Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Disappearance of Aviatrix Amelia Earhart 72 Years Ago May Finally Be Solved

Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved? 'Investigation Junkies' to Launch New Expedition

DNA Evidence on a Remote Island May Reveal the Truth About Earhart's Disappearance

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It has been 72 years since famed aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while attempting to fly around the world. But the mystery remains unsolved: Nobody knows exactly what happened to Earhart or her plane.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery is planning another expedition to Nikumaroro Island in the hopes of uncovering DNA evidence that may show Amelia Earhart survived there for a short period of time.
(Courtesy of TIGHAR)
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Now researchers at the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or Tighar, say they are on the verge of recovering DNA evidence that would demonstrate Earhart had been stranded on Nikumaroro Island(formerly known as Gardner Island) before finally perishing there.

During May and June of next year, Tighar will launch a new $500,000 expedition, continuing the archaeological work it has been doing on the island since 2001.

"We think we will be able to come back with DNA," said Tighar's Executive Director Ric Gillespie, who is working with two DNA labs in Ontario, Canada, Genesis Genomics and Molecular World. "We were out there in 2007 under the impression that in order to extract DNA we would need to find a piece of a human, and we didn't find anything like that. But we did find what's best described as personal effects of the castaway that died there."


Check out this interactive to find out more about 's 2007 expedition.

During the 2007 trip, Gillespie and his crew uncovered early 20th-century makeup and two pieces of broken glass that match a 1930s compact mirror, among other artifacts. DNA can be extracted from such remnants as long as those artifacts aren't contaminated during the collection process. Unfortunately, in 2007, they were. Armed with a new collection protocol, Gillespie and his team will return to the site to seek out new items during their May 2010 excursion.

Earlier this year a woman directly related to Earhart, who wishes to remain anonymous, agreed to provide Gillespie's group with a reference sample of mitochondrial DNA. This type of genetic material differs from nuclear DNA in many ways, primarily because it's passed down the female line. Mitochondrial DNA, also referred to as mtDNA, is often used in forensics research. Because mtDNA is found in the cell's mitochondria, rather than the chromosomes of the cell's fragile nucleus, it isn't as quick to break down even when subject to difficult environmental conditions.

How Did Amelia Earhart Die?

Gillespie said Nikumaroro Island, located about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii, was uninhabited until 1938 -- one year after Earhart disappeared. At that time the island was under British colonial rule, so the first inhabitants were an eight-man team instructed to start clearing land for a village and coconut plantation. Then, two years later, in 1940, the island's administratorfound bones, and a campsite.

"We don't know what happened to those bones," Gillespie said, explaining that the skeleton was sent to Fiji and the British lost track of it in the summer of 1941.

The most recent analysis of the bone measurements indicates they were those of a white female of northern European descent.

Ever since a drought forced out the Nikumaroro settlers in 1963, nobody else has lived on the 2.5-mile-long island.

"We have only excavated 5 percent of the campsite. There's every reason to think there's more stuff out there," Gillespie said.

But not everyone shares Gillespie's theory.

Elgen Long, 82, author of "Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved," adamantly believes that Earhart crashed in the Pacific Ocean after running out of fuel.


One of the best-known Earhart historians, Long served as a consultant for the upcoming movie "Amelia" starring Hilary Swank, scheduled for release in October.

Click Here to watch the movie trailer.

Differing Theories

"Ric Gillespie and the Tighar group have done a tremendous amount of research over many years, and have added much information to the knowledge of Earhart's last flight," Long wrote in an e-mail to "However, when world-recognized experts in aircraft performance (Dr. F.E.C. Culick, California Institute of Technology), and radio propagation experts (Thomas Vinson, Rod Blocksome and radio engineers at Collins Radio, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) analyzed the data they came to different conclusions than Tighar."

Long believes Earhart ran out of fuel shortly after 2013 GMT, July 2, 1937.

