In her last clear radio transmission received by the United States Coast Guard Cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart broadcast her final word, “wait”. The world has waited to discover what happened to her and her flying companion, Fred Noonan, ever since. Despite a massive sea and air search conducted by the US Navy, which covered over 100,000 square miles, no trace of the flyers or their aircraft turned up. Nor did any wreckage. The mystery of Amelia Earhart became an obsession, some were unable to accept the flier could have simply lost her way, run out of fuel, and crashed into the Pacific. Theories evolved she landed safely on a deserted island, only to die of starvation. Others claimed the Japanese captured her and executed her as a spy.
In 2019, several new theories based on archaeological findings, examinations of radio transmissions, and an old photograph, created renewed interest in the theory Earhart and Noonan landed safely on an atoll, Nikumaroro, then known as Gardner Island. Despite the Navy having overflown Gardner Island within days of Earhart’s vanishing and finding no trace of her or her airplane, proponents of theory claimed photographic evidence supported their claim. They believed Earhart landed safely on the reef. Within days, tidal motion eventually washed the aircraft down the 10,000-foot slope of the seamount beneath the atoll. The evidence in the photograph, believed to be a part of the aircraft’s landing gear, supported their hypothesis. It was enough to interest Dr. Robert Ballard, the man who led the expeditions to find the Titanic, Bismarck, PT-109, and several other lost ships, to join in the investigation.
1. Amelia Earhart vanished in 1937
Amelia Earhart, an internationally famous aviation pioneer, celebrity, entrepreneur, and writer, disappeared without a trace while on a well-promoted round-the-world flight in 1937. A massive search conducted by the US Navy at the time failed to produce any evidence of her fate. Additional privately funded searches likewise yielded nothing. The Navy concluded that Amelia and her flying companion, navigator Fred Noonan, drifted off-course while attempting to reach tiny Howland Island in the Pacific, ran out of fuel, and crashed into the ocean. Almost immediately dissent over the finding arose. Numerous radio operators, both amateur and professional, claimed to have heard messages from Amelia in the days following her disappearance.
The radio signals, using the process of triangulation, convinced some that Earhart and Noonan landed successfully on an unknown island. There they survived for an undetermined length of time before succumbing to starvation, thirst, the elements, or some other, more nefarious cause. The war in the Pacific pushed aside speculation over Earhart’s disappearance for a time. Afterward, reports of veterans of that war seeing Earhart’s grave, or overhearing talk of her being in the hands of the Japanese, reinvigorated those determined to discover her fate. Numerous theories emerged, and forensic investigations of human activity began to focus on the tiny atoll of Gardner Island, known today as Nikumaroro, as Amelia’s ultimate destination. They began with a photograph taken by a British officer named Eric Bevington.