Discovery Channel’s new documentary, Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved?, is a tremendously interesting update on the search for Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft. The one-hour program, which aired Sunday night, Aug. 19, follows a team of investigators as they leave Honolulu and head for the remote island of Nikumaroro, once known as Gardner Island. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, headed by Executive Director Ric Gillespie, has developed a sound theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed on Nikumaroro after failing to find their fueling target in the Pacific Ocean.
The evidence portrayed in the documentary is convincing. An archival photograph of a ship off the coast of the deserted island shows what appears to be the wheel from an aircraft sticking out of the water. Gillespie also cites that many remains and artifacts, including a woman’s shoe and buttons, have been discovered on the island. Perhaps most interesting is reexamined evidence of a distress radio call believed to have been received by a teenager in the United States after Earhart crashed. Listening for two hours, the young girl reported that the voice on the radio claimed she was “Amelia Earhart” and that the aviatrix kept repeating something that sounded like “New York City.”
Turning to Nikumaroro’s history, these statements from the young girl prove endlessly engaging. Maybe it wasn’t “New York City” that Earhart was saying, maybe it was “Norwich City,” the name of a freighter that had crash-landed on the island’s shore. The remains of the Norwich would still be on the beach of the island back in the 1930s.
Deciding to jump beyond circumstantial evidence, Gillespie and his team headed to the remote island just last month. Their findings (and lack thereof) are brought together for the Discovery Channel special.
The ultimate answer over what happened during Earhart’s attempted flight around the world remains a mystery. There have been countless theories over her fate, some believing she died after crash-landing, while others believing she survived the crash. Gillespie’s beliefs are based on fact and logical estimations. They’re not concrete, and Occam’s Razor tells us perhaps Earhart and Noonan simply crashed in the middle of the ocean, but there’s enough evidence to keep the search boats looking for more clues.
There were two monumental obstacles to Gillespie’s recent expedition. Firstly, the sea floor off the coast of the island was not smooth or shallow. Instead, it dropped precipitously, handicapping the effectiveness of the team’s two camera devices. Secondly, the crash of the Norwich City has left many ship parts in the surrounding water. Every time Gillespie thinks he’s found something on the ocean floor, it turns out to be either a rock or a piece of the old freighter.
But perhaps there’s more on the ocean floor than first meets the eye. As the end credits begin to roll on the Discovery Channel special, the team’s most profound evidence is presented. After looking at the images the cameras were able to capture, researchers now believe there’s a good chance that airplane debris sits on the bottom of the ocean. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery’s official web site reports that “a scattering of man-made objects on the reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro” may have been found. The photographic evidence doesn’t look like much to the untrained eye, but for the researchers who study this type of footage every day, there’s great promise in these remarkable findings.
Gillespie’s team needs to take their Earhart project (Niku VII) back to the waters of the South Pacific. Before anything can disrupt this area, the evidence needs to be found and inspected. Earhart’s final mission still remains a mystery, but we’re probably closer to the truth than we’ve ever been before.
By John Soltes / Publisher / [email protected]
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