"She was then forced to ditch her plane into the ocean somewhere near Howland Island," he said. "No message or signals of any kind were ever verified as having really come from Earhart's plane after her last and only partly finished message to the Coast Guard Cutter Itasca at 2013 GMT."

To that, Gillespie said: That's what I used to think.

"What Elgen needs to explain is, who sent all those radio distress calls in the days following Earhart's disappearance? He'll say that the Coast Guard later proclaimed them to all be hoaxes and misunderstandings. That is true. It is also true that the Coast Guard had no basis for saying that," Gillespie said.

Was Earhart Trasmitting Calls from Land?

Gillespie carefully studied the nearly 200 possible radio messages that could have been from Earhart. Many of them were hoaxes, but Gillespie believes some of the calls, made days after she first disappeared, are credible.

"Either Earhart was on land somewhere south of Howard Island and North of Samoa or there was a hoaxer in that region who had the capability of sending signals on Earhart's frequency and could mimic Earhart's voice and information about Earhart that only Earhart and her closest associates could have known. These calls go on for days. They don't occur randomly over time, they occur at night and also at times when tide is low at the island where we think she landed."

So the debate continues, and so does the search for remnants of Earhart's plane. Ever since the U.S. government failed to find "Lady Lindy," as Earhart was known, during its $4 million exhaustive air and sea search, researchers have tried to piece the puzzle together.

Gillespie and his crew have searched the waters of the Pacific many times before, but this time they'll go much deeper, near a reef where they believe her plane crashed. His team's goal is to explore 1,000 feet beneath the ocean's surface. "This location is right where the Navy thought she was when they were doing the search" at the time of her disappearance, he said.

The Tighar crew will include several volunteers, many of whom have gone on previous expeditions, and who have advanced degrees in the sciences.

"The volunteers are really bright people who are just fascinated by this mystery, and we are all motivated by the same thing ... and it is not to honor the memory of Amelia Earhart," said Gillespie, who has led nine expeditions searching for evidence of Earhart's demise over the past 20 years. "We are investigation junkies. We love the thrill of the search and scientific process."

They'll fund the pricey trip by bringing along 10 sponsors, who will each pay $50,000. Gillespie is still choosing which 10 will go, so if you have an extra 50k to spare, you still have a chance of being accepted. To find out more about the Earhart Project, click Here.

Public Fascination With Earhart Continues

As Earhart fans well know, it isn't just her record-breaking flights that captured the world's attention. Earhart was also an editor for Cosmopolitan magazine and traveled and lectured frequently.

'Time Is on Our Side'

Long and his wife spent years documenting Earhart's life.

"Her audiences were maybe 95 percent women," said Long. "Her message resonated with women at that time -- what she was trying to prove was that women could do anything men could do. So she picked out the most manly things she could think of doing and did them as well as the men or sometimes better."

According to the Amelia Earhart Foundation, young Earhart "climbed trees, 'belly-slammed' her sled to start it downhill and hunted rats with a .22 rifle. She also kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management and mechanical engineering."

Earhart tributes are peppered across the United States: streets, a mountain and even a forest are named after her. And female pilots still look to her as a source of inspiration, especially those who enter the Air Race Classic every year.

Hope still remains that one day, her Lockheed A-10E Electra will be recovered.

"The technology is allowing us to search much better, cheaper and more thoroughly underwater," Long said. "Time is one our side and technology is on our side. It'll be found."

