Researchers sail off on quest for Amelia Earhart's fate

Tue Jul 3, 2012 10:28pm EDT
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By Malia Mattoch McManus

HONOLULU (Reuters) - Researchers seeking to chronicle Amelia Earhart's fate 75 years after she vanished over the Pacific set off from Hawaii on a $2 million expedition on Tuesday to look for wreckage of her plane near a remote island where they believe the U.S. aviator died a castaway.

Researchers will travel 1,800 miles by ship from Honolulu to Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, where they believe Earhart's Lockheed Electra may rest in waters offshore from where they suspect she survived for weeks or months in 1937.

Richard Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), theorizes Earhart's plane was washed off the reef by surf days after Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, landed on Nikumaroro, about 400 miles southeast of their Howland Island destination.

The duo had departed Papua New Guinea July 2 in Earhart's quest to circumnavigate the globe along an equatorial route. Gillespie said circumstantial evidence collected on previous trips to Nikumaroro makes a strong case for his theory that Earhart ended her days as a castaway, ultimately perishing in the island's harsh conditions.

Discovered items include what appears to be jar of a once-popular brand of anti-freckle cream from the 1930s, a clothing zipper from the same decade, a bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart carried, and piles of fish and bird bones indicative of a Westerner trying to survive.

"We have hints as to how long she did survive," Gillespie said. "Based on the amount of bones, she survived a number of weeks, maybe months. This is a whole chapter in Amelia Earhart's life that no one ever knew. It's heroic stuff."

The state of the discovered fish bones found by what Gillespie believes was Earhart's campsite leads him to believe they were consumed by a Westerner.

"Pacific Islanders usually eat the head of the fish. That's often what they think is the best part. This person isn't eating them," he said.   Continued...

The reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, is pictured in this October 1937 photograph released on March 21, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, saying fresh evidence from the remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of renowned Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. REUTERS/TIGHAR/Eric Bevington/TIGHAR/Handout