Niku 7 TIGHAR believes there is sufficient evidence to justify a search of the deep water off the west end of Nikumaroro for any surviving wreckage of the Earhart Electra. During Niku VI, a preliminary search was done with the objective of mapping and examining the shallower areas of the west end of the reef.

Where We Searched

target area
The Niku VI expedition searche depths at and above 300 meters off the west end of the atoll.



Ten expeditions over the past twenty-two years have uncovered abundant evidence that this uninhabited waterless atoll is where Earhart and Noonan died as castaways. The available clues strongly suggest that the Electra was landed on the reef at the west end of the atoll and was later washed over the reef edge. The more massive components of the aircraft – i.e. the engines and center section – should be at the base of the reef slope. That’s where anything that went over the reef edge that was too heavy to be swept away by surf or currents is most likely to have come to rest. During Niku VI, the shallower areas (300 meters and less) were examined with HD video and sonar to begin the process of mapping the slope.

Not Enough Tether. Not Enough Boat.



The 2010 Niku VI expedition was equipped with a SeaBotix LBV Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) with an HD video camera and a 300 meter (984 foot) fiber-optic tether.


Video imagery from the ROV gave us the first detailed picture anyone has ever had of the underwater environment at Nikumaroro below scuba depth (about 100 feet). We discovered that the reef slope is much steeper than anyone knew and, except for some narrow shelving, is basically a cliff face that is too steep to catch aircraft wreckage.

The only man-made objects encountered on the shelving, aside from some debris from the Norwich City shipwreck, were what appeared to be a small semi-circle of wire (but may also have been a piece of “whip coral”) and a couple pieces of rope. Perhaps coincidentally, these objects were seen deep on the reef slope below the spot where we think the airplane went over the edge.


The Twilight Zone


The base of the cliff where the slope begins to shallow out is at 300 meters (984 feet). In other words, the depth at which we had to stop searching turned out to be the depth at which we really need to start searching. Three hundred meters is also the transitional area where the last faint traces of sunlight from the surface fade to the total blackness of the deep ocean. Airplane wreckage in this “twilight zone” should not be obscured by coral growth.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat.


During the Niku VI expedition the ROV was operated from both Nai’a and VvS1 – good ships, but they were chosen for their suitability to transport and support the land archaeological team. With no way to hold a steady position while being pushed about by wind and waves, the ships were acceptable platforms for only a relatively shallow search. To conduct a search at depths well below 300 meters we’ll need a more sophisticated ROV with a much longer tether and a ship with “dynamic positioning” – powerful thrusters linked to a GPS system that allow the ship to maintain a rock-solid position over a particular spot on the ocean bottom.

There is much to be done in planning, staffing, equipping – and funding – the Niku 7 expedition. The price tag will likely be in the neighborhood of three to five million dollars so we’re going to need some heavy-duty sponsorship. Individuals and corporations who are interested in exploring sponsorship opportunities are invited to contact TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie.

Phone: (610) 467-1937

Overview Plan
Under Water Dailies Results
Our special thanks to the corporate and individual sponsors of The Earhart Project, without whom nothing would be possible:
Photek Imaging
Digital Globe
Thursby Software
Summit Inspection Bureau
Bella Energy
Global Science & Technology
  Whites Electronics

The Members of the TIGHAR Board of Directors.

And the loyal membership of TIGHAR.

To make a donation to the Earhart Project, click HERE.

The Earhart Project is funded by charitable contributions. Donations by check (payable to TIGHAR) or credit card (Visa, Discover, or Master Card) may be sent to TIGHAR, The Earhart Project, 2366 Hickory Hill Road, Oxford, PA 19363, or click on the link above to make your contribution. Confidential inquiries regarding sponsorship opportunities for individuals or corporations should be addressed to Executive Director Richard Gillespie (email

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