Did Amelia Earhart Live As A Castaway? Photos May Tell
A contact sheet of photos with aerial images of Nikumaroro, the island where Amelia Earhart and her navigator are believed to have survived for a time as castaways.
NBCNEWS.COM - An array of detailed aerial photos of the remote island where Amelia
Earhart may have survived for a time as a castaway has resurfaced in a
New Zealand museum archive, raising hopes for new photographic evidence
about the fate of the legendary aviator.
Found by Matthew
O'Sullivan, keeper of photographs at the New Zealand Air Force Museum in
Christchurch, the images lay forgotten in an unlabeled tin box in the
The box contained five sheets of contact prints
-- for a total of 45 photos, complete with negatives -- and a slip of
paper with the words "Gardner Island."
Now called Nikumaroro, the uninhabited tropical atoll in the
southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati is believed to be Earhart's
final resting place by researchers of The International Group for
Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).
The legendary aviator disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean
on July 2, 1937 in a record attempt to fly around the world at the
A number of artifacts recovered by TIGHAR during 10
expeditions have suggested that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan,
did not crash in the Pacific Ocean, running out of fuel somewhere near
their target destination Howland Island.
Instead, they made a forced landing on the island's smooth, flat
coral reef. The two became castaways and eventually died on the atoll,
which is some 350 miles southeast of Howland Island.
"For 25 years
we have struggled to tease details from a handful of printed photos.
Now we have an amazing array of detailed aerial images of every part of
the atoll taken before the first colonists, or even the New Zealand
Survey party, set foot on the island," Ric Gillespie, executive director
of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.
The images represent a complete
set of aerial obliques taken on Dec. 1, 1938 by a Supermarine Walrus
launched from HMS Leander in support of the New Zealand Pacific Aviation
Survey. They were taken just 15 months after the Earhart disappearance
and just before the first official habitation of the island in late
According to Gillespie, the pictures could provide
excellent views of areas on the island that are of particular interest
for the Amelia's search.
"What do you expect to find in an
unopened treasure chest? We can only imagine. We could find photographic
evidence of the aircraft debris on the reef or beach, or spot signs of
human activity on the beach and in other parts of the island," Gillespie
Recently TIGHAR released sonar imagery captured off
Nikumaroro showing an "anomaly" that might possibly be the wreckage of
Amelia's aircraft. The straight, unbroken feature is uncannily
consistent with the fuselage of a Lockheed Electra, TIGHAR said.
According to Gillespie, the aerial photos could also reveal evidence of
the presence of the castaway whose partial skeleton was found in 1940.
Recovered by British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher, the
human remains -- some 13 bones -- were described in a forensic report
and attributed to an individual "more likely female than male," "more
likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander," "most likely
between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches in height." Unfortunately
the human remains have been lost.
believes that many of the bones might have been carried off by the
island's numerous hermit and coconut crabs, suggesting an unmerciful end
"We're currently working out the logistics of a trip
to Christchurch to examine the negatives with our forensic imaging
specialist, Jeff Glickman," Gillespie said.
"We will be working
not from a third generation print but from the original large-format,
fine-grained negatives. In our fondest dreams we couldn't have wished
for something like this," he said.
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