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’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

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