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.
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.
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?