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Amelia Earhart mystery: New evidence shows pioneering aviator survived landing on remote Pacific Island
Mark Dunn, Herald Sun
September 8, 2016 8:57pm
A DISTRESS call received by an amateur Melbourne radio operator from pilot Amelia Earhart three days after her aircraft is believed to have ditched in the Pacific in 1937 has been assessed as “credible” evidence the famous aviator survived an initial crash-landing.
US aviator Amelia Earhart grabbed global headlines with her round-the-world exploits.
Pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart is welcomed by crowd in London after her 1928 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
A photogenic Amelia Earhart poses with her car and the Lockheed Electra that disappeared with her.
A dedicated group of US researchers, who have spent 28 years and millions of dollars piecing together the ill-fated Earhart bid to circumnavigate the world by air, say the transmission picked up by the Melbourne HAM radio operator and signed off by a “Mrs Putnam” (Earhart’s married name) is one of 57 credible emergency transmissions between July 2 — when her Lockheed disappeared — to July 7, 1937, the final radio contact.
LAST IMAGE: This is the last known photograph of Amelia Earhart and Frank Howard taken at Lae, New Guinea in 1937. Picture: Remember Amelia, the Larry C. Inman Historical Collection on Amelia Earhart
An artist's impression of Earhart's Lockheed Electra moments before the rough landing on the reef at Nikumaroro Island.
All the evidence points to a forced landing at Nikumaroro. Picture: Google Maps.
The last known still photograph of Earhart, taken at Lae, New Guinea after she left Darwin on the closing leg of her journey, surfaced just last month after being discovered by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery in a private collection.
Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken months after Earhart's plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft, note the the small black object on the left side of the image, protruding from the waters off remote Nikumaroro. Picture: TIGHAR
Evidence gathered by TIGHAR and found on Nikumaroro Island which the researchers say point to a rough landing by Earhart on the isolated atoll include:
HUMAN bones discovered on Nikumaroro in 1940, since lost, where separate records analysis has been contradictory, indicating either a western female or Polynesian islander.
REMNANTS of a woman’s shoe from the 1930s found in 1991.
A POTENTIAL metal covering from Earhart’s Lockheed Electra.
Earhart had already proved herself an accomplished aviator.
AN American-made hand lotion bottle made in 1933.
A BONE-handled jack knife of the same type inventoried as being aboard the Earhart plane.
A SEXTANT case with serial numbers linking it to the type of Brandis Navy instrument used by Earhart’s navigator, Fred Noonan, who was also lost.
AT least 47 radio signals heard by professional radio operators around the Pacific in the days after Earhart’s disappearance and 10 others by civilians.
Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan with map of the Pacific showing the route of their final flight.
Expedition leader Ric Gillespie (left) and archaeologist Gary Quigg at an archaeological site on Nikumaroro.
Funds are now being raised for a $1.75 million deep-sea search around Nikumaroro using two small submarines for the aircraft which is believed to have long since been washed off the reef where it ditched as fuel ran low.
“It’s out there, we know where it went,” TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie told the Herald Sun.
An intriguing aspect continues to be 13 bones found in 1940 above ground, rather than buried, although their current whereabouts has been lost to time and experts can only rely on old recorded measurements.
The Earhart story captured the world’s imagination.
A possible finger bone fragment found by TIGHAR. A US university hopes to conduct a DNA test.
“All anyone can do, and all we have claimed to do, is assess the possibility that the castaway whose partial skeleton was found was Amelia Earhart,” Mr Gillespie said.
“The bones ended up in Fiji and were examined by the head of the medical school, Dr D.W. Hoodless, on April 4, 1941.
“On April 12, 1941 he was ordered to ‘retain the remains until further notice.’ There is no further notice in the official file which ends in August 1941.
Aviator Amelia Earhart stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, California. She was bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. Aviatrix.
“We’ve made three extensive searches for the bones in Fiji. We’ve run out of places to look. Are they lost forever? Forever is a long time. They could still turn up.”
