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Amelia Earhart: Case Closed?

Buzz Poole
07/03/2012 - 06:44
Nikumaroro circa October 1937, via Discovery News

Seventy-five years ago, on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and the Lockheed Electra they were attempting to fly around the world disappeared. Exactly what happened to Earhart, Noonan, and the plane is a matter that has been speculated upon and scrutinized pretty much since they lost contact with the world at large. Earhart was already an international celebrity by the time she endeavored to the be the first female pilot to circle the globe and as it became clear that she would not be heard from again rumors abounded. Some posited that she had been spying on the Japanese and when the plane crashed on Saipan the Japanese recovered her and then executed her. Eventually proved false, another theory claimed that Earhart had assumed a new identity and lived out her years in New Jersey.

Of course, humans like to have answers to pretty much everything, or at least like to think they have answers, so the quest to solve the mystery of Earhart's disappearance has not let up. In fact, in light of some new discoveries, the efforts to resolve this matter have redoubled of late. In fact, as I type, a ship is heading for the isolated island of Nikumaroro in the western Pacific, where more and more people are beginning to think Earhart and Noonan lived as castaways, perhaps for as long as months. Two key factors, albeit circumstantial factors, are fueling this new optimism about solving this puzzle.

First: according to this Discovery News report, Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes a new clue has been spotted in an old photograph. Nearly impossible to see with the naked eye, what appears to be a manmade object juts out of the ocean in a 1937 photograph snapped by a British officer surveying Nikumaroro for possible settlement. In the process of digitizing the collection to which this photograph belongs, an archivist noticed the object, which very well might be part of an airplane, or not. But Gillespie claims that "when we plotted the location, we realized it was in the same place where, in 1999, a former resident of Nikumaroro (a colony was established on the island in December of 1938 and lasted until 1963), told us of seeing debris in 1940. Her father, the island carpenter, told her it was the wreckage of an airplane." Very interesting!

Second: in recent months, as this Christian Science Monitor article reports the discovery of artifacts on Nikumaroro, "showing evidence of secondary use as tools for cutting or scraping; large numbers of fish and bird bones collected in, or associated with, ash and charcoal deposits; several hundred mollusk shells, as well as bones from at least one turtle; bone fragments and dried fecal matter that might be of human origin. . . . Other artifacts (some of them reported in 1940 but then lost) include a bone-handled pocket knife of the type known to have been carried by Earhart, part of a man’s shoe, part of a woman’s shoe, a zipper of the kind manufactured in the 1930s, a woman’s compact, and broken pieces of a jar appearing to be the same size and unusual shape as one holding “Dr. Berry's Freckle Ointment.”

I for one like the idea of not knowing everything, but I'm in the minority on this and I have to admit there is something very intriguing about this developing theory. The TIGHAR expedition will be relying on all sorts of high-tech equipment to plumb the dark depths of the waters around Nikumaroro. If they find Earhart's aircraft it will be quite a discovery and a conclusion to the story of one of the world's all-time great adventurers.

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