Adventure is worthwhile in itself. -Amelia Earhart
Nikumaroro, an island fragment of the Republic of Kiribati in the central tropical Pacific Ocean, doesn’t receive many visitors. This month, however, the uninhabited coral atoll became the focus of a privately-funded expedition by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Its leader, Richard Gillespie, and a coterie of researchers are determined to get to the bottom of one of the most enduring mysteries of 20th century aviation: the fate of Amelia Earhart.
TIGHAR, which has been investigating Earhart’s disappearance since 1988, launched its current expedition on July 3 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the search for the missing aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan. Earhart, who had earned the distinction of being the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, endeavored to break yet another record in the spring of 1937 by circumnavigating the globe.
Following a failed first attempt, Earhart and Noonan successfully departed Miami on June 1, and made subsequent stops in South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. On July 2, the pair lost contact with the United States Coast Guard cutter Itasca while en route from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island. Their remains were never found. Although speculations abound as to Earhart’s ultimate fate—one theory put forth by author Randall Brink in Lost Star: the Search for Amelia Earhart is that the Japanese captured the pilot as a spy—the general consensus is that Earhart and Noonan perished at sea after running out of fuel.
Richard Gillespie and his colleagues hope to use current technologies to put all conjecture to rest. He believes that Earhart died as a castaway on an uninhabited island in Republic of Kiribati, an area 300 miles southeast of Howland Island, the aviator’s original destination. ABC News reports the evidence that TIGHAR uncovered during previous investigations of the site on Nikumaroro: "‘We just know the bones of a woman, Amelia we think, were found there,’" Gillespie said. "‘Based on the volume of food remains, and also, the context that a lot of the artifacts were found this was somebody who had figured out how to catch fish and birds and how to get clams open.’"
Previous TIGHAR expeditions have yielded various artifacts on Nikumaroro: fragments of a jar which may have contained a popular anti-freckle cream, a warped glass bottle nestled in the remains of a campfire, and other toiletry and cosmetic articles that were produced in the 1930s. The current expedition, in concert with previous findings, may substantiate the theory of Earhart’s ultimate fate as a castaway. Regardless of the outcome, the Discovery Channel has dispatched a crew to film the endeavor, and is planning to release a documentary on the project in August 2012.
Stay tuned for further developments as the investigation unfolds. You can read daily reports on TIGHAR’s Earhart Project website.
For biographical information on Amelia Earhart, please check out these titles in the Pratt Library catalog.
This video from Internet Archive shows rare footage of Amelia Earhart's last flight.