Like the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 , it’s a mystery as to what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937. Ric Gillespie talked about the research and theories regarding Earhart at two recent presentations, entitled “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” held on June 15, at the New England Air Museum.
The presentations were made in front of the museum’s Lockheed 10A Electra, a sister of the Serial #1055 flown by Earthart as she attempted her round-the-world flight. About 50 people, varying from children to seniors, were in attendance at the 11:30 a.m. presentation.
While Gillespie admitted he is not a “huge Amelia Earhart fan,” he said that his training as an aircraft accident investigator allows him to be objective. Gillespie is the executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, a non-profit foundation dedicated to promoting responsible aviation archeology and historic preservation.
After 25 years and 10 research expeditions, the group’s Earhart Project has concluded that Earhart’s plane went down over Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro), about 250 miles away from her intended destination of Howland Island. Gillespie believes the plane landed on a flat part of the reef and that the plane was washed away by the tides.
He discredited several popular theories about Earhart’s disappearance. One theory is that she was captured by the Japanese, but Gillespie said that her plane did not have enough fuel to go to Japan, about 850 miles away. Also, he said there was no motivation for the Japanese to capture her, since Japanese military installations were not built until 1941 and the United States was not at war with Japan. The theory is “considered dead in the water by any serious historian,” Gillespie explained.
Another popular theory is that Earhart’s plane crashed and sank. Gillespie said that there were “120 reported radio distress calls spanning six days” and that “at least 57 are creditable.” For the airplane’s radio to work, the plane would have to be on land, Gillespie said, adding that “one wing could have been on a reef while the other was up in the air.”
He explained that the most “credible radio calls were made when the reef was dry” and that short-wave radio listener Betty Klenck Brown, who was 15, heard the most calls during the daytime when the water level to the reef was low.
It is believed that Earhart and Noonan died as castaways.
British Colonial Service Officer Gerald B. Gallagher found evidence in 1940 that a skeleton was found that possibly was Earhart’s, along with part of a woman’s shoe, part of a man’s shoe, an inverting eyepiece, and a sextant similar to one that would be used by Noonan. Other items found probably belonged to Earhart such as an ointment pot, freckle cream, body cream, makeup and a pocket knife.
Another major piece of evidence was a damaged piece of aluminum sheet which is believed to have been added to Earhart’s plane when she landed it during her journey so repairs could be made. The sheet is the same dimensions of a window which Gillespie believes could have been removed because the plane was either too hot or because the window broke and there was not enough time to install a new one.
Gillespie is looking forward to a $2 million mission this fall that would use the University of Hawaii’s submersibles to search the west end of the Nikumaroro to hopefully find the remains of Earhart’s plane. They also expect to learn more about climate change, as the part of the Pacific where Earhart’s plane disappeared is where El Nino events are born.
The final four places on the expedition team are reserved for those making a significant contribution toward the project, which still needs to raise $1.2 million.
Profits from Gillespie’s book “Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance” in hardcover, paperback and the Nook will go towards the mission.