t has been 72 years since famed aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while attempting to fly around the world. But the mystery remains unsolved: Nobody knows exactly what happened to Earhart or her plane. Now researchers at the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or Tighar, say they are on the verge of recovering DNA evidence that would demonstrate Earhart had been stranded on Nikumaroro Island (formerly known as Gardner Island) before finally perishing...
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31 Comments | Add Yours
I hope they find out what really happened to her.I't would bring some peace to her family God Bless them.She was an amazing women from what i read about her.And she will always be remembered for that.
I wouldn't have expected prank radio calls way back then. I thought only our generation was capable and willing to distract any chance of a rescue like that.
Well - the comments brought a smile to my face, even after waking so early...I grew up in Kansas and was a great fan of Amelia Earhardt. Almost anybody who wasn't in debt and owned anything was regarded as wealthy in the '30's, folks. And Putnam was a great promoter, who pursued Earhart and promoted her to the public very, very heavily after promoting himself to her, until she accepted him.Putnam was why many of my Kansas relatives were disgusted with my preoccupation with Earhardt. In later years I learned she was far from the best of female pilots, but I still liked her. The Depression was hard. The movies, the stories of Seabiscuit and Earhardt, of Shirley Temple and other celebrities helped people to get their minds off the dismal times. And if it were her compact - well, Putnam was a very good promoter, and I would expect she would have been prepared to be photographed, as she certainly expected success. The sadness I found as I got older and read more about Earhardt was learning she hadn't followed safety protocols and didn't have her equipment in order. THAT I never really forgave...Where did the idea come from that Earhardt's exploits were paid for by government money? The very idea!
"Investigation junkies?" That's pretty pathetic. I had the pleasure of working with Ric Gillespie and TIGHAR on three expeditions in Maine, seeking remains of the lost bi-plane "L'Oiseau Blanc," (The White Bird) which disappeared in 1927 while competing with Charles Lindbergh and others in the trans-Atlantic race. TIGHAR is a highly professional organization that follows strict scientific protocols in its work. It deserves better than to be lumped with rock-star followers. Robert Lockwood Mills, author of "The Lindbergh Syndrome--Heroes and Celebrities in a New Gilded Age"
Fascinating stuff! Discovery for its own sake is a valuable human impulse. I don't think it is very radical to suggest she WAS a spy/agent for the US is known that some celebrities of the time were, to one degree or another, for whatever their participation was worth. It was seen as part of the war effort, and many volunteered to help. I don't know any more than anyone else, less than some, but I strongly suspect she was taken prisoner by the Japanese after crashing/finding her way to land and perished in their custody. I'm interested to see what they find! Oh, as for the taking of a compact, why so odd? If only for the mirror, would be something worth having on a long trip, and yes, maybe she DID want to have her powder with her.
A ghost of aviationShe was swallowed by the skyOr by the sea, like me she had a dream to flyLike icarus ascendingOn beautiful foolish armsAmelia, it was just a false alarmcredit: Joni Mitchell
I'm surprised at those who object to these reasearchers/explorers spending PRIVATE money for whatever they wish, especially since -- as one poster has already pointed out -- the half-million they're spending does go, to considerable extent, paying workers, from in factories to delivery folks to retail sales clerks. So, to argue "spend the money on people" is pointless -- it already is being so spent. As for whether or not the search for AE is worth it, historically speaking, it is. No, we likely won't ever learn anything of direct benefit for us today ("today" being whenever her location is positively identified, if ever), not in the sense of giving us knowledge to, say, cure some tropical disease. But human curiosity being what it is -- including my own -- I hope the quest continues. Coming full circle -- if it continues, then money will continue being spent . . . benefitting PEOPLE -- right now, today. (I really get weary of these "Blow off the space program! Spend the money on people!" arguments. Where in hell do people holding this view think big chunks of money for stuff like space exploration, the military, cancer research -- heck, you name it -- go to, anyway? Haven't they ever heard of SALARIES countless tens of thousands get as a result of these programs???)
DemNme5, there wasn't enough fresh water on Nikumaroro to have kept Earhart alive if she landed there uninjured. Historybuff and jimhum, natives all over the South Sea islands have been telling investigators and tourists for decades that they "saw" Earhart as a prisoner of the Japanese. They can't all be right. If they're not malicious liars or practical jokers, then they're trying to be good hosts by telling their visitors what they want to hear.
