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Explorers Hope They Are Close to Solving Amelia Earhart Mystery

  • Jeff Swicord

Seventy-five years after the disappearance of famed woman aviator Amelia Earhart, explorers are getting closer to solving the mystery of what happened to her. She disappeared over the Pacific while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in her airplane. TIGHAR, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, has launched nine expeditions in the past 24 years looking for clues.

Earhart was a pioneering American aviator in the early 20th century. The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, she became a national celebrity. In July of 1937, she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific while attempting to fly around the world. To this day their fate is shrouded in mystery.

Seventy-five years later, The International Group For Historic Aircraft Recovery, TIGHAR, works to solve the mystery.

“The romantic attraction of the Earhart mystery, she was the celebrity that inspired people when she was alive. And then she disappeared in such a mysterious way,” said Rick Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR.

Earhart disappeared while flying from Lae, Papua New Guinea, to Howland Island, 3,100 kilometers southwest of Hawaii.

TIGHAR researchers believe she ran low on fuel and veered off course to the small uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, which was never thoroughly searched during the initial 1937 investigation.

“We said, 'Wow, nobody ever looked for Amelia Earhart in the most likely place?' And they said, 'Well, that is the way it looks to us,'” Gillespie said.

TIGHAR members have uncovered artifacts from what they call "site 7" - on the tiny South Pacific atoll.

“A number of them came from 2007. Some of them came from 2010,” said TIGHAR staff member Joe Cerniglia, who showed some of the artifacts. A jar that might have held a woman’s facial cream, a beer bottle, and a lanoline bottle. All believed to be from the late 1930’s.

“We have a chemical match from two labs that show that residue from this bottle, which was recovered from Nikumaroro, matches residue from a bottle such as this one that was recovered from eBay,” Cerniglia said.

They have also recovered pieces of an aircraft. As Gillespie points out, TIGHAR has found a lot of intriguing artifacts. But the undeniable evidence that Earhart ended up on Nikumaroro eludes them.

“This is very much like a jigsaw puzzle. And we have got the edges. We have got most of the picture in the interior. What we don’t have are those final pictures that make it absolutely beyond a doubt to anyone who looks at it that this is that answer to this riddle,” Gillespie said.

TIGHAR will return to Nikumaroro for its tenth expedition in July. With sophisticated underwater equipment, they plan to search the sea floor looking for the wreckage of Earhart’s plane. And finally, perhaps, solve the mystery of her disappearance.
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