Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Amelia Earhart mystery – 1937 photograph could be clue to her fate


Amelia Earhart mystery – 1937 photograph could be clue to her fate 

Back in June of 2013 I blogged about the news of the latest evidence pointing to the popular theory regarding the disappearance of noted aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan during their attempted around-the-world flight in 1937.  This theory has it that Earhart and Noonan missed their scheduled refuelling stop at the tiny (< 1 mile square) Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean and flew on in their twin-engined Lockheed Electra until forced to come down on one of a group of then-uninhabited atolls known as the Phoenix Islands - probably the larger Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro).

This hypothesis is by no means a recent one - Gardner Island was identified as a potential emergency landing ground almost immediately after the Electra's disappearance and reconnaissance flights were made over the atoll during the initial two-week official search, with pilots noting "signs of recent habitation" but no "answering wave from possible inhabitants" when they zoomed low over the rocks.  Later private searches including around the Phoenix Islands produced no evidence of pilots or machine and their ultimate fate has been the subject of investigations and conspiracy theories for three-quarters of a century.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHER) - a non-profit organisation founded in 1985 for "aviation archaeology and historic preservation" - have been pursuing the Gardner Island theory for several years now, culminating in last year's expedition to Nikumaroro where sonar scans of the surrounding sea bed threw up an odd shadow 600ft below the waves that could be the remains of the Electra.

Piece of metal may offer clue to disappearance of Amelia Earhart's plane

Now TIGHER are following up another lead with the discovery of a previously unknown photograph (which can be seen in the original Miami Herald article) of Earhart's Lockheed Electra at Miami Municipal Airport on the 1st June 1937, shortly before take-off for the next stint of the journey to Puerto Rico.  In it, a detail not seen in any other photo of the time - a sheet of metal covering what would previously have been a window.  More intriguingly, no record of this repair exists among all the documentation linked to Earhart's flight.

Among the many artefacts that TIGHAR have brought back from Nikumaroro - which include a 1930s-style woman's shoe (similar to ones worn by Earhart), bearings & tools, metal zips and pieces of Plexiglas almost identical in shape and design to that used on the Electra - is a section of aluminium panel bearing 1930s construction techniques.  It is this piece of metal that researchers are now closely comparing to a computer-enhanced blow-up of this never-before-seen image in the hope that they can match the rivet patterns and so prove beyond doubt that Earhart and Noonan did not crash into the Pacific Ocean but did indeed make it to Gardner Island, where they may have even survived for a time before succumbing to starvation and exposure.

If it can be proved that the aluminium panel seen in this new picture matches the piece recovered from Nikumaroro then it must surely settle beyond doubt one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history - one that has remained unsolved for 77 years.  While this would not be the first bit of tangible evidence suggesting the Electra landed on Gardner Island, and with the Pacific Ocean ditch still a possibility, if the rivet patterns do match it will - taken with the other items found - be as conclusive as possible proof that the last resting place of Amelia Earhart, one of the greatest women pilots of the 20th century, has been found.  I for one certainly look forward to finding out!


  1. Part of me almost hopes it isn't from Earhart's plane, as that would end the mystery!

  2. It would certainly be very interesting to find out. Please keep us posted.


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