Amelia Mary Earhart was born July 24th, 1897 and was determined to be the first woman to fly the globe. Unfortunately, shortly after taking flight, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, went missing over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island in July of 1937.
75 years later, researchers continue to follow the last “footsteps” Amelia and Fred had made in attempts to determine the events of the day in question.
Richard Gillespie, Executive Director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) theorizes that Earhart’s plane was washed off the reef after Earhart and Noonan landed/crashed on Nikumaroro, approximately 400 miles (644km) southeast of their Howland Island destination.
Experts say an October 1937 photograph of the shoreline of the island could include a blurry image of the strut and wheel of a Lockheed Electra landing gear, which Gillespie called ‘the icing on the cake’. The photo was enough evidence for the U.S. State Department to hold an encouragement event to the privately funded expedition and convinced the Kiribati government to sign a contract with the group to work together if anything is found.
Along side of the photograph, artifacts such as a jar of once-popular brand of anti-freckle cream from the 1930s, a clothing zipper from the same decade, a man’s and woman’s shoe, a sextant box, a bone-handled pocket knife (matching the type of knife carried by Earhart) and a pile of fish and bird bones have been discovered since the duo disappeared on the 2nd of July, 1937.
“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 Earthart’s life that no one ever knew. It’s heroic stuff.”
Taking into consideration the condition of the fish bones found, Gillespie believes they were consumed by a Westerner, and possibly Amelia’s campsite.
“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.
“We found giant clamshells … A Pacific Islander will catch them while open and cut them out. There were several up at the campsite bashed in,” he added, saying others were laid up concave as if to catch rainwater.
“We found bottles standing in what was a campfire, with the bottoms melted but the top not heat-damaged, and pieces of wire fashioned into a loop. It looks like someone was boiling water to make it safe to drink.”
During this trips, Gillespie found bone fragments which were unfortunately too damaged to provide for DNA testing, but firmly believes a partial skeleton found by a British officer in 1940 may have been Earhart’s. The skeleton was taken to Fiji, where Gillespie was later to follow.
Initial investigations proved the skeleton to belong to a man, though under second observation, corrected and recorded to belong to a Caucasian female. To date, the rest of the remains has not yet been discovered, leaving another mystery in the name of Amelia Earhart.
Information of her navigator, Fred Noonan, is scarce, and his remains continue to be lost as well.
During Earhart and Noonan’s journey to explore the world, the duo planned to travel along side of the equatorial route. This ultimately left their fate in the hands of extremely unbearable conditions.
“The island is four degrees south of the Equator. The sun is a hammer. There is no fresh water. When you get ashore you have to cut a trail through the jungle to the lagoon side. There are black tip sharks all over the place.”
Gillespie experienced the dangers of the island himself, leading him to wonder how Amelia had survived for such a [possible] long period of time. His theory is Amelia eventually passed away from starvation or other health risks.
“You can be getting food, but you don’t have enough calories to replace the calories you’re expending catching it. The reef is slippery and if you get cut it will become infected immediately and can lead to blood posioning. Or there could have been injuries from the landing or crashing.”
“[The] last expedition there was a big rain and squall while we were working in the forest. The Boca trees there had large leaves,” he said, adding that rain could collect on leaves on the ground. “With a small bottle you could collect [fresh water] from trees and roots.”
The next expedition costing 2 million dollars (individual and corporate donors and funds from Discovery) begins on Tuesday, setting off for a month from Honolulu, then traveling 1, 800 miles (2, 900km) to Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, where they believe Earhart may have survived for weeks or possibly even months.
The Discovery Channel plans to air the documented trip in August.
Amelia Earhart, an independent, adventurous and courageous woman set out to become the first woman to travel the world. Her name and her legend has lived through the hearts of many, especially young woman, driven to succeed, just as Amelia was.
“That kind of inspiration matters,” Gillespie said. “We want to know what happened to her.”