Amelia Earhart – a new theory, but debate persists

Latest Earhart theory generates mixed signals in media

More than seventy-five years after Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan disappeared over a remote are of the South Pacific a team of researchers has developed a new theory as to what actually happened to the pair.  One of the most enduring mysteries of the last century, this latest theory has received considerable attention from major media outlets around the world.    And – almost as curious as the Earhart mystery itself – while some large news groups have reported the story with little fanfare (as simply one more interesting theory, in a long chain of theories)  others news agencies  seem to be reporting the story as if this mystery has certainly been solved.    For those following the developments in the news, the signal from the media have been decidedly mixed.

Those who embrace the new scenario as highly probable – or, indeed,  as a matter of  “case closed” – cite what they view as an expanding body of both anecdotal and physical evidence which appears to support the findings of the researchers.  Yet numerous researchers, many of whom have studied the case for years, are equally passionate that the theory is nonsense and that the evidence upon which it rests is flawed.  Critics charge that the anecdotal evidence is both unverifiable, and, conflicting.  Further, they argue that that virtually no physical evidence has been produced which can be conclusively tied to Earhart, Noonan, or their aircraft.

So while this new theory has served to rekindle interest in the Earhart case there appears to be no clear consensus – among researchers, the media, nor amateur sleuths – as to what it might mean. Will anyone ever be able to produce incontrovertible evidence to prove that any particular theory is correct? In the meantime, is there any more reason to believe one theory over the next?

The Traditional Theories

Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel, and crashed at sea

After Earhart’s disappearance in 1937 the popularly held belief was that she and Noonan had made navigational errors which caused them to miss Howland Island.  This most dangerous leg of their flight was made all the more risky – and perhaps fatal – by the the fact that Earhart’s radio was malfunctioning.   Earhart  could transmit messages, but, not receive  incoming transmissions.   Consequently , while ground controllers were able to hear Earhart they were unable to be of any meaningful assistance.   Lost, and out of fuel, the pair eventually crashed into the Pacific.

The pair were captured by the Japanese, and eventually executed

A less popular, conspiratorial theory which circulated in the United States suggested the crew had been captured – and eventually killed – by the Japanese military. While the latter theory is largely dismissed as groundless, by most researchers, a number of U.S. military personal have gone on record stating that they saw Earhart’s plane on the island of Saipain shortly after the island was taken by U.S. forces in 1944. Further evidence of Earhart, and, her plane on Saipain is offered by a former Marine who claims that while sorting through the rubble of Japanese military building on the island he found a briefcase containing Earhart’s personal documents. Realizing it’s importance, the young Marine has stated that he immediately gave the briefcase to his superiors – and never saw it, again. There is also anecdotal evidence that island residents saw individuals resembling Earhart and Noonan being held, by the Japanese, on the island. Some of the same islanders had said that Earhart and Noonan were eventaully executed by their captors. None of these various claims – made by a fairly small number of U.S. service men and islanders – have been buttressed by the discovery of more evidence or documentation; though searches were conducted, the bodies of the two aviators were never found buried on Saipan.

Was Amelia spying for the U.S. government?

If any of the above were true, why would the government conceal such facts? There’s an accompanying theory: that Earhart was actually flying over the Japanese-held Marshall Islands, spying for the U.S. government, when she either crashed or was forced to land. On a top-secret mission commissioned by President Roosevelt, the U.S. did not want the public to know that forces within the government had put America’s “golden girl” at risk.

Of the individuals who support the idea the Earhart (and Noonan) were captured by the Japanese there’s a small number who contend that, indeed, Amelia Earhart was the voice of Tokyo Rose (a female radio personality who broadcast from Japan, sending messages intended to demoralize American troops). Even among those who believe that the duo was captured, this suggestion is generally viewed as far-fetched (if not utterly ridiculous).

The Japanese government – now, a close ally of the U.S. – has responded to all such allegations by categorically denying that any elements of their armed services ever had contact with Amelia Earhart.

