New search for the wreckage will start on July 2 - 75 years after Amelia Earhart set off on her doomed trip
Research team will search Pacific island of Nikmaroro for crash debris
A new search for missing aviator Amelia Earhart will resume next month, 75 years to the day after she disappeared over the Pacific. A research team will set off for the remote island of Nikumaroro to try and establish what happened to the legendary pilot after she vanished on July 2 1937. It's the tenth time in 23 years the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) will have searched the island for clues about Earhart's disappearance - but this time they'll be looking specifically for crash debris. Earhart, then 39, was on the final stage of an an ambitious round-the-world flight along the equator in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra when she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared.
The holder of several aeronautical records, including the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, Earhart had set off from New Guinea to refuel at Howland Island for a final long-distance hop to California. In what turned out to be her final radio message, she declared she was unable to find Howland and that fuel was running low. Several search-and-rescue missions ordered by then-president Franklin Roosevelt turned up no trace of Earhart or Noonan, who were eventually presumed dead at sea. Conspiracy theories flourished. One contended that Earhart was held by Japanese imperial forces as a spy. Another claimed she completed her flight, but changed her identity and settled in New Jersey.
TIGHAR is working on the hypothesis that the duo reached Gardner Island, then a British possession and now known as Nikumaroro, and managed to survive for an unknown period of time. Nikumaroro, uninhabited in Earhart's time, and a mere 3.7 miles (six kilometers) long by 1.2 miles (two kilometers) wide, is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of Howland Island. This year's TIGHAR expedition will see about 20 scientists depart Hawaii to explore over 10 days both the island and an underwater reef slope at the west end of the island.
'This time, we'll be searching for debris from the aircraft,' TIGHAR's founder and executive director Richard Gillespie, himself a pilot and former aviation accident investigator, revealed. They will be equipped with a multi-beam sonar to map the ocean floor, plus a remote-controlled device similar to the one that found the black boxes from the Rio-to-Paris Air France that crashed into the South Atlantic in 2009.
If debris is found, it will be photographed and its location carefully documented for a future expedition, Gillespie said. Sustaining the search are clues worthy of detective story, including items from the 1930s previously discovered on the island such as a jar of face cream, a penknife blade, the heel of a woman's shoe and a bit of Plexiglas. Skeletons of birds apparently cooked over a campfire have also contributed to the mystery, and settlers who reached Nikumaroro after 1937 have spoken of the existence of aircraft wreckage.
Bone fragments have meanwhile been subjected to DNA testing that turned out to be inconclusive, said Gillespie, who remains hopeful that parts of Earhart's Electra remain to be found. The US government is lending technical and diplomatic support to the TIGHAR effort, budgeted at $2 million and otherwise privately funded. A documentary is due to be broadcast on the Discovery cable television channel.
THEORIES BEHIND THE DEATHS OF AMELIA EARHART AND FRED NOONAN
-The most widely accepted theory is that the aeroplane ran out of fuel and ditched in the sea. There have been several searches by many different professionals eager to solve the mystery, but none have been proven.
-Another popular theory is that they landed on the island of Nikumaroro in the Pheonix Islands, 350 miles southeast of Howland Island and fended for themselves for serveral months until they succumbed to injury or disease. Improvised tools and bits of Plexiglas that are consistent with that of an Electra window were found on the island.
-A few theorists reckon that she Earhart was spying on Japan and had been captured and executed. This theory has been discounted by the American authorities and press.
-A rumour claimed that she was one of many women sending messages on Tokyo Rose, an English-language Japanese propaganda station designed to attack the Allies' morale.
-An Australian aircraft engineer said he found a map that showed Earhart and Noonan may have turned round to try and refuel but crashed before getting to an airstrip.
-The most whacky theory is that she was still alive and had a different identity. A woman fron New Jersey successfully sued for $1.5m in damages from the author of a book who pursued this theory.