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Ric Gillespie's Search for Amelia Earhart
The disappearance of Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan during an attempted ‘round-the-world flight is perhaps aviation’s greatest enduring mystery.
On July 2, 1937, Earhart’s Lockheed Electra aircraft failed to arrive at tiny Howland Island in the mid-Pacific after a grueling 20-hour, 2,500 mile over-water flight from New Guinea. A massive but fruitless U.S. Coast Guard and Navy search concluded that the missing plane had crashed at sea and sunk without a trace. In later years there was widespread speculation that the fliers had been abducted and imprisoned by the Japanese. There were even allegations that Earhart had returned to the U.S. after World War II with a secret identity and lived out her life as a New Jersey housewife. Logical or imaginative as the various theories were, they all lacked the same essential feature – reliable supporting evidence.
In 1988, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) began the first science-based investigation of the Earhart disappearance. Finding no support for the Crashed-and-Sank or Japanese Capture theories, TIGHAR set out to test the hypothesis that the fliers, having failed to find their intended destination, followed the navigational line Earhart described in her last known in-flight radio transmission.
That line leads to Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro), a waterless, uninhabited coral atoll 350 nautical miles southeast of Howland. In the course of twenty-five years of research and ten expeditions to Nikumaroro at a cost of over five million dollars raised from public contributions, TIGHAR has discovered an abundance of archival, photographic, analytical, and physical evidence suggesting that the island is indeed where the fliers met their fate.
The New England Air Museum’s Lockheed Model 10-A Electra, constructor’s number 1052, is the closest surviving Electra to Amelia Earhart’s Model 10-E Special, constructor’s number 1055. At the museum’s February 16th Open Cockpit, TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie will discuss the Lockheed Electra’s pivotal role in the development of commercial aviation and how the distinctive features and capabilities of the aircraft figure in the unraveling of the Earhart mystery. Ric will also review TIGHAR’s on-going investigation and the plan for next summer’s return to Nikumaroro.
Ric Gillespie founded TIGHAR in 1985 and has led the organization’s Earhart Project since its inception in 1988. He has been featured in numerous television documentaries including major Discovery Channel specials in 2010 and 2012. His book, Finding Amelia – the True Story of the Earhart Disappearance was published by the Naval Institute Press in 2006 and is widely regarded as the most authoritative work on the subject.
TIGHAR’s extensive website is at TIGHAR.org.
Content and photos used with the permission of Ric Gillespie.