Forum logo What was the first real clue TIGHAR had that Earhart and Noonan may have reached Nikumaroro?

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.

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