She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. The public called her “Queen of the Air.” She was awarded medals for her achievements, was friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, a pioneer in her field, wife to one of the most popular publisher’s of her time. She was also a victim to one of the most infamous mysteries in history.
Amelia Earhart disappeared on July 2nd, 1937 somewhere over the Pacific Ocean while flying the longest global trek ever attempted. Despite the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard’s best efforts, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were never found, nor was evidence of their Lockheed Electra 10E plane ever discovered.
In the nearly eighty years that have passed since Earhart’s disappearance, theories have abounded. Many believed the Electra simply ran out of gas and they fell into the Pacific. Others speculate that she was captured by the Japanese. However, The International Group for Historical Artifact Recovery (TIGHAR) hypothesizes “that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan landed, and eventually died, on Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati.” TIGHAR originally started what they call “The Earhart Project” in 1998 by collecting evidence and testimonies before initiating eleven expeditions out to Nikumaroro. They are presently raising funds for their twelfth venture.
Earhart and Noonan were last seen on the island of Lae, New Guinea where they stopped to refuel. They were due to refuel again on board the USS Itasca near Howland Island. Earhart was flying at roughly 1,000 ft with minimal gas when the navy lost radio contact at noon, July 2nd.
During the six days succeeding the Electra’s disappearance, Pan Am stations on Midway Island, Hawaii, Wake Island all heard distress calls from a person claiming to be Earhart, and used their direction finders to estimate that the calls were coming from near or on Gardener Island (Nikumaroro). People on the U.S. mainland even heard Earhart making calls over the airwaves. One sixteen year old girl in Florida, Betty Clank, claimed to have heard Earhart and a man “who seemed to be out of his head and he was struggling to get out of wherever they were and she was struggling with him.” Many of these transmissions have led TIGHAR to believe that Noonan was severally injured, Earhart considerably so. Clank also heard the woman repeat something that sounded like New York City.
In 1928, a British freighter called the SS Norwich City wrecked (and remains today) on the northwestern reefs of Nikumaroro.
On July 8th, the radio transmissions stopped. TIGHAR speculates that either the Electra’s radio lost battery power or the plane actually sunk into the water. The Navy and Coast Guard continued to search for another ten days, but when they found no evidence of an airplane or a crash, they waved off the radio calls as hoaxes and abandoned the rescue mission. TIGHAR believes “Earhart (and possibly 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.”
The most devastating piece of evidence of all is the testimony of Lieutenant John Lambrecht, a navy pilot apart of the search party who flew over Nikumaroro on July 9th: “Signs of recent habitation were clearly evident.”
The island hadn’t been populated since 1892.
In the years following, several mistakes during the search for Earhart were recognized and remedied. Today, for those who go missing in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the United States Coast Guards moves heaven and earth to find the unfortunate victims. If only they had used the same zealousness in 1937, a wife and a husband, a daughter and a son, might’ve been saved.
– Chloe Cushing, senior
On August 5th, 2016, TIGHAR published a 30 minute long summary of their evidence and explorations of Nikumaroro. Here is the Youtube link: