Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved?

One of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th Century may be on the verge of being solved:

For decades, pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart was said to have “disappeared” over the Pacific on her quest to circle the globe along a 29,000-mile equatorial route.

Now, new information gives a clearer picture of what happened 75 years ago to Ms. Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, where they came down and how they likely survived – for a while, at least – as castaways on a remote island, catching rainwater and eating fish, shellfish, and turtles to survive.

The tale hints at lost opportunities to locate and rescue the pair in the first crucial days after they went down, vital information dismissed as inconsequential or a hoax, the failure to connect important dots regarding physical evidence.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a non-profit foundation promoting aviation archaeology and historic aircraft preservation, reported new details Friday leading researchers to this conclusion: Earhart and Noonan, low on fuel and unable to find their next scheduled stopping point – Howland Island – radioed their position, then landed on a reef at uninhabited Gardner Island, a small coral atoll now known as Nikumaroro Island.

Using what fuel remained to turn up the engines to recharge the batteries, they continued to radio distress signals for several days until Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra aircraft was swept off the reef by rising tides and surf. Using equipment not available in 1937 – digitized information management systems, antenna modeling software, and radio wave propagation analysis programs, TIGHAR concluded that 57 of the 120 signals reported at the time are credible, triangulating Earhart’s position to have been Nikumaroro Island.

“Amelia Earhart did not simply vanish on July 2, 1937,” Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. “Radio distress calls believed to have been sent from the missing plane dominated the headlines and drove much of the US Coast Guard and Navy search.”

“When the search failed, all of the reported post-loss radio signals were categorically dismissed as bogus and have been largely ignored ever since,” Mr. Gillespie said. But the results of the study, he said, “suggest that the aircraft was on land and on its wheels for several days following the disappearance.”

In addition to the radio signals, there has been other physical evidence found on Nikumaroro Island suggesting quite strongly that Earhart and Noonnan survived there for a non-inconsiderable period of time:.

Several artifacts found years ago – some of it discovered by Pacific islanders who later inhabited the island – seem to confirm TIGHAR’s conclusion.

These include broken glass artifacts showing evidence of secondary use as tools for cutting or scraping; large numbers of fish and bird bones collected in, or associated with, ash and charcoal deposits; several hundred mollusk shells, as well as bones from at least one turtle; bone fragments and dried fecal matter that might be of human origin.

A photo taken three months after Earhart’s flight shows what could be the landing gear of her aircraft in the waters off the atoll.

“Analyses of the artifacts, faunals and data collected during the expedition are on-going but, at this point, everything supports the hypothesis that the remains found at the site in 1940 were those of Amelia Earhart,” according to TIGHAR.

Other artifacts (some of them reported in 1940 but then lost) include a bone-handled pocket knife of the type known to have been carried by Earhart, part of a man’s shoe, part of a woman’s shoe, a zipper of the kind manufactured in the 1930s, a woman’s compact, and broken pieces of a jar appearing to be the same size and unusual shape as one holding “Dr. Berry’s Freckle Ointment.” (Earhart was known to dislike her freckles.)

Quite likely, some of this evidence was filed away and then forgotten as World War II approached. Next up for TIGHAR is a trip to Nikumaroro to see if they can recover Earhart’s plane. If that happens, then we’ll finally know for sure what happened to someone who was, in her time, as famous as Charles Lindbergh.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Chad S says:

    TIGHAR isn’t well thought of in the historical community. I would take everything with a major grain of salt.

  2. Bill Jempty says:

    TIGHAR has made numerous searches of that island to date and come up with squat.

  3. tps says:

    I’d say that its a better theory then the one that she was a spy for FDR and was captured by the Japanese.

  4. says:

    Essentially same story, same source, different magazine from 2009:

    Earhart’s Final Resting Place Believed Found

  5. bk says:

    You guys would boo the sunrise.

  6. The story is pure fantasy and merely serves as the frontpiece for a fundraising ploy. There is no “New Evidence” here.

    All you need to know about the activities of “TIGHAR” can be seen in this statement, taken directly from the “TIGHAR” website:

    We’re 82% of the way toward completing the $2,000,000 budget for the expedition that could find Amelia’s plane. Click here to join the many individual and corporate sponsors who are supporting this historic effort. We’ll send you a personalized Certificate of Participation for your contribution of any amount.

    In the twenty-odd year history of “TIGHAR” the organization has manifestly failed to produce even one piece of evidence pertaining to the Amelia Earhart case that could bear competent historical scruitiny.

    “TIGHAR” is a money-making scheme that thrives on generating publicity for its exploits. Period.

    It’s time to stop reporting “TIGHAR” press releases, with their specious and inconsequential findings as “evidence.”

  7. Timothy says:

    Sounds like they did not do enough to find Amelia and Fred. Why didn’t they land on the island instead of just flying over it when they were searching for them? I would have sent boats to the island and searched in a matter of days. Their lives could have then been saved.
    It just sounds like they did not do enough. That is how I feel about this situation.
    I am sorry I feel this way but I do. I am sorry that it all happened like it did.