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
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.