New Clues in 70-year-old Earhart Mystery

A team that has already found aircraft parts and a woman's shoe on a remote South Pacific atoll, hoping to return this year to find more evidence, perhaps even DNA.


At 7:42 a.m., Earhart's voice suddenly came loud and clear: "KHAQQ to Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you. But gas is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

A welcoming committee from Itasca was "waiting restlessly" at the airstrip, Carey wrote. Binoculars scanned the blue.

At 8:55 a.m., Earhart was back on, sounding distraught: "We are on line of position 157 dash 337... we are now running north and south."

Then the radio went silent.

Believing that Earhart must be out of gas, Itasca's captain, Cmdr. Warner K. Thompson, had already ordered the welcoming committee back to the ship. "Flash news from ship Itasca: `Amelia down,'" Carey had written in his diary.

But with all frequencies reserved for possible distress calls, Carey's news reports would have to wait. AP broke the "Earhart missing" story from Honolulu, quoting Coast Guard officials there.

Meanwhile, Carey filled the diary: "Itasca set off `full speed ahead' to search the northwest quadrant off Howland."

Nothing was sighted, and by evening the ship's mood, Carey wrote, had "taken a turn to the more serious side."

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Seventy years later, the Earhart mystery lingers.

In more than 50 nonfiction books and even a movie, writers embraced theories ranging from a crash at sea to abduction by aliens, from Earhart executed by the Japanese as a spy to living under another name in New Jersey.

Two books - "Amelia Earhart's Shoes," written by four TIGHAR volunteers, and Gillespie's "Finding Amelia" - offer the thesis that Earhart and Noonan crash-landed on a reef on Gardner Island, and survived, perhaps for months, on scant food and rainwater.

Expeditions to the island, now called Nikumaroro, have compiled tantalizing evidence.

In 1940, a British overseer on Gardner recovered a partial human skeleton, a woman's shoe and an empty sextant box at what apparently was a former campsite. The items were sent to Fiji, where a doctor decided the bones belonged to a stocky European or mixed-blood male, ruling out any Earhart-Noonan connection.

The bones later vanished, but in 1998, TIGHAR investigators located the doctor's notes in London.

Using a modern computer database, Dr. Karen Ramey Burns, a forensic osteologist at the University of Georgia, found the Fiji doctor's measurements were more "consistent with" a female of northern European descent, about Earhart's age and height. Burns' report was independently confirmed by another forensic expert.

On visits to the island, TIGHAR teams found an aluminum panel, possibly from an Electra; another woman's shoe and "Cat's Paw" heel, dating from the 1930s; a man's shoe heel, crude tools and an oddly cut piece of clear Plexiglas.

The sextant box might have been Noonan's. The woman's shoe and heel resemble Earhart's footwear in a pre-takeoff photo. The plastic shard is the exact thickness and curvature of an Electra window.

Still, the evidence remains circumstantial, Gillespie says. "We don't have serial numbers."

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As news of the missing aviators flashed around the world, the Navy ordered six warships into the hunt.

Although radio calls from the Electra - along with later "distress calls" picked up by shortwave listeners - were triangulated by Pan American's Pacific stations to the Phoenix Islands, officials ignored a New Zealand cruiser 48 hours from there and instead sent the battleship USS Colorado southward. By the time it reached the area four days later, the radio calls had ceased.

Colorado's senior float-plane pilot, Lt. John O. Lambrecht reported "signs of recent habitation were clearly visible" at Gardner Island. But no people were sighted, and "it was finally taken for granted that none were there."

Accounts of shortwave radio calls were also shrugged off.

In Rock Springs, Wyo., Dana Randolph, 16, heard a voice say, "This is Amelia Earhart. Ship is on a reef south of the equator." Aware that "harmonic" frequencies in mid-ocean often could be heard far inland, experts said the shortwave transmission was probably genuine.

In St. Petersburg, Fla., 15-year-old Betty Klenck heard a woman identify herself as Earhart, followed by pleas for help and agitated conversation with a man who, the girl thought, sounded irrational.

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