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Home > History > The Search for Amelia Earhart

The Search for Amelia Earhart

This article discusses the search for Amelia Earhart (that persists to this day) and the various theories about her disappearance.

Amelia Earhart

The Search for Amelia Earhart

The mystery surrounding the fate of Amelia Earhart has endured for over eighty years.  In her attempt to circumnavigate the Earth by air, Earhart disappeared on July 2, 1937, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean amidst the thousands of tiny islands known as Oceania. We know she was trying to find tiny Howland Island to refuel but may have been hundreds of miles off-course. Attempts at radio communication between the U.S. Coast Guard ship stationed at Howland Island and Earhart’s aircraft proved unsuccessful in what is thought to be the plane’s final hours. Many hypotheses have emerged over the years, including one that suggests Earhart and her co-pilot, Fred Noonan may have either landed or crash-landed on Nikumaroro, then called Gardner Island.

The Gardner Island Theory

According to the Gardner Island Theory, Amelia and Noonan would have flown south after failing to find Howland. The theory posits that before they ran out of gas, they would have flown over Gardner Island, one of a group of islands known as the Phoenix Islands, which are part of the Republic of Kiribati today.  A week after Earhart’s disappearance, U.S. Navy planes searched the island. Although they found signs of recent habitation, they found no signs of Earhart or Noonan. In 1941, however British researchers on Gardner Island found a skeleton. They determined, however, that it belonged to a 5’5” male. Unfortunately, the bones have since been lost. In 1998, scientists analyzing the original measurement data from the 1941 skeleton, found that it more likely belonged to a tall, white female of European ancestry, raising the possibility that the lost skeleton could have been Earhart. In 2015, another study refuted the 1998 findings and concluded that the original analysis was more likely to be accurate. In 2018, however, an additional study conducted by forensic anthropologist Richard Jantz determined that Earhart’s bone measurements more closely matched those from the Gardner Island skeleton than 99% percent of people who would have lived during Earhart’s time. It’s important to note that these finding are based on estimations taken from photographs rather than from the actual bones.

TIGHAR

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has sent several expeditions to Nikumaroro in the last few decades. They hypothesized that Earhart and Noonan landed on a coral reef and died on the island. TIGHAR scientists and anthropologists have discovered numerous artifacts including tools, metal scraps and parts which may have been from an aircraft, and a curious fragment of Plexiglas that is said to be similar to the Plexiglas used in Earhart’s Electra aircraft. Despite the compelling findings, all evidence remains circumstantial and no “smoking gun” has been discovered. 

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