Competing Earhart Finds Manage Rare Feat of Equal Implausibility

An aluminum body patch from Amelia Earhart’s plane is found on Nikumaroro Island; a wheel cover from the same plane is found on Mili Atoll.

The problem? These two islands are 1,200 miles apart.


On July 2, 1937, midnight, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae in the heavily loaded Electra. Their intended destination was Howland Island, a flat sliver of land… 2,556 miles away. (Wikipedia)

What is certain beyond all doubt is that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan never arrived at Howland Island. Since then, theorizes on her disappearance can be roughly divided into two camps. The first (held by most credible experts) maintains that Amelia Earhart ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific, dying upon impact or sometime shortly thereafter. The second camp includes a grab bag of evidence-poor theories including the following:

  • Unable to find Howland Island, Amelia Earhart diverted course and crash-landed on the reef surrounding Nikumaroro Island, roughly 400 miles to the southeast. She then lived for a time as a castaway, and her plane was washed off the reef by a storm before the island was colonized.
  • Unable to find Howland Island, Amelia Earhart diverted course and crash-landed on Mili Atoll (a staggering 870+ miles to the northwest of Howland Island) whereupon she and her navigator were captured by the Japanese. She died in captivity and her plane was moved via barge to Saipan, then under Japanese control.
  • While on-route to Howland Island, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were captured by an alien species known as the Briori for use as slave labor in the Delta Quadrant. She is currently scheduled to be thawed from suspended animation in 2371 by the crew of the USS Voyager.


Out of the above, Nikumaroro Island theory has gained the most media attention as of late, especially in the lead-up TIGHAR’s June expedition. But proponents of the Mili Island/Japanese capture theory are determined force their way into the clown car, adopting the media relations tactics and evidence threshold standards of more-successful TIGHAR. Case in point, the article US researchers claim metal fragments prove Amelia Earhart crashed on Marshall Islands by The Telegraph. I’m excerpting some of the most important quotes below. It’s definitely worth comparing to the press coverage of the “Earhart Aluminum Patch” discovery from about a year ago, there are more similarities than differences in how the cases are presented. This is despite the fact that the two theories are, by definition, mutually exclusive.

American researchers have claimed that two pieces of bent and corroded metal are evidence that Amelia Earhart crash-landed on a remote Pacific atoll in 1937 and that the famous aviator and her navigator subsequently died as prisoners of the Japanese. Les Kinney and Dick Spink travelled to barren Mili atoll, part of the Marshall Islands, in January and used metal detectors to carry out a detailed search.

Many of the metal fragments they discovered have been ruled out as having come from Ms Earhart’s Lockheed Electra, but two of the shards are now being analysed by Alcoa, which produced the aluminium used for the aircraft, and Parker Aerospace, The Mail reported. The researchers believe a dented, round piece of metal is the dust shield that fitted over the brake assembly of the aircraft’s wheel, while a long, thin piece of aluminium was originally a component in the wheel well.

Mr Kinney and Mr Spink have invested thousands of dollars of their own money to follow up on the reports and are convinced that the Electra came down on Mili, where the two were captured by the Japanese. They contend the aircraft was subsequently placed aboard a barge and towed by a freighter to the island of Jaluit and on to Saipan, one of the largest islands in the Western Pacific. Accused of being spies, according to the claims, Mr Noonan was executed and Ms Earhart later died of dysentry. (The Telegraph)

The “Japanese Capture” theory has rattled around the corners of historical conspiracy theories for decades. It’s a bit troubling to see it pop up in The Telegraph, but that’s likely about the extent of the press coverage it will ever get. On the face of it, the theory simply sounds too weird–a secret too difficult to keep–for most Americans to give it much thought. At this point, the Mili Atoll group’s find (a wheel dust cover) remains just as disputed as TIGHAR’s ‘aluminum patch’ find.

Taylor Zajonc | Author, Historian & Shipwreck Expert

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