Alternative theories

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TIGHAR believes that the Niku hypothesis is the theory that best fits all of the facts of the case as known to date. Others disagree. TIGHAR has made a good-faith effort to take other theories into consideration and see how well they fit the facts of the case.


This is the most intuitively appealing and a very reasonable theory. The official verdict was that the plane had probably gone down at sea and sunk without a trace. The supposed distress calls were declared to be either misunderstandings or outright hoaxes.

"Commander Walter K. Thompson decided fairly early that Earhart must have run out of fuel and that she landed the aircraft at sea shortly after the 08:43 (20:13 GMT) transmission received by Itasca."[1]

The splashed-and-sank theory is a hypothesis that can and has been tested. Some may think that it is an easy task because of the success of the Titanic expeditions. The Electra is much smaller than the Titanic and the search area is vastly larger. See "Titanic vs. Electra" for more details.

"The Race to Find Amelia" details three deep-water searches that took place or that were planned in the last twenty years.

Near Howland Island

Elgen Long assumes that Earhart ran out of gas very shortly after the last transmission, relatively near to Howland Island.

Nauticos has made at least two deep-sea searches within the zone that Long calculates to be the most like region to find the downed aircraft.

Gary LaPook criticizes the Niku Hypothesis on his website. He believes that Earhart and Noonan would have searched in the vicinity of Howland until they ran out of gas.

After spying

There are a multitude of theories that Earhart and Noonan used the round-the-world flight as a cover story for spying on Japanese military installations in the Pacific en route to Howland Island.

The first version of this theory appeared in Flight for Freedom, a 1943 movie that showed a woman pilot and her navigator plunging into the ocean, sacrificing their lives in a noble attempt to glean valuable information about the Japanese military buildup in their Pacific territories.

Wayne Green claims to have learned in 1935 or 1936 about Earhart's plane being equipped for a spy mission over Truk.

Most of the "Captured by the Japanese" scenarios below are variants of this theory, although some may suppose that the Japanese captured Earhart and Noonan by accident and merely held them as prisoners of war on suspicion of spying.

Spying links

Gary LaPook:

Survivability after ditching

National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), "Amelia Earhart's Crash Reconstruction."
"According to the Biomechanical data obtained in the analysis, she would have had not suffer any incapacitating injury to the head, neck, and thorax area. Note that the simulation results can not establish the injury risk for the upper and lower extremities. Due to the airplane configuration the only path to the Life raft would be through the Pilot Escape Hatch and accessing the aircraft through one of the side doors. ...
"Based on the analysis results the ditching event should be classified as a survivable accident. A survivable accident is where sufficient cabin structure and seats remain to aid survival of one or more occupants, and where further loss of life is the consequence of drowning, or other post- crash incidents.
"Providing that there was no lap belt failure and that she was able to egress the aircraft, unless she was rescued within hours of the crash event she would have been exposed to the elements without any survival gear. More likely she would have drowned."

Caught spying

Carol Lynn Dow is very critical of the things TIGHAR has found on Nikumaroro. Her novel apparently backs the "Japanese capture" hypothesis.

Died on Saipan

Paul L. Briand, Jr., theorized in Daughter of the Sky (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1960) that Earhart flew to Saipan by mistake (a course error of 90 degrees) and was captured by the Japanese.

T.C. "Buddy" Brennan wrote Witness to the Execution: The Odyssey of Amelia Earhart (Renaissance House, 1988) was based on the recollections of an elderly lady on Saipan who claimed to have seen the woman flyer and the man flyer with a bandaged, injured head, and limping being brought to Saipan for imprisonment by the Japanese.

Mike Campbell published With Our Own Eyes: Eyewitnesses to the Final Days of Amelia Earhart (Ohio: Lucky Press, 2002) and Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last (Camp Hill, PA: Sunbury Press, 2012).

There are many other variations of the Saipan theory.[2]

Died on Tinian

Two TIGHAR members helped to excavate an area on Tinian where a person claimed to have seen Earhart and Noonan buried. Many interesting things were found, but no human remains.[3]

Died on any number of Pacific Islands

The Pacific islands are awash with stories about people seeing a woman who looked like Earhart being held captive in Japanese prisons and/or executed by the Japanese.

Moleski argues that any white woman held a sufficient length of time in a prisoner-of-war camp would come to resemble Earhart: slender (emaciated), with close-cropped hair, wearing prison garments. There may be a grain of truth about women prisoners-of-war, but no persuasive evidence has been presented that any of them are true.

If one of the "caught spying" stories is true, then all of the rest have to be cases of mistaken identity. It is inconceivable that all of the legends about Earhart suffering at the hands of the Japanese can be true--there are too many of them from too many sources for one person to have been the same victim in all of them.

