Trailblazing pilot Amelia Earhart died a castaway on a remote South Pacific island, pleading to be saved.
That’s the opinion of researchers who have been probing her mysterious disappearance for 22 years.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has long believed Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed on or close to Nikumaroro Island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati.
They were routed to touch down on Howland Island some 350 miles away, but landed as they were running low on fuel, according to TIGHAR’s theory.
Nikumaroro, also known as Gardner Island, is an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii.
During a presentation in the United States last month, TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie claimed to have evidence that Earhart made more than 100 radio distress calls from the island between 2-6 July 1937 – some of which were picked up as far away as Texas and Melbourne.
Earhart and Noonan left Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937, during a quest to circumnavigate the world along an equatorial route. Four months into their journey, they were never seen again.
Gillespie believes Earhart landed her Lockheed Electra on Nikumaroro with some fuel in the tank, thus allowing her to make the radio transmissions.
“People started hearing radio distress calls from the airplane and they were verified,” he said.
One person who claims to have heard one of Earhart’s calls was a then 16-year-old girl listening to the radio at her home in Florida.
The teenager transcribed Earhart’s at times confusing call for help, which included the words New York repeated several times.
One of the last calls, the radio bearings of which crossed to Nikumaroro Island, mentioned rising waters, Gillespie said, leading him to believe the plane had crash-landed partially in the sea.
TIGHAR believes an injured Earhart and possibly Noonan lived for some time on the island – which was last inhabited in 1892 – drinking rainwater and eating clams, turtles, fish and birds.
The group believes Earhart died at a makeshift campsite at the island’s southeast end and that her plane was swept over the edge of the reef, which surrounds it.
TIGHAR has visited the island a number of times but as yet have found no debris from Earhart’s plane. On its next expedition it will return with submarines to scour the ocean bed with, Gillespie said.
Earhart was legally declared dead on 5 January 1939, with the US government concluding she had run out of fuel and crashed at sea.
Another theory as to what became of Earhart claims she was a spy and was shot down by the Japanese (or captured after a crash or forced landing) and taken prisoner.