The mysterious 1937 disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart just got a little less mysterious as 81-year-old evidence that she and navigator Fred Noonan survived a crash on a small, uninhabited island in the Pacific and lived there for at least six days strongly appears to be legitimate. Will the evidence lead investigators to the crash site and the resolution of one of the greatest searches of the 21st century?
"Can you read me? Can you read me? This is Amelia Earhart. This is Amelia Earhart. Please come in."
The evidence comes from a three-part study called “The 2018 Post-Loss Radio Signals Analysis.” Conducted by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), it describes research on the radio distress calls heard in the days following Earhart’s disappearance. While dozens of people claimed to have heard transmissions that sounded like they were made by Earhart, many of the calls were discounted as hoaxes, transmissions from search parties looking for them or of too poor quality to be proven legitimate. The study provides other evidence that it claims is proof of the validity of 57 reported receptions of the calls.
"Will have to get out of here. We can't stay here long."
Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR and noted Earhart researcher, collected and cataloged over 100 reports by individuals and government agencies in North America and around the world who claimed to have heard distress calls. In an interview with USA Today, Gillespie says the key to identifying legitimate signals was not their quality but their timing. Specifically, if Earhart and Noonan had indeed crashed on a small island while attempting to land on a flat part – most likely the beach – they would have had to make their transmissions during low tide periods when their engine was dry enough to power their radio.
“Night after night, the credible transmissions occurred only when the water level was low enough."
Gillespie used tidal data collected from the Niku V expedition he headed in 2007 that visited Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati) which is one of the islands given a high probability of being the location of the crash. Knowing that low tide occurred between late evening and early morning, he searched through the 100 calls reported in the week following the disappearance and found 57 whose reported time-of-reception occurred within those hours. Many of those reports were well-documented by those who heard them, either in newspaper reports or in personal diaries and notebooks. The interest in Earhart’s flight and disappearance was obviously important enough to citizens of North America and the world to be that concerned about helping find her and recording the search.
“We have taken in water, my navigator is badly hurt ... we are in need of medical care and must have help. We can’t hold on much longer.”
Gillespie says he found the language and details consistent when the calls appeared to have been heard by multiple people at the same time. They also seemed to chronologically report worsening conditions until they stopped after six days.
Is this conclusive proof that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan crashed on a Pacific island on July 2, 1937, survived and made many distress calls for six days? The case appears to be strong. Did they crash on Gardner Island? This new study still doesn’t prove that.
Only remains of the couple or their plane will ultimately solve the mystery of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.