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.


It's the coldest of cold cases, and yet 70 years after Amelia Earhart disappeared, clues are still turning up.

Long-dismissed notes of a shortwave distress call beginning, "This is Amelia Earhart..."

The previously unknown diary of an Associated Press reporter, surfacing after decades.

And 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.

If what's known now had been conveyed to searchers then, might Earhart and her navigator have been rescued? It's one of a thousand questions that keep the case from being declared dead, as Earhart herself was a year and a half after she vanished.

___

For nearly 18 hours, Earhart's twin-engine Lockheed Electra drummed steadily eastward over the Pacific, and as sunrise etched a molten strip of light along the horizon, navigator Fred J. Noonan marked the time and calculated the remaining distance to Howland Island.

It was July 2, 1937, and the pair were near the end of a 2,550-mile trek from Lae, New Guinea, the longest leg of a "World Flight" begun 44 days earlier in Oakland, Calif.

At the journey's end there a few days hence, Earhart would become the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe.

Noonan, a former Pan American Airways navigator, estimated when the plane would reach an imaginary "line of position" running northwest-southeast through Howland, where they were to rest and refuel for the onward flight to Hawaii.

"200 miles out," Earhart radioed, her "whispery drawl" heard by the Coast Guard cutter Itasca waiting off Howland.

Overnight, Itasca's radio operators had become increasingly exasperated with Earhart, who hadn't acknowledged Itasca's messages or its Morse code homing signal. They decided the glamorous "Lady Lindy" was either arrogant or incompetent.

What nobody knew - not Earhart, and not Itasca - was that her plane's radio-reception antenna had been ripped away during takeoff from Lae's bumpy dirt runway. The Itasca could hear Earhart, but she was unable to hear anything, voice or code.

Also listening aboard the Itasca was James W. Carey. The 23-year-old University of Hawaii student had been hired by The Associated Press to cover Earhart's Howland stopover.

He also had been keeping a diary.

The diary was unknown to Earhart scholars until last September, when a typewritten copy was bought on eBay by a member of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR. The non-profit organization rejects the official verdict that the fliers were lost at sea, believing instead that they may have crash-landed on an uninhabited atoll called Gardner Island, in the Phoenix Islands 350 miles south of Howland, and lived for a time as castaways.

"Even though the diary doesn't answer the big question, it's an incredible discovery," said TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie, who has led eight expeditions to the island since 1989, and plans another one this July if his group can raise enough money.

The diary, he said, presents "a firsthand witness about what went on during those desperate hours and days."

___

On July 1, word came that Earhart was finally airborne from Lae.

Early on July 2, Carey wrote in his diary: "Up all last night following radio reports - scanty ... heard voice for first time 2:48 a.m. - `sky overcast.' All I heard. At 6:15 am reported `200 miles out.'"

If Noonan's dead-reckoning did not bring the plane directly over Howland, Earhart would fly up and down the 337-157 degree "line of position" until she found it.

This content continues onto the next page...

We Recommend