island, hoping to solve this enduring mystery once and for all. In preparation for the expedition, the group recently held a 3-day conference in Arlington, VA.

Three interesting pieces of evidence were featured. Two days ago, we discussed a possible anti-freckle jar found on Gardner Island, which might’ve belonged to Amelia. Yesterday, we talked about “post-loss radio signals.” And today, we’re focusing on a strange photograph.

The Bevington Photo?

Three months after Amelia’s disappearance, a British expedition was sent to the Phoenix Islands to search for possible settlements. A Navy Cadet Officer named Eric Bevington took numerous personal photographs along the way. This photograph is believed to have been taken off the west end of Gardner Island. The ship on the right is the wreck of the British freighter SS Norwich City. On the left, you can see a small red box, showing what appears to be an object sticking out of the ocean.

“There are telltale signs that lend themselves to strongly suggest that it is in fact a landing gear.” ~ Jeff Glickman

Recently, a forensic examiner named Jeff Glickman reviewed this photograph. It didn’t appear to be a defect so he used the tools at his disposal to enhance it.

You can see the resulting image here. Even though it’s been enhanced, it’s still pretty fuzzy. So, it’s impossible to be certain but it looks a little like an upside-down landing gear, complete with strut, wheel, and mud flap. Experts at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research have concurred with Glickman that the object “is consistent with Lockheed Installation 40650, one of the main landing gear assemblies on Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E Special.”

Interestingly enough, this object, whatever it is, was gone by December 1938, when the next known photograph of the area was taken. This supports TIGHAR’s theory, namely that Amelia’s Lockheed Electra crash-landed on the reef edge and got caught up in the “spur and groove” surf zone. Amelia proceeded to send radio distress calls for several days. Eventually, the waves battered her plane to pieces and the craft sank into the ocean. Amelia supposedly died as a castaway (a female skeleton, now lost, is believed to have been found in 1940). Fred’s fate remains unknown.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The photograph is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence to emerge in years. In fact, it has allowed TIGHAR to raise substantial funds to return to Gardner Island and investigate the steep underwater ridge off the island’s west end. The search won’t be easy. The water is deep at the reef, plunging beyond 3,000 feet in some places.

Well, that’s it for now. Next month, we’ll be following TIGHAR’s big expedition back to Gardner Island. So, stay tuned…there’s lots more to come!

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart

New Evidence for Amelia Earhart: Part II?

In 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean. Can decades-old radio signals solve the mystery behind her disappearance?

“Amelia Earhart in flying goggles, seated in an airplane, California, 1922″
Source: George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers – Purdue University

Background on Amelia Earhart

Nearly 75 years ago, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan vanished while attempting a circumnavigational flight around the Earth. For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has searched for them, focusing most of its efforts on tiny Gardner Island.

In less than a month, TIGHAR will return to Gardner Island, hoping to solve this enduring mystery once and for all. In preparation for the expedition, the group recently held a 3-day conference in Arlington, VA.

Three interesting pieces of evidence were featured. Yesterday, we discussed a possible anti-freckle jar found on Gardner Island, which might’ve belonged to Amelia. Today, we’re going to talk about “post-loss radio signals.” And tomorrow, we’ll focus on a strange photograph.

Post-Loss Radio Signals…from Amelia Earhart?

Amelia vanished on July 2, 1937. From July 2 to July 18, radio operators reported 120 signals that could possibly be traced to her Lockheed Electra aircraft. These reports have been largely dismissed by experts who suspect she crashed into the middle of the ocean. However, researchers at TIGHAR recently analyzed these signals using “digitized information management systems, antenna modeling software, and radio wave propagation analysis programs.”

“Amelia Earhart did not simply vanish on July 2, 1937. Radio distress calls believed to have been sent from the missing plane dominated the headlines and drove much of the U.S. Coast Guard and Navy search. When the search failed, all of the reported post-loss radio signals were categorically dismissed as bogus and have been largely ignored ever since.” ~ Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR

TIGHAR found 57 credible signals out of the 120 reports. This indicates Amelia’s airplane remained above-water for several days following her “disappearance.” In turn, this fits with TIGHAR’s hypothesis that Amelia crashed on Gardner Island and her plane remained on land for several days before finally being “washed over the reef.”

“The safest procedure is to transmit only when the engine is running, and battery power is required to start the engine. To run the engine, the propeller must be clear of obstructions, and water level must never reach the transmitter.” ~ Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Obviously, this evidence is circumstantial. And some of the 57 radio signals could still be “hoaxes.” However, we find this particular body of evidence quite interesting. At least four signals were heard by multiple radio stations.  And other radio signals were reported by credible sources.

