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On July 2, 1937, in the homestretch of her attempt to circumnavigate the globe, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, in a Lockheed Electra airplane, with a plan to land on the small Howland Island.  What happened next has befuddled investigators ever since.

One of Earhart's final radio transmissions said that the plane was running low on fuel, and reports from the Itasca, a Coast Guard vessel stationed at Howland Island, seem to suggest that due to a host of factors (human error and weather conditions,  foremost) Earhart went off course, flew past, or did not fly far enough, and landed or crashed somewhere. The search-and-rescue mission began immediately, but proved fruitless.

That's all we know for sure, and this happened 78 years ago. There are theories, sure, but none of the theorists can agree on which island she may have land on. One theory holds that she landed on the Marshall Islands, where she was captured by Japanese forces. But why would the Japanese have wanted to capture her in the first place? Unclear.

In 2015 the mystery remains tantalizing and every new piece of information about Earhart leads to renewed interest. Just last month, never-before-seen footage of Earhart tooling around a Burbank runway during a photoshoot was released to help promote a new book of photographs of Earhart. The short clip has no audio, yet has amassed 35K views.

Things get even more heated when there's actual news about the disappearance. Check the Google search interest chart below:



That spike in October 2014 occurred because The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) claimed that a piece of aluminum found on the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro belonged to the aviatrix's plane—cementing, for them, that her plane had crashed on that island and that she had died before she could be found. It's certainly possible since Nikumaroro and Howland Island, at 350 miles apart, are relatively close to each other.

This is that organization's pet theory, and—as long as Earhart and Noonan didn't merely crash somewhere in the Pacific Ocean—if anyone is going to crack this case, it's probably them. In fact, they made news last month when they announced they were mounting an expedition (at the cost of $500,000—a bargain if their hunch is right) to search for signs of a campsite set up by Earhart and Noonan. However, what TIGHAR is probably less enthusiastic about announcing is that this is their 11th such attempt at this kind of expedition. The group claims to have a "preponderance" of evidence amassed over the 27 years they've been searching, but it seems like the island (which covers a fraction of the area that Manhattan does) would have revealed all of its secrets by now.


TIGHAR doesn't sound that optimistic, either:

"If we make a dramatic discovery, that would be great, but I'm not going to predict that that is what we are going to do," Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR executive director, told AFP.

But the group at least knows what it is looking for there.

"There is something down there at the base of a cliff at a depth of about 600 feet (180 meters) that is the right size and shape and right location to logically be a big chunk of the fuselage," Gillespie said.

"It could also be an unusual geological feature," he acknowledged.

It'd be great if TIGHAR found some definitive proof to confirm their theory, but realistically, they probably won't. Amelia Earhart was declared dead on January 5, 1939, one year, six months, and three days after losing radio contact. Even after all these years, that might be the end of the story.


David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: