Group wants to send submarine to prove Amelia Earhart castaway theory

Amelia Earhart wanted to become the first woman to fly around the world. Instead, her plane vanished on July 2, 1937.

So what happened to her?  A new analysis of skeletal remains found on a remote Pacific island in 1940 may prove that Earhart died a castaway, according to The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).

But the castaway theory is far from the only theory surrounding her demise.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, is currently trying to raise funds to send a manned submarine mission to the remote island of Nikumaroro in 2017.

In catching up, he said there are three common theories about what happened to Earhart:

1. Earhart ran out of gas and crashed into the sea somewhere near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean.

According to Gillespie, this verdict was widely accepted by the U.S. Government after a tireless search for Earhart in the midst of the Great Depression came up empty.

“It’s the intuitive explanation,” he said. “They looked at everything and didn’t find anything, so they thought she must have sunk at sea.”

2. She was captured by the Japanese.

Another popular theory that popped up shortly after Earhart’s disappearance was that she was on a covert spy mission for the Roosevelt administration and was taking photographs in the Pacific to see whether the Japanese were fortifying the Marshall Islands. This is a good story, but no actual evidence points to it.

Gillespie said some hypothesized that she was shot down by the Japanese and either beheaded or died in prison.

“Again there is no evidence to support that,” Gillespie said. “There isn’t any hint of anything in Japanese records, so nothing holds together. Just a bunch of stories.” 

3. She died as a castaway on a remote island.

Earhart was flying towards Howland Island in the Pacific, but was running low on gas before she vanished. Her final in-flight radio message occurred around 08:43 local time.

“We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait,” she said.

Gillespie said TIGHAR believes Earhart actually landed on Gardner Island, which is also known as Nikumaroro.

According to Gillespie, radio logs show that Earhart used the aircraft’s radio to make distress calls for help several days after landing.

In 1940, skeletal remains were found on the island, and Gillespie believes they could belong to Earhart.

According to TIGHAR, the bones were analyzed in 1940, but a doctor concluded they belonged to a male and the bones were later lost.

In 1998, TIGHAR discovered files about the remains, including skeletal measurements, and researchers determined the bones were consistent with a female of Earhart’s height.

Anthropologist Richard Jantz recently noticed that the skeleton’s forearms were larger than normal, but Jantz was unable to decipher whether Earhart’s arms were similar in length, according to the group.

In order to compare the length of the Earhart's forearms with those of the remains, TIGHAR asked forensic examiner Jeff Glickman for help.
Glickman said he was able to determine Earhart’s forearm length by examining a historical photograph where at least one of her arms is largely visible.

He found that Earhart’s “humerus to radius ratio was 0.76 – virtually identical to the castaway’s,” TIGHAR said in a statement.

The group has searched the island 11 times, and even used unmanned submersibles to search the ocean floor, but so far Earhart's plane has not been located. Gillespie believes whatever is left of the plane is likely on the west side of the atoll.

"It's likely in the worst environment for survival at the end of the island, hit by the worst storms," he said. "If there is wreckage that’s where it is."

Gillespie is currently trying to raise funds to send a manned submarine mission to the remote island in 2017.

He hopes the manned mission will be the final jigsaw puzzle piece needed to confirm that Earhart died as a castaway once and for all.

"Her story is a wonderful story of survival and heroism that has a tragic end and her last chapter needs to be known," he said. "We need to get all the information we can to write that last chapter so we will keep going as long as we can."

Follow @MaryBowerman on Twitter. 


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