Expedition aims to solve Earhart mystery
Researchers seeking to discover Amelia Earhart's fate 75 years after she vanished over the Pacific have set off from Hawaii.
Researchers on the $2 million (€1.5 million) expedition will travel 2,900 kilometres by ship from Honolulu to Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati to look for wreckage of her plane near a remote island where they believe the US aviator died a castaway.
They believe Earhart's Lockheed Electra may rest in waters offshore from where they suspect she survived for weeks or months in 1937.
Richard Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), puts forward the theory Earhart's plane was washed off the reef by surf days after Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed on Nikumaroro, about 644km southeast of their Howland Island destination.
The duo had departed Papua New Guinea July 2nd in Earhart's quest to circumnavigate the globe along an equatorial route.
(L) Amelia Earhart is pictured with her Lockheed Electra10E before her ill-fated quest to fly around the world 75 years ago. Photograph: PRNewsFoto/Newscom/Reuters. (R) A close-up view of what scientists say could be the undercarriage of a Lockheed Electra airplane is pictured at the reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, in a October 1937 photograph. Photograph: Tighar/Eric Bevington/Reuters
Mr Gillespie said circumstantial evidence collected on previous trips to Nikumaroro makes a strong case for his theory that Earhart ended her days as a castaway, ultimately perishing in the island's harsh conditions.
Discovered items include what appears to be jar of a once-popular brand of anti-freckle cream from the 1930s, a clothing zipper from the same decade, a bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart carried, and piles of fish and bird bones indicative of a Westerner trying to survive.
"We have hints as to how long she did survive," Mr Gillespie said. "Based on the amount of bones, she survived a number of weeks, maybe months. This is a whole chapter in Amelia Earhart's life that no one ever knew. It's heroic stuff."
The state of the discovered fish bones found by what Gillespie believes was Earhart's campsite leads him to believe they were consumed by a Westerner.
"Pacific Islanders usually eat the head of the fish. That's often what they think is the best part. This person isn't eating them," he said."We found giant clamshells. . . . A Pacific Islander will catch them while open and cut them out. There were several up at the campsite bashed in," he added, saying others were laid up concave as if to catch rainwater.
"We've found bottles standing in what was a campfire, with the bottoms melted but the top not heat-damaged, and pieces of wire fashioned into a loop. It looks like someone was boiling water to make it safe to drink.
Researchers have also found bone fragments, although Mr Gillespie said these were too compromised to provide DNA for testing. He believes a partial skeleton found by a British officer in 1940 may have been Earhart's. The skeleton was taken to Fiji. A doctor there concluded it belonged to a man, but Gillespie said a reexamination of the recorded bone dimensions indicate the remains were of a Caucasian female.
Found along with the skeleton were a man's and woman's shoe, and a sextant box.What happened to the bones remains a mystery.
Mr Gillespie travelled with his group to Fiji last summer to try to find them based on old records. He said they did find a box of bones, but that testing showed they belonged to a Polynesian female.
Mr Gillespie says there has been no evidence of the fate of Earhart's navigator, Fred Noonan. "We don't know much about Fred. The partial skeleton found in 1940 was that of a woman who had died by the campsite."