“281 north Howland – call KHAQQ – beyond north — won’t hold with us much longer — above water — shut off.” ~ Morse Code Message received by the U.S. Navy Radio at Wailupe, Honolulu, July 5, 1937

Well, that’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’re going to examine a photograph taken three months after Amelia’s disappearance, possibly showing the landing gear of her Lockheed Electra aircraft. Also, don’t forget yesterday’s post on glass shards from Gardner Island which might’ve once belonged to Amelia. And of course, next month, we’ll be following TIGHAR’s big expedition back to Gardner Island where researchers hope to excavate Amelia’s plane from the deep waters off the island’s western end. So, stay tuned…there’s lots more to come!

New Evidence for Amelia Earhart?

On July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Now, new evidence has come to light. Are researchers on the verge of solving one of the most spectacular unsolved mysteries of history?

“Amelia Earhart in her flying gear standing in front of an airplane, California, 1922″
Source: George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers – Purdue University

Background on Amelia Earhart

Nearly 75 years ago, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan vanished while attempting a circumnavigational flight around the Earth. For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has searched for them, focusing most of its efforts on tiny Gardner Island.

In less than a month, TIGHAR will return to Gardner Island, hoping to solve this enduring mystery once and for all. In preparation for the expedition, the group recently held a 3-day conference in Arlington, VA.

Three interesting pieces of evidence have been featured thus far. We’re planning to discuss all of them over the coming days. First up are five small pieces of glass recovered by TIGHAR over various expeditions. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about “post-loss radio signals.” And then, we’ll focus on a strange photograph.

Amelia Earhart’s Anti-Freckle Cream?

We already mentioned the small pieces of glass. Individually, they don’t amount to much. But when fully assembled, the glass forms a “nearly complete jar identical in shape to the ones used by Dr. C.H. Berry’s Freckle Ointment.” This particular product was marketed as an anti-freckle cream and was 11% mercury (!). Here’s a photo of it.

“It’s well documented Amelia had freckles and disliked having them.” ~ Joe Cerniglia, TIGHAR

TIGHAR believes Amelia and Fred failed to locate their intended destination, Howland Island. So, they flew 300 miles past it before finally landing on the flat coral reef of uninhabited Gardner Island.

“Broken shards from several glass containers have been recovered from the Seven Site, the archaeological site on the southeast end of Nikumaroro that fits the description of where the partial skeleton of a castaway was discovered in‭ ‬1940.” ~ Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR

However, the anti-freckle jar is not without controversy. It’s not an exact match to surviving examples of the product. For example, it’s made of clear glass rather than opaque white glass. It’s also a slightly different size although this might not be a problem.

“The reassembled artifact jar does,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬fit nicely in a box in which freckle cream was marketed.‭ ‬The known Dr.‭ ‬Berry jars do not.‭ ‬So we know there was a jar of Dr.‭ ‬Berry’s Freckle Ointment of the same size as the artifact jar,‭ ‬but we don’t know whether it was clear glass.” ~ Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of TIGHAR

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, the glass fragments are interesting but ultimately, don’t really prove anything. Their presence, along with other clues, indicates a castaway lived on Gardner Island for a short while. Whether that castaway was Amelia and/or Fred remains to be seen.

Tomorrow, we’re going to take a look at a reinterpretation of some post-disappearance radio signals. And on Tuesday, we’ll examine a photograph taken three months after Amelia’s disappearance, possibly showing the landing gear of her Lockheed Electra aircraft. And of course, next month, we’ll be following TIGHAR’s big expedition back to Gardner Island where researchers hope to excavate Amelia’s plane from the deep waters off the island’s western end. So, stay tuned…there’s lots more to come!

The Search for Amelia Earhart?

At 8:43am on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Nearly 75 years later, her disappearance, along with that of her navigator Fred Noonan, remains one of the most spectacular unsolved mysteries of history.

“Amelia Earhart with her first airplane, a Kinner Airster she called The Canary, ca. 1922″
Source: George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers – Purdue University

Background on Amelia Earhart

We first looked at this mystery back in July 2011. To sum up, Amelia was a famed aviatrix and the first woman to fly a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She vanished in 1937, along with her navigator Fred Noonan and her Lockheed Electra plane while attempting a circumnavigational flight around the Earth.

For more than two decades, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has searched for Amelia, focusing its efforts on tiny Gardner Island. They’ve uncovered an amazing amount of circumstantial evidence in the process. Two days ago, TIGHAR announced its latest expedition, which it hopes will finally answer this enduring mystery.

