I was like, 'Amelia!'

June 14, 2012

Eva Gusnowski

The mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance has long dazzled the world. But recent investigations and uncovered evidence point towards the aviatrix’s final resting place.


amelia earhart

Here’s the gist of the story of her disappearance:

Amelia Earhart wanted to fly around the world. No small feat, but it should have been a piece of cake for the first woman to fly across the Atlantic ocean. The plane was a Lockheed Electra L-10E, and her navigator was Fred Noonan. Earhart and Noonan left Oakland on June 1st, 1937 to Miami, and then it was on to Central/South America, east to Africa, and landed in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29th, 1937.


From New Guinea, the plan was to fly to Howland Island, found between Hawaii and Australia. But a number of problems arose: they were working with inaccurate maps, a radio antennae may have been damaged, they had an inadequate supply of fuel and they left the highest range radio behind, only to name a few of the problems they were facing. The sky was overcast that day, preventing celestial navigation by Noonan, and there was a timing miscommunication between the Electra and the Itasca (the naval vessel that was supposed to be supporting the flight in this leg) because the two crafts were operating on different time zones. At 7:42 am on July 3, 1937, a radio transmission was received from the Electra:

“We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.”

At the time, the last communication from the Electra was detected at 8:43 am, saying:

“We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait,”

However, because they were working from inaccurate maps, they were off position. What happened thereafter is a total mystery.

A large search effort was put together (about $4 million at the time), but nothing was found. The two best theories were that (a) the plane crashed at sea or (b) the plane ran out of fuel and then crashed at sea. Common denominator: crashed at sea.

It is now believed that the Electra landed on the reef just off of Gardner Island, now currently known as Nikumaroro. This is based on evidence of a camp on the island, human bone fragments, a zipper believed to be manufactured in the 1930s. Most recently a jar of freckle cream from Earhart’s era was found in the area, broken into large pieces and found near turtle bones, believed to have been used as a knife. Additionally, in 1940, when the island was initially inhabited (or reinhabited, perhaps?), it was documented that the skeleton of a female castaway, a female shoe, a male shoe and a navigation tool were all found together on the island. However, these bones have been lost in time.


nikumaroro island

                               Does Nikumaroro Island hold the secret to Earhart's grave?

What is now coming to light are a number of distress calls that were received after the disappearance. These included some random calls, but dozens of these calls are now recognized as real distress signals from Amelia Earhart, especially those that gave her call sign “KHAQQ” in morse code. This means that for a time, the plane must have been above water, lending credibility to the theory that the Electra had been landed on the flat reef off of Nikumaroro.

Even new evidence is surfacing with photographs taken in the area a few months after the disappearance. Just off of the reef in one of these pictures, it appears as though there is an object sticking out of the water, the dimensions of which match the size of the landing gear that the Electra used. Could this be the famed lost plane?

amelia earhart

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been investigating the disappearance of Amelia Earhart for years: 75 years to be exact. They’re hoping this July to find irrefutable evidence on the island of Nikumaroro that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were castaways in this region, and now everyone is chipping in. They group is going to use a number of highly sophisticated sonar and mapping techniques to look for a plane at the bottom of the water in the area, which is beyond my basic physics capabilities to understand. Nonetheless, I’m glad that someone does.

As a scientist, it’s pretty hard to ignore a good mystery. Now it’s just time to wait to see how it all pans out. Hopefully these new planes will just make sure to carry enough fuel this time around.



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