Castaway clues in the search for Amelia Earhart

National Geographic’s top oceanic explorer scours the waters surrounding a tiny Pacific island as astonishing artefacts prove the presence of a female castaway, possibly solving one of the 21st century’s most enduring mysteries. 

Amelia Earhart’s fate has fascinated the world for over 80 years, ever since she and her navigator Fred Noonan vanished into thin air during her quest to become the first solo pilot to circumnavigate the globe in her Lockheed Electra 10E plane in July 1937.

Now, famed National Geographic oceanic explorer Bob Ballard is heading up the ambitious Expedition Amelia to survey the suspected last resting place of the famed pilot in the hope of finding traces of her and her downed plane.

Known for locating the sunken wreck of the infamous Titanic in 1985, Ballard’s crew heads to a remote island in the Pacific aboard the state-of-the-art E/V Nautilus in search of the pioneering explorer who blazed a trail for women worldwide.

Castaway clinging to life

While the theory stands that Amelia’s plane ran out of fuel and went down “somewhere over the Pacific”, Expedition Amelia’s researchers have narrowed down the search area based on distress signals received from her plane’s unique call letters, before vanishing without a trace en route to Howland Island from New Guinea. Together with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), they are focusing their search around the island of Nikumaroro, where evidence leads them to believe she managed a daring crash-landing and even eked out an existence for some time.

As the Nautilus methodically scours the seabed surrounding the volcanic island for traces of her wrecked plane’s two Pratt & Whitney engines, TIGHAR combs the island for proof that Amelia actually camped out as a castaway while attempting to hail for assistance over her ruined plane’s radio. From tracking down lost skeletal human remains rumoured to be that of the explorer herself, to excavating suspected castaway campsites that delivered some surprising evidence of human activity on the inhospitable, giant coconut-crab infested island, no stone is left unturned in the quest for answers.

Facts worth knowing

  • Amelia was forced to change her flight course at the last moment, and hence the most dangerous crossing of the Pacific ended up being the final part of her incredible journey, instead of it being the first leg as initially planned.
  • There have been many theories about Amelia and her navigator Noonan’s ultimate fate, most popular being that Earhart and Noonan either perished when their plane crashed into the Pacific or, ended up being taken as prisoners by the Japanese army.
  • Conspiracy theorists have even gone so far as to suggest that Amelia (and perhaps Noonan as well) abandoned their quest after her crash and returned to the US under assumed names.

Expedition Amelia airs on Sunday 3 November on National Geographic (181) at 20:00

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