What in the world happened to Amelia Earhart?
As the official story goes, Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E "flying laboratory" was equipped with aviation gear that was state of the art for the time. Biography.com notes that although Amelia was a competent pilot, she was not a very good navigator. She flew more by instinct than by instruments, which may or may not have contributed to her disappearance on June 2, 1937. Other factors that came into play that fateful night were the overcast skies that blocked Noonan's ability to navigate by the stars and the fact that the charts used by Noonan and Earhart were outdated and placed 6,500 feet long, 1,600 feet wide Howland Island, which was their destination, at least five miles from its actual location. Amelia's plane circled the region, looking for Howland Island and its tiny landing strip as they radioed a U.S. Coast Guard vessel called the Itasca with the following message.
"We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."
In the days following Amelia's disappearance, at least 100 people around the planet reported hearing distress calls that originated from Earhart's radio, reports The Vintage News. Among those who described calls were a shortwave operator in Texas who said that Amelia claimed to have made a partial water landing. Another radio listener reported hearing Earhart say she was injured, but that her navigator was in worse shape than she. Anecdotal evidence is fascinating, but not enough to prove that Earhart and Noonan survived their aviation mishap long enough to fire up the radio and send distress calls.
Things that can prove the doomed duo survived a crash and died some time later are the "hard facts and sound science" presented by Ric Gillespie at The Collider in Asheville, North Carolina, on August 5 of this year. According to Gillespie, Earhart landed her Lockheed Electra on the western reef slope of the South Pacific coral atoll of Nikumaroro, some 1,800 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii, 700 nautical miles south of Samoa and 1,000 nautical miles north of Fiji. As Gillespie describes it, Nikumaroro atoll is in "the middle of nowhere."
And the middle of nowhere is precisely where a 19 inch by 23 inch rectangle of aluminum was found by TIGHAR researchers in 1991. Since that time, TIGHAR researchers have unearthed several other bits of conclusive evidence on Nikumaroro, including a pot of freckle cream, the heel of a woman's shoe that matches contemporary photos of Earhart and several small bones. Scientists surmise that the rest of Earhart's and Noonan's bones may yet be discovered in old crab burrows.
Scab patch as proof that Amelia landed on Nikumaroro atoll.
When the aluminum slab was first discovered, some pooh-poohed it as not matching Earhart's Elektra airplane. In 1996, the metal was tested by an independent lab and was found to be essentially identical to the 24ST Al-clad aluminum used as the skin of Earhart's plane, NR16020. Recently, the TIGHAR team found a Miami Herald photograph that clearly shows the same piece used as a "scab patch" to cover a broken window on the plane that became a part of the Amelia Earhart mystery more than seven decades ago. Gillespie notes that "the patch was as unique to her particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual and that the aluminum matches that fingerprint in many respects."
Between 2001 and 2010, Gillespie and the TIGHAR team visited Nikumaroro Island several times, finding artifacts and evidence of long-ago meals, leading scientists to conclude that Earhart may have survived for several months before dying of malnutrition or illness. Whatever the cause of her death, the brave aviatrix who flew through the Pacific sunset and into the history books perished shortly before her 40th birthday.
This may be the last film footage of Amelia Earhart.
This writer was unable to vet the following video as part of Earhart's final flight, but it's definitely footage of Amelia and her navigator, Fred Noonan.