“So, unless you’ve been on a boat in the middle of the Pacific, you know what our news is. Niku 7 departs July 2, 2012, to do the deep water search we’ve wanted to do for many years. We are so grateful to the wonderful people at the U.S. State department for giving us the platform from which to make the announcement. We’ll have a lot more up on the website in the next day or two. Stay tuned!” – TIGHAR Update, March 20, 2012

Here’s TIGHAR’s general theory of what happened to Amelia, Fred, and the Electra:

  • Having failed to find Howland Island, Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan continued on the navigational line Amelia said they were following.
  • That line led them to uninhabited Gardner Island where Amelia landed the Electra safely on the island’s fringing reef.
  • For the next several nights they used the aircraft’s radio to send distress calls.
  • Radio bearings taken on the signals crossed in the vicinity of Gardner Island.
  • One week after the flight disappeared, three U.S. Navy search planes flew over Gardner Island. By then, the distress calls had stopped. Rising tides and surf had swept the Electra over the reef edge.
  • The Navy fliers saw no airplane but they did see “signs of recent habitation.” They thought that all the islands in the area were inhabited so they moved on. In fact, no one had lived on Gardner since 1892.
  • Earhart and Noonan lived for a time as castaways on the waterless atoll, relying on rain squalls for drinking water. They caught and cooked small fish, seabirds, turtles and clams. Amelia died at a makeshift campsite on the island’s southeast end. Noonan’s fate is unknown.
  • Whatever remains of the Electra lies in deep water off the island’s west end.

For a more detailed explanation as well as supporting evidence, check this out.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Coverage of Amelia Earhart

Where is Amelia Earhart?

At 8:43am on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.  Seventy-four years later, her disappearance, along with that of her navigator Fred Noonan, remains one of the most spectacular unsolved mysteries of history.

“Portrait of Amelia Earhart wearing flying helmet and jacket, ca. 1922″
Source: George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers – Purdue University

Background on Amelia Earhart

07:42: KHAQQ calling Itasca.  We must be on you but cannot see you – but gas is running low.  Have been unable to reach you by radio.  We are flying at 1,000 feet.

Prior to her disappearance, Earhart was a famous aviatrix, best known for being the first woman to fly a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.  In 1936, she decided to plan a 29,000 mile circumnavigational flight around the earth.

07:58: KHAQQ calling Itasca.  We are listening (circling?) but cannot hear you.  Go ahead on 7500 with a long count either now, or on the scheduled time on half hour.

Her first attempt failed due to a blown tire (or according to some, pilot error).  A few months later, Earhart tried again.  With Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left California on May 21, 1937.  Thirty-eight days and 22,000 miles later, she landed in Lae, New Guinea.  On July 2, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in a Lockheed Electra 10E, heading for Howland Island.  Hours later, they vanished, never to be seen again.

What happened to Amelia Earhart?

08:43: KHAQQ calling Itasca. We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.

The above message is the last known transmission received by the United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca, which was tasked with helping Earhart land on Howland Island.

Official search efforts initially focused around Howland Island.  Later, the grid was expanded to include the Phoenix Islands.  Still later, Amelia Earhart’s husband, George P. Putnam, continued the search with no success.  So, what happened to her?  Here are a few of the most prominent theories:

  • Crashed into the Pacific Ocean: Howland Island is a very small piece of land in the very big ocean.  After running out of fuel, she and Noonan were forced to ditch into the ocean.  While perhaps the most widely accepted theory, there is no evidence to support it.
  • Crashed on Gardner Island: This is the favored theory of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).  Based on Earhart’s last transmission, they believe that she maintained her heading and crash-landed on the reef of this uninhabited island.  Some evidence supports this position.  A woman’s skeleton (now missing) was discovered on the island in 1940.  Most recently, TIGHAR found what could be a woman’s finger.  However, as of March 2011, DNA testing of the fragment remains inconclusive.
  • Captured by Japan: Earhart may have crashed on Saipan Island while under Japanese occupation.  After being captured, she and Noonan were executed.  Supporting evidence, while interesting, is scanty.
  • Spy Mission: This is often tied into the one above.  Essentially, it involves Earhart and Noonan deliberately vanishing in order to spy on Japan.  To the best of my knowledge, no evidence exists to support this theory.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Personally, I prefer the second theory.  TIGHAR has done amazing work to uncover a significant body of anecdotal evidence.  You can read the short version of their theory here.  If they are correct, Amelia’s Electra “lies in deep water off the island’s west end.”

Next year, TIGHAR plans a “major underwater search” in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.  Their goal is to find the Electra.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait.  Hey, if anyone connected to TIGHAR is reading this, let me know if you need an extra diver!