The New Theory

Earhart and Noonan died as castaways on a remote, Pacifac island

Fifty years after her disappearance – in the late 1980’s – a group of researchers launched a new investigation into the case and arrived at a startling conclusion which generated both shock, and, dismay among the public. But for a botched initial investigation and search, is it possible that Amelia Earhart might have been rescued? The theory which, over the last few years has generated tremendous interest (and been accepted as fact, by some), goes like this:

On July 2nd, 1937 Earhart and Noonan were flying over a remote and desolate area of the Pacific Ocean in search of Howland Island, where they were scheduled to land for refueling. Due, in part, to problems with their radio they were unable to find Howland and continued flying on a direct line which eventually brought them to tiny Nikumaroro Island (called Gardner Island, at the time). Almost out of fuel and completely out of any other options, they made an emergency landing on a reef at the northwest corner of the uninhabited atoll. While there are indications that Noonan may have been injured, presumably the pair  made it to land where they survived briefly as castaways before succumbing to starvation and the elements (Nikumaroro Island has no source of fresh water and daytime temperatures can soar to 110 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Force behind the Castaway Theory

The majority of the research done over the last twenty years, and supporting the castaway scenario, has been performed by an independently funded group called TIGHAR ( an acronym for “The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery”). TIGHAR is a non-profit foundation promoting aviation archaeology and historic aircraft preservation. Richard Gillespie, the high-profile executive director of TIGHAR, has been promoting this theory since the late 1980’s and claims to have found good evidence to conclude that it’s a fact. On the other hand, in February of 1992 Gillespie called a news conference and announced that the Earhart mystery had absolutely been solved. Other researchers took a look at his evidence, then, and found numerous problems. Indeed, some of his “facts” were proven wrong and he was forced to admit that his declaration had been premature. Since then Gillespie and his researchers have led subsequent expeditions to Nikumaroro Island and managed to compile more circumstantial evidence which they say supports their claims. But is it good evidence, this time – and is it enough?

Some high profile endoresments, and possible new evidence

While TIGHAR, as noted, has yet to produce conclusive evidence that their theory is true their doggedly determined efforts to get to the truth have earned them the respect of people like Hillary Clinton.  Over the last few months Clinton has given the group a considerable amount of  high-profile praise,  and moral support,  at various speaking engagements.  Though Clinton’s remarks have simply commended TIGHAR’s efforts as historically important and patriotic, one suspects that her enthusiasm regarding  the  group’s next investigative trip to Nikumaroro in July of 2102 may be fueled by a suspicion that they’re on the right track. Indeed, over the last few years TIGHAR has  managed  to unearth some interesting artifacts on Nikumaroro  which, according to them, support their castaway theory – though the real value of their discoveries hotly debated by their detractors.

Among other items, TIGHAR  has discovered a broken  jar on Nikumaroro  that is nearly identical – in it’s highly unique design – to a jar of “freckle cream” marketed by a U.S. company in the 1930’s.  It was a brand reportedly favored by Earhart for hiding her freckles.    However,  when researchers endeavored to find existing samples of the jar and were successful in finding a number of them,  the bottle found on  Nikumaroro – though strikingly similar – failed to match any of them exactly.   While the TIGHAR team clearly feels that  the similarity as too striking to be a coincidence (perhaps a small number of the jars were produced with a slightly modified design, though no example has yet been found) critics simply say that the jar is not the same, and,  therefore proves nothing.

But TIGHAR doesn’t simply rely upon their modern-day investigative trips to Nikamaroro for evidence that Earhart and Noonan crash landed on  a reef.   In support of their theory that point out that evidence which would lend credibility to the scenario, and which emerged at the time of the incident, was inexplicably ignored.   Specifically, people at various locations in North America reported picking up the sound of Earhart’s voice, pleading for help,  on short wave radios. At the time, the reports were dismissed as hoaxes.   One of the most interesting and detailed accounts was given by Betty Klenck, a teenager living in Florida in 1937.   Now in her 90’s, Klenck sticks to her amazing account of hearing Earhart’s desperate voice  across the families short wave radio.

  • Radio transmissions from a downed Earhart, previously viewed as hoaxes, may be credible
    On the day after Earhart went missing people in three separate locations in North America reported listening to remarkably similar short-wave radio transmissions from someone claiming to be Earhart. The reports came from eastern Canada, Wyoming, and St. Petersburg, Florida. In all cases listeners stated that a woman’s voice identified herself as Amelia Earhart-Putnam and that there was a man, in the background, who appeared to be injured and out-of-control. The transmissions faded in and out, and the voice(s) seemed to be those of people who were truly terrified. The story told by Betty Klenck, of Florida, is especially riveting – and eerie. Betty Klenck, now in her 90’s, has held to the story her entire life. You can hear her story – and learn more about the various transmissions – in the video clip, below:
  • Artifacts found on Nikumaroro Island which suggest Earhart’s presence
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Posted by on Jun 8 2012. Filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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