Where in the world is Amelia Earhart? After 80 years, the search continues
Eighty years ago this week, Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, for what should have been one of the last legs of their around-the-world flight.
Earhart was trying to become the first woman to pilot an aircraft around the world, but when the Lockheed Electra 10E disappeared without a trace on July 2, 1937, her disappearance became her legacy and it remains one of the greatest mysteries of our time.
Earhart and Noonan were scheduled to touch down on Howland Island, an uninhabited coral island in the central Pacific Ocean. But it's believed they went off course and couldn't find it, and no one has been able to find them in the eight decades since.
If we can find a piece of her airplane — and I think we can if we keep trying hard enough — that should do it.- Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of the The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery
Some people think they ran out of gas and crashed in the ocean. Other theories have Earhart and Noonan living out their last years as castaways on a remote island. There are even suggestions that they were taken hostage by the Japanese military and died while in custody.
This week brought new information that supports two of these theories.
On the castaway front, researchers spent this week searching a speck of land 650 kilometres southeast of where Earhart was supposed to land. The eight-day expedition included The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), the tour company Betchart Expeditions and National Geographic, who brought a team of forensic dogs with them.
Bone-sniffing dogs search for Earhart
Ric Gillespie is the executive director of TIGHAR, and as he tells Day 6 guest host Jelena Adzic, the dogs made a meaningful discovery a few days into the mission.
"The dogs have been successful in identifying the spot at the castaway campsite where the castaway's bones were found," he says. "They alert on the scent of the chemicals that result from human decomposition. So, the body laid there and decomposed and essentially stained the ground".
Gillespie believes the coral atoll of Nikumaroro, part of the Phoenix Islands of Kiribati, is the right spot. His organization has already mounted eleven prior trips there. He says it's a matter of narrowing the search until they find something conclusive.
While the dogs searched the land, TIGHAR focused on the water. Gillespie and members of his organization believe there are remnants of The Electra in the coral reef.
"If we can find a piece of her airplane — and I think we can if we keep trying hard enough — that should do it. That should be the smoking gun everybody says they're looking for."
New photo supports abduction theory
The undated photo shows a group of people on a dock at Jaluit Atoll. A woman who resembles Amelia Earhart is sitting in the centre of the image with her back to the camera, and a man who resembles her navigator, Fred Noonan, stands nearby.
If verified, the photo lends credibility to the theory that Earhart and Noonan were captured by Japan for being suspected spies, and died in custody.
We have so much evidence from so many different types of investigations and different sources that all point to the same conclusion- Ric Gillespie, Executive Director of the The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery
Gillespie says he's known about the photo for more than a year and he doesn't influence his theory in any way.
The photo was discovered in the National Archives and will be featured in a new History channel special called Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, which airs this Sunday night.
For Gillespie, it suggests that there is an immense appetite for anything related to Amelia Earhart.
"As somebody who's spent 28 years investigating this mystery and insisting upon very high standards of evidence, to see this kind of attention being paid to something this trivial and inconsequential is … well, we live in an age in which conspiracy theories are popular and it's maybe not surprising," he says.
Flight to Freedom theory
The Japanese abduction theory dates back to the 1940s and a film loosely based on Earhart's story.
IMDB describes the film as: "The life of air pioneer Amelia Earhart is given a fictionalized treatment, with a speculative conclusion."
That 'speculative conclusion' sees the Earhart character intentionally crash in the Marshall Islands as part of a secret mission on behalf of the U.S. government.
Why Gillespie is convinced he's right
"We have so much evidence from so many different types of investigations and different sources that all point to the same conclusion," he says.
He says that her disappearance is more of a mix up than a mystery because her distress calls were heard, but the Navy couldn't pinpoint their origin and eventually dismissed them as a hoax. Meanwhile, according to Gillespie, Earhart was on Nikumaroro, with her plane, until the tide washed it away.
"I understand that this is an iconic mystery and that the bar is set very high, and it's not enough for me to be convinced, so we need as much evidence as we can possibly put together and that's what we're trying to do."
To hear guest host Jelena Adzic's interview with Ric Gillespie, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page. And if you have information about Amelia Earhart's disappearance, email Ric at firstname.lastname@example.org.