Volume 12 Number 2/3
October, 1996
earhart logoearhart logoParadise Lost
1975 Smithsonian naturalists return, this time aboard a U.S. Air Force helicopter. It is believed that the now completely abandoned island was under consideration as a possible test site for biological weapons. Fortunately, that never happened.
1978 On October 24-27 a party of geologists employed by Geomarex Corp. surveys the lagoon for exploitable minerals. None are found.
1979 Gardner Island becomes part of the new Republic of Kiribati and is officially renamed Nikumaroro.
1989 From September 17 to October 6, TIGHAR’s Niku I expedition ranges far and wide over the island hoping to find the Earhart aircraft in the underbrush. Scuba divers scout the edge of the fringing reef on the chance that the Electra rests somewhere on the first shallow shelves of coral. In the last days of the expedition, exhausted, disappointed and empty-handed, the team puts aside dreams of dramatic success and content itself with whatever scraps the abandoned village might offer. Of the nineteen village artifacts deemed worthy of collection, only one – Artifact 2-18, the dado – ultimately emerges from the analytical process as a probable relic of the Lockheed.
1991 From October 10 to 19 TIGHAR’s Niku II expedition team targets specific areas on the island while the ship conducts a side-scan sonar search of the deep water off the reef. As in 1989, the underwater search is fruitless while, onshore, the search for a possible campsite seen on the atoll’s remote northeastern arm by Coast Guardsmen in 1944 is also negative. The excavation of a suspicious grave near Bauareke Passage on the south coast produces the bones of an infant, not Amelia Earhart, but coincidentally encounters shoe fragments and other interesting objects nearby. Again, in the last days of the expedition, an inspection of the abandoned village turns up aircraft debris, including a torn section of aluminum skin. Research would eventually show that the artifact could be part of a unique repair patch known to have been installed on the Earhart aircraft in May 1937.
1995 Interviews with former residents of Nikumaroro now living in the Solomon Islands corroborate the story that bones were found by the first work party in 1938/39. No one knew a story about an airplane having been on the island.
1996 From February 2 to 5 TIGHAR’s Niku III Preliminary expedition tries again to locate the campsite on the northeastern shore, this time guided by early aerial photos which have been digitized and enhanced to reveal the presence of metal debris. Hopes that the campsite is that of Earhart and Noonan are dashed when the debris is at last located but proves to be comprised of objects from the Gilbertese settlement two miles away. For a third time, the apparently defeated expedition ends with a walk through the abandoned village, and once again, aircraft parts are found. This time the recovered artifacts include a fragment of Plexiglas which subsequent analysis shows is probably from Lockheed Part Number 40552, the cabin window of an Electra.

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