Several years ago PBS aired a program which focused on female pilots. AE was mentioned only tangentially, as having fame because of her marriage to Putnam and his consequent sponsorship of her flights.Apparently there were many more qualified female pilots. They actually had the comprehensive training that AE lacked.Who knows? One wonders if Amelia had the necessary training (or if someone else who was more qualified had flown) this tragedy might have been avoided.
I never thought the Titanic would be located, and it was found. I hope that Amelia's fate is eventually discovered too. Very exciting and nice to think of something besides the economy.
Wouldn't it be fun to go on an expedition like this! It would be great to have the mystery solved, but even if it's not the interest in AE will continue.
" could say her greatest accomplishment was convinsing a rich upper crust millionair to dump his wife and marry her so she could finance her expensive hobby."George Putnam was by no means "upper-crust" nor was he a millionaire--not even close. That his family ran a publishing company isn't much different than running a trucking company--it just sounds fancier. Putnam, a former Montana newspaperman and briefly the mayor of a small Montana city (can't remember--Butte? Bozeman?) wss alwsays scrambling for money. Yes, Putnam built a big house in Rye, NY, which sounds very WASPy, and he moved in fancy circles, but that's simply because he was an absolute ace promoter and PRman. AE hardly had to "convinse"[sic] GPP to marry her--there's some evidence that he proposed to her as many as seven times before she said yes--the point is more that GPP saw her to be a promoter's goldmine, so he convinced her to marry him.Stephan Wilkinson
So, if it is some government conspiracy surrounding her work pre-World War II, why would it still be considered secret 72 years later? The biggest secret of the war -- the atom bomb -- is almost fully disclosed now. Why still keep Earhart's disappearance secret if it ever was? If she was captured by the Japanese, why would they keep it a secret? Because it was an atrocity? Heck, we know the Japanese commited atrocities during the war. Why would this one be any different?
Zinglesloff - "What does it matter at this point?" --> I'm not sure asking whether or not it matters where or how or when she died is really the question. The researchers in this case are admittedly in it for "the thrill of the search and scientific process" like was stated in the article. Why do people jump out of planes or climb dangerous cliffs? ... they just do. It's not like they're spending our tax dollars on this adventure so ...
What does it matter at this point? It's been 72 years, it's not like family members are in limbo waiting for closure. Almost everyone who knew her is also dead by now. RIP Amelia Earhart, I don't think it matters how or where you died.
To address one posters comment... Why is that when a woman is interested in flight it's considered a hobby but when the Wright Brothers do it, they are thought to have had a mission or purpose? I also think it's silly to think that the only reason she did it was to prove that a woman could do whatever a man could do. It's more likely that she was very interested in flight and only later history spun it to mean something else. Nobody takes on a life long quest just out of spite. She was obviously dedicated to flight exploration. And back then women were pretty limited to how much access they could have to scientific resources. She probably wanted to do a lot more, but a flight around the world was one thing she could do on her own. The mystery surrounding her death is very intriguing. I don't know if I buy into the Spy theory. Although it would explain why so much effort was made to recover her plane and it's contents, if that's true. She strikes me as a Katherine Hepburn type. She was independent, confident and unintimidated by men or reputation.
That $500,000 is being spent for jobs, what else does money get spent for? Whatever, it ends up in the pockets of someone who accomplished something. If it is spent for a shovel or a truck, that ends up in the pcokets of the ones who built that item, and the one who uses that item.
HistoryBuff01 -------------------> Your absolutely correct that it could be a U.S. coverup. The History Channel or Discovery Channel covered a story on theories of Amelia's dissappearance. One bizarre theory was told that Amelia really never died and was living under a different identity ever since, until her death in the late 80's. They also explained how one man, who knew Amelia, recognize her 30 years after the disappearance because of distinct facial features that were later matched and perfectly identical to the younger Amelia's face features. So I would like to believe it was a government cover up but I don't want to speculate on it. Sometimes the truth is better off kept a mystery.