Based on bone measurements including a partial skull, a rib section, femur, tibia and fibula, one forensic study concluded they were “consistent with a female of Earhart’s height and ethnic origin” while another Australian-based study challenged that finding.
Now another anatomical study is underway — even though what happened to the bone specimens remains a mystery. ‘
New Footage Shows Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight
The new information appears to have researchers on the verge of final proof of what really happened.
“For the past year I’ve been working with forensic anthropologist Dr Richard Jantz at the University of Tennessee on a new and greatly expanded evaluation of the probable identity of the castaway. We hope to have that finished in a few weeks.
“No-one is claiming that the castaway can be conclusively identified by means of bone measurements but our new evaluation will make a much stronger case for the probability that the castaway was Amelia Earhart.”
To add further complexity, the SS Norwich City, which departed Melbourne in 1929 bound for Vancouver, ran aground on the reef at Nikumaroro, then known as Gardner Island, and 11 men were killed, with four bodies buried by survivors after they washed ashore.
But Mr Gillespie, whose TIGHAR team has conducted several archaeological searches on the island, said it was unlikely the skeletal remains uncovered were from the Norwich.
“Some of the artefacts we have recovered from the site where the bones were found and appear to be associated with the castaway cannot have been aboard Norwich City — a small bottle that once contained a hand lotion popular with American women is embossed with code that identifies it as having been manufactured by Owens-Illinois Glass at their Bridgeton, New Jersey plant in 1933.
“An American bone-handled double-bladed jack knife of the same type as one inventoried aboard the Earhart aircraft was first produced in 1930.
“Norwich City went aground in 1929. Perhaps most convincingly, part of a woman’s shoe was found with the bones in 1940. There were no women aboard Norwich City.”
Mr Gillespie also said the sextant box found with the bones was another strong indicator of Earhart and Noonan.
Final messages indicate her navigator Fred Noonan was badly injured.
call KHAQQ beyond north don't hold with us much longer above water shut off
“What we can say with some certainty is that the sextant box found with the bones was for the same type of sextant Noonan used as a ‘preventer,’ or back up.”
Finally, a metal sheet found on the island by TIGHAR has rivet-like indentations and metallurgic tests indicate it may have come from the Earhart plane which was fitted with it over a fuselage window after a previous hard landing in Miami.
Actor Hilary Swank as Amelia Earhart in a scene from 2009 film 'Amelia'.
“It’s a fascinating clue but, like the bone measurements, it can never be conclusive proof.
“Right now it looks to be highly probable that the artefact is the ‘Miami Patch’ but questions remain and research continues.”
On July 2, 1937, housewife Mabel Larremore of Amarillo, Texas was tuned to harmonic 3105 on her short-wave radio, coincidentally one of Earhart’s frequencies.
“Her message stated the plane was down on an uncharted island. Small, uninhabited. The plane was partially on land, part in water. She gave the latitude and longitude of her location. I listened to her for 30-45 minutes,” Ms Larremore said in 1990.
“She stated that her navigator Fred Noonan was seriously injured. Needed help immediately. She also had some injuries but not as serious as Mr Noonan.”
The emergency message picked up on July 5, 1937 at 10pm by the Melbourne HAM wireless operator, ending with the “sign-off” KHAQQ and “Mrs Putnman” was passed on to Australian aviation authorities at the time but its credibility until now has not been cross-verified with others.
Another fragmented Morse code transmission, picked up by three US Navy operators on the same day read: “281 North Howland (the island Earhart had originally aimed for) call KHAQQ beyond north dont hold with us much longer above water shut off.”
Despite an extensive sea and air search over several weeks and then costing an estimated $250,000 a day, the Earhart mystery has endured.
TIGHAR, which is seeking funding for its underwater search next July, the 80th anniversary of the disappearance, believes it will have final proof of what became of ‘Lady Lindy’ and Noonan.
“We’ve got a lot of money to raise and we are going to do it and we are going to find that airplane,” Mr Gillespie said.
Amelia Earhart on the wing of her Lockheed Electra in Darwin before the final fatal leg.