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Expedition out to solve Earhart's 1937 disappearance

  • 3 Jul 2012
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HONOLULU (AFP)
American aviator Amelia Earhart at the controls of her plane

The holder of several aeronautical records -- including the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air -- Earhart had set off from New Guinea to refuel at Howland Island for a final long-distance hop to California.

In what turned out to be her final radio message, she declared she was unable to find Howland and that fuel was running low.

Several search-and-rescue missions ordered by then-president Franklin Roosevelt turned up no trace of Earhart or Noonan, who were eventually presumed dead at sea.

Conspiracy theories flourished, including one contending that Earhart was held by Japanese imperial forces as a spy. Another claimed she completed her flight, but changed her identity and settled in New Jersey.

Aircraft debris reportedly was found by island residents in subsequent years, but the TIGHAR research team is operating on the hypothesis that the aircraft landed safely on the reef and remained there for several days before being washed over the edge by rising tides and surf.

TIGHAR suspects that Earhart and Noonan reached Gardner Island -- at the time a British possession and now known as Nikumaroro -- and managed to survive for an unknown period of time.

Nikumaroro is the staging ground for the effort to locate and photograph any wreckage from Earhart's plane that might still exist.

The uninhabited coral atoll is a mere 3.7 miles (six kilometers) long by 1.2 miles (two kilometers) wide, and is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of Howland Island.

Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director, told AFP that if debris is found, it will not be gathered, but will be photographed and its location carefully documented for a future expedition.

The search team is being accompanied by a three-person camera crew who will film the expedition for a planned television special later this year.

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