Amelia EarhartAbout thirty years ago, while we were marooned for a week on the Island of Saipan waiting for repairs to be made to our freighter, my wife and I thoroughly explored the island. One day we found the remains of an old prison. There were large trees growing in the roofless cells that had only walls remaining. While we looked here and there, we were joined by an elderly lady who let us know she had lived in a nearby house for many years.She took us to the largest prison cell where she indicated the “lady” had been imprisoned, and pointed to a smaller cell a few doors away where the “man” had spent his time. The man died some time before the lady disappeared. There was no doubt in her mind (story) that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were in that prison, she often visited them in their cells. --------------------When this letter was printed in the local paper, I received a phone call from an ex-marine who was at Saipan during WW II. He said one day his Lt. asked him to go along to watch Graves Registration dig up a grave that some natives said contained the body of a “White girl.” My Brother Jesse was at Saipan during WWII, and had a comment or two on this subject. Some years ago, we saw a TV program about Amelia Earhart. As can be plainly seen in the video, she is sitting at our desk, or at least an exact copy of our desk.
Women were NOT more respected then, but they were treated like 'ladies'. In those days women did not win over people easily when they did extradoniary things. Men didn't like women going into a domain where they were king (which in those days was anything but being a homemaker and raising children) and where they were respected just by being there. I find it interesting that when these people found the mirror and some other personal items, that they were not astute enough to avoid 'ruining' what could have been excellent DNA evidence and THEN later on he speaks of having some of the brightest and most capable team for their search expedition. I hope they do find the plane. This makes me wonder if she lived on that island for a long time or was badly injured and died shortly after her crash. Also why wouldn't a person travel with SOME personal things such as a hairbrush, makeup, toothbrush and such. That is a silly thing to say is extraneous IMO.
No offense, but that $500,000 should be put towards jobs and not going on DNA expeditions. RIP Amelia. Sorry about that.
I was on Saipan ( an island just north of Guam) in 1966. One of the conspiracy theories originated there. A couple of islanders that I spoke with said they "remembered" a white man and woman being brought to the island by the Japanese and held there until they died of dysentery. They also claim that when American forces took the island back from the Japanese that a Lockheed Electra was taken from a hanger at the airstrip and burned and the remains of the plane pushed into the lagoon by American soldiers. There was also a catholic priest there who claimed he knew that the woman was Earhart.Some of the information about Saipan is still being held as top secret by the U.S. government as it was a CIA training base. I still believe that the U.S. government has not told the public the whole truth about Earhart.
re: " two pieces of broken glass that match a 1930s compact mirror," Does it not seem a bit strange that someone embarking on a flight of this magnitude would be taking a compact mirror. I am under the impression that bringing along make-up is considered a bit extraneous. Did she have a press conference scheduled at the end of her flight?
Despite all of the technical advances in the world, it is should be evident that we may never know what happened. Still, that never stops our natural human curiosity wants to know and now, by God and Gaia we have technology to find out!!! Somehow our technological "manhood" is challenged by a mystery we cannot solve. As one of the researchers said, "technology is on our side", but he didn't mention that time most definitely is an enemy, and has a 70 year head start. This the tropical Pacific; a hot, humid and salty environment, not a glacial icebox in Greenland. But hey, the adventurer in me wishes them success, in whatever form that may take.
Seeing the few clips of Earhart, she did not look like the type of woman out to prove that she could do what men could do, and like Eleanor Roosevelt at the time, simply approached the opportunity for participation as one to be treasured and lived - as anyone would want to do. Feminism didn't always arrive with malice or resentment; in fact, that is a relatively new phenomenon in women's feminist pursuits.Amelia and Eleanor lived at a time when women were more respected, before the time when female sexual parts were permissible to be objectified on TV, and pornography was virtually unknown to the masses as they are today.Amelia and Eleanor lived at a time when women could be women, and still be respected as people, and as women, as well as scholars. Much of that frame of reference is lost today through negligence of women, as well as fear by men that women will encroach upon their territory en masse. So the backlash continues, sadly, and the sheep herders exacerbate and widen the divide from what could have been into what is.