Plagued by Technical Setbacks, Nikumaroro Earhart Expedition Ends with Little Accomplished

I must admit I am disappointed in how TIGHAR’s (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) latest Amelia Earhart mission ended, though I’m likely less disappointed than those who paid upwards of $11,000 each for the privilege of accompanying the expedition.


As described in earlier posts, TIGHAR’s theory is that Amelia Earhart did not run out of fuel and ditch her Lockheed Electra in the ocean while flying to Howland Island. They instead believe that she diverted course and crash-landed on Nikumaroro Island. Their current working theory is that the airplane was landed on a reef or beach, but was later washed away and sunk nearby during a storm.


Arguably the most important objective of of TIGHAR’s most recent mission was the video/still image survey of a “sonar contact” in 600 feet of water just offshore of the island. Though their dive team was able to search in waters up to 130 feet, efforts to reach the sonar target and deeper waters were hindered by the total failure of their underwater ROV (Remotely-Operated Vehicle). With no backup system and unable to return the robot to working order, the crew was left to cobble together a kind of “camera sled,” which was then dragged over the ocean bottom in the approximate area of the sonar target. No airplane wreckage was discovered during this last-ditch effort.


Land teams appear equally unsuccessful. While searching for a supposed ’emergency campsite’ where Earhart and Noonan could have sheltered, teams found little besides bird droppings, rats and crabs.

Having exhausted the land and shallow waters for any evidence of plane wreckage, the final possibility in salvaging TIGHAR’s Nikumaroro Island hypothesis lies in examining the deeper waters surrounding the island. But if TIGHAR returns with working equipment and still finds nothing (as I believe they will) this would prove definitively that Amelia Earhart did not crash-land on Nikumaroro Island… and finally, after 25 years of publicity and expedition, put their strange theory to rest.

Taylor Zajonc | Author, Historian & Shipwreck Expert




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