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Archive for Sunday, July 15, 2007

Another project launched to find Earhart remains

July 15, 2007

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— The mystery of what happened to aviator Amelia Earhart has spawned several theories, books, movies and efforts to find the aviation pioneer's remains.

Now, another group has set out to see if they can solve the 70-year-old puzzle.

A 15-member expedition is on its way to the remote island of Nikumaroro, an atoll in the South Pacific, seeking evidence to prove their theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed on the island - then called Gardner Island - in 1937 as they tried to circle the globe. The expedition will look for skeletal remains and other clues.

Earhart and Noonan were flying to Howland Island, roughly halfway between New Guinea and Hawaii, when radio contact was lost as the plane was running low on fuel. Their Lockheed Electra has never been found.

"You can sit around and write books and kick theories around all day," said Pat Thrasher, wife of team leader Ric Gillespie, of Wilmington, Del. "In the end, in archaeology, the ground will tell you the truth."

The Niku Expedition flew to Fiji and took a boat for the five-day trip to the island. The expedition's members are scheduled to return next month.

The trip coincides with the 110th anniversary of Earhart's birth in Atchison and the 70th anniversary of her disappearance.

Gillespie's Niku Expedition analyzed radio distress calls, purportedly from Earhart, received after she failed to arrive on Howland Island on July 2, 1937. Though many regard the transmissions as hoaxes, Gillespie's crew thinks it proves that Earhart and Noonan made it to an island when their plane ran out of fuel. And Nikumaroro, which is only 2 1/2 miles long and about 350 miles south of Howland, is a good candidate.

The trip attracted a wide range of people, including archaeologists and anthropologists, a schoolteacher, a physician, a pilot and a Wichita developer, David Mason.

An earlier expedition by Gillespie and Thrasher found pieces of a woman's shoe along with equipment consistent with the Electra. A partial skeleton was found on the island, near an abandoned campsite.

Thrasher said their theory is that Earhart and Noonan lived for some time on the island before succumbing to starvation, a lack of fresh water or illness.

Other Earhart fans believe her plane crashed and sank into the ocean.

Elgen Long, who wrote "Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved" with his wife, Marie, is a leading proponent of that theory.

"It would be wonderful if they could find any proof she was actually there," he said. "But I don't think she made it that far. They ran out of fuel, and it's under water."

Navy officers who investigated the disappearance reached the same conclusion.

To commemorate Earhart's July 24 birthday, Atchison will hold its annual Amelia Earhart Festival next weekend.

"She was so admired by so many people around the world," said Louise Foudray, caretaker of the Amelia Earhart birthplace museum in Atchison. "I just think Amelia Earhart will never be forgotten."

Foudray thinks Earhart returned to the U.S. and lived out her life in anonymity.

"I just have that feeling," she said. "She was a mysterious person, a very private person. I think there's a lot more involved in her disappearance than anyone knows."

Regardless of whose theory is correct, Long said, the mystery eventually will be solved, because "airplanes don't just disappear."

But Earhart's true legacy, he said, was the way she lived.

"You've got billions of women in this world that aren't allowed to do anything other than what their husbands tell them to do," he said. "I think that's changing. And when it does, I think, Amelia is really going to become an icon of the world."

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