Executed by Order of the Emperor

Henri Keyzer-Andre with Hy Steirman, Age Of Heroes (Mamoroneck, NY
Hastings House, 1993).
Keyzer-Andre has figured out that Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed at the express instruction of the Japanese Emperor so that the Electra’s advanced technology could be copied for use in the Zero. Why Hirohito should have gone to all that trouble is a bit puzzling given that the Imperial Japanese Navy had purchased an Electra from Lockheed the year before (sales of American aircraft to Japan continued unrestricted until 1939).[4]

Survived and came home

The unsigned Love to Mother letter fueled many theories about Earhart surviving captivity and returning to the United States in secret. Ron Bright has uncovered the full story of this enigmatic note.[5]

Came home and hid in New Jersey

Colonel Rollin Reineck, USAF (ret.), thought he saw Earhart at a party, disguised as Irene Bolam. He developed this theory at length in Amelia Earhart Survived (The Paragon Agency Publishers, 2003). TIGHAR judges that there are many serious defects in his case, not the least among them the fact that Mrs. Bolam strenuously denied the allegation and won a judgment against Reineck in court.[6]

David K. Bowman, Legerdemain: Deceit, Misdirection and Political Sleight of Hand in the Disappearance of Amelia Earhart: supports Reineck's theory with additional arguments.

"Amelia Earhart's Survival and Repatriation: Myth or Reality?" by Alex Mandel offers a trenchant rebuttal of Reineck's hypothesis.

Crashed elsewhere

In the Gilbert Islands

Ric Gillespie, 12 October 1998 Forum.[7]
Earhart’s declared intention to turn back to the Gilbert Islands if she couldn’t find Howland supposedly comes from her friend Eugene Vidal.
Doris Rich (Amelia Earhart – A Biography) says: “Her plan, he (Vidal) said, was to hunt for Howland Island until she had four hours of fuel left, and then, if she had not located it, to turn back to the Gilbert Islands and land on a beach.” (page 273)
Rich says that this comes from “Box 19, page 97” in the “Vidal Collection 6013, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming.” ...
AE’s alleged statement is interesting. With four hours of gas at 130 kts (the Electra’s best economical cruising speed) she can cover 520 nm in still air. That could, in theory, get her to 5 of the 16 Gilbert Islands (Nikunau, Beru, Onotoa, Tamana or Arorae). The closest, Nikunau, is 450 nm from Howland. She can do that in 3 hours and 46 minutes and if her navigation is not dead on (having started from someplace where she doesn’t know where she is because she hasn’t found Howland) she has all of 14 minutes to find Nikunau. For any of the other four atolls the tolerance is much tighter.
This is a dumb plan, especially given the proximity of three closer alternative islands (Baker at 40 nm, McKean at 290 nm and Gardner at 350 nm) all close to a single, easily discernable navigational line (the 157 degree Line of Position).
(Incidentally, Dames’ wreck site is a hundred miles beyond where Earhart could have theoretically gone.)
The alleged comment may, however, provide some clue as to how much fuel Earhart planned to have in reserve after flying to and looking for Howland. We need to find out when it was that Earhart supposedly said this (it must have been between the first and second attempts) and when it was that Vidal recalled that she had said it. As far as I know, Earhart was on the West Coast the whole time between the two attempts until she flew to Miami. I wonder where Vidal was?

In the Phoenix Islands


Winslow Reef

Christmas Island

Kanton Island

In 1998, a thirteen-person team investigated whether one of the Electra's engines had been helicoptered into Kanton (Canton) Island. No radial engine was found, though the dump was it was probably buried was located. Subsequent research among personnel who served on Kanton at the time and calculation of the fuel necessary to carry a radial engine from Nikumaroro to Kanton by helicopter ruled out the likelihood that the engine was from the Electra. In all likelihood, it was from an aircraft that crashed on Kanton itself.

Papua New Guinea

These theories are difficult to square with the known fuel load on board and the signal strength of the radio transmissions received by the Itasca on the morning of July 2.

On New Britain Island

David Billings believes that the Electra crashed on New Britain Island in Papua, New Guinea.[8]

Matsungan Island, Bougainville

"Plane wreck believed to be Earhart found in Bougainville":

"The discovery of an aircraft wreck at the depth of 70 metres north-west of Buka in Bougainville may hold some answers to the 74-year mystery of the disappearance of world-famous aviatrix--Amelia Earhart.
"There are strong indications that the aircraft is a Lockheed Model 10 Electra which took off from Lae on July 2nd 1937 destined for Howland Island. The crash site is in direct alignment with Earhart’