Group Fails to Find Amelia Earhart’s Wreckage, Again. How Many Times Have We Seen This Before?

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Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images

Amelia Earhart, seen in the cockpit of a plane.

You know, maybe we’re better off not knowing. After 75 years, the search for Amelia Earhart has become the stuff of legend. But amid a sea of unknowns, one thing’s certain: Scientists remain obsessed with figuring out what happened to Amelia Earhart.

Upon commemorating her 115th birthday Tuesday, yet another search for the remains of her — or her plane — came up empty. And it’s a scenario that’s been repeated countless times since her 1937 disappearance. Sadly, though, we’re no closer to knowing her final resting place. On Tuesday The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery landed back in Hawaii, empty-handed, after a nearly three-week-long expedition.

(PHOTOS: Amelia Earhart, Before Her Mysterious Disappearance)

They were scouring an area in the southwestern Pacific Ocean for any evidence that Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed on the remote Pacific atoll Nikumaroro, called Gardner Island at the time of Earhart’s final leg of her around-the-world flight.  Even after spending $2.2 million on this most recent search mission alone, the failed attempts certainly haven’t dampened TIGHAR’s tenacity in searching for Earhart’s true crash site.

(LIST: Top 10 Most Famous Disappearances)

The TIGHAR group ran into all kinds of trouble in its underwater voyage, gaining only five days of actual search time, half what it expected, because of the potholed cliff face underwater and malfunctioning equipment. Sure, the group hoped for a shiny piece of Electra aircraft (and didn’t find any), but this wasn’t the first time a group went in with high hopes only to come back with pictures of an empty Pacific Ocean.

Ever since Earhart left what is now Papua New Guinea en route to Howland Island in the South Pacific on July 2, 1937, and never made it there, searches have continued. The United States government led the original search, but bypassed Gardner Island after an initial flyover. Finding nothing after 75 years, the strongest theory ever since her disappearance is that she simply crashed into the ocean somewhere along the route, never to be seen again. But that seems rather anti-climactic, doesn’t it?

The desire to know more, to know specifically, has led searchers to scour the seas in large swaths, including the group Nauticos looking in 1,200 square mile blocks of seas north and west of Howland Island as recently as 2006. The group didn’t find anything, but hopes to return. If the theory holds that Earhart’s Electra ran out of fuel, there’s the hypothetical possibility that the plane is still resting at the bottom of the ocean, as deep as 18,000 feet, just waiting to be found. Sounds enticing for deep-sea search teams, no?

While nobody had gained permission from the nation of Kiribati to search the seas near Nikumaroro before this latest expedition (the U.S. State Department helped clear the path on this one), plenty of people have traced the landscape by foot, or even by air. In fact, TIGHAR has found tools, an aluminum panel that could resemble that of an Electra’s, a curved, clear Plexiglass that, again, could be a window from an Electra and a heel of a shoe that — yes, it’s coming — could be that of a 1930s shoe worn by Earhart. TIGHAR has also claimed that new analysis of a photo taken three months after Earhart’s plane went down show what could be landing gear on the island and garbled Coast Guard transmissions originally dismissed could of come from Earhart’s plane on the island, the group says.

Along with Nikumaroro and the open ocean, teams have also followed even wilder theories, including searches near Saipan (one rumor had Earhart captured and executed by Japanese soldiers) and New Britain (if she had turned around, she might have crashed at the island which lies closer to Papua New Guinea).

With nothing substantial to report, the TIGHAR crew will sift through its high-definition video of the search, pore over its sonar data and see what, if anything, is worth exploring in more depth. You didn’t think people would stop searching, did you?

MORE: Scientist Try to Solve Amelia Earhart Mystery Through Her Saliva

5 comments
sierravarney
sierravarney

I live in brunswick and were doing a BIO DAY for my school and well let me just say its very complicated when you hae so much to write about the person but thanks for your article on Amelia this will help me alot thank you thank you thank you thank you

Al Denelsbeck
Al Denelsbeck

Considering that the last radio transmission originated northwest of Howland Island (something that the Nauticos team was smart enough to recognize,) there's no chance the Electra had enough fuel to reach Nikumaroro, 650 klicks south-southeast of Howland. Nor would either Earhart or Noonan have been that pathetic at navigation skills. Finding bits of trash on an island that's seen countless fishing and diving expeditions, not to mention shipwrecks, isn't what most people would call "significant."

All of this has been pointed out before, but it somehow seems to be forgotten every time sensationalist, credulous media stumbles across another publicity-seeker and places story above facts. It's not like it takes fantastic research skills to determine that TIGHAR is chasing ghosts.

Douglas Westfall
Douglas Westfall

So, where do we go from here? Ten Steps to where's Amelia.

Amelia's Lockheed Electra was within 75 miles of her target Howland Island when her radio cut out. The US sent nine ships, 66 aircraft, and well over 3,000 sailors and airmen. They covered well over 250,000 sq. miles of open sea and every island within a 650 mile radius of Howland.

Step 1

US CGC Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts 30, was on watch that morning and said: "In the early morning, signals came in pretty good. I actually did go outside and stand right out the radio shack and thought I would hear a motor any second. Her voice was loud and clear; sounded frantic on her last transmission. Then it cut off." 

Amelia Earhart was an American Heroine, a record-breaking aviator, and a celebrity world wide; but Earhart was not a spy -- she was a decoy.

Taken from, The Hunt For Amelia Earhart

Douglas Westfall, historic publisher, Specialbooks.com

Douglas Westfall
Douglas Westfall

So, where do we go from here?

Amelia's Lockheed Electra was within 75 miles of her target Howland Island when her radio cut out. The US sent nine ships, 66 aircraft, and well over 3,000 sailors and airmen. They covered well over 250,000 sq. miles of open sea and every island within a 650 mile radius of Howland.

1

US CGC Itasca Chief Radioman Leo Bellarts 30, was on watch that morning and said: "In the early morning, signals came in pretty good. I actually did go outside and stand right out the radio shack and thought I would hear a motor any second. Her voice was loud and clear; sounded frantic on her last transmission. Then it cut off." 

Amelia Earhart was an American Heroine, a record-breaking aviator, and a celebrity world wide. Earhart was not a spy; she was a decoy.

Taken from, The Hunt For Amelia Earhart

Douglas Westfall, historic publisher, Specialbooks.com

James Keller
James Keller like.author.displayName 1 Like

I've seen the movie about her, starring Hilary Swank, and I'm pretty curious myself as to what happened to her. I don't think these people will ever stop searching.