The first clue we had was the navigational logic of a landfall at Gardner.
That was first explained to us by TIGHAR members Tom Gannon and Tom Willi
in 1988. As we dug into the historical record we discovered that, contrary
to popular impression (and ours at the time), the likelihood of the Earhart
having landed at one of the islands of the Phoenix Group was well recognized
in 1937. The very same navigational logic and the significance of the 157/337
line, as laid out for us by Gannon and Willi in 1988, is written out in
the report of Capt. Wilhelm Friedell of the USS Colorado in 1937.
We’re not investigating a new Earhart theory. We’re re- investigating the
oldest Earhart theory.
The line of position suggested that Gardner and McKean Islands in the
Phoenix Group were the most likely possibilities. The post-loss radio transmissions
heard for a couple of days following the disappearance suggested that a
safe landing had been made. When we first went out there in 1989 we visited
McKean. There was nothing there to suggest that an airplane might ever
have landed, or could ever have landed, on that God-forsaken, barren coral
outcropping that is home to clouds of seabirds. Gardner was another story
entirely. Not only was a safe landing obviously feasible but we found artifacts
that were undeniably aircraft wreckage in the island’s abandoned village.
It would take us years to sort out which artifacts could be disqualified
as WWII debris and which could not, but the presence of aviation wreckage
on an island where we were quite sure no WWII airplane had ever crashed
was the first clue that made us feel that Gardner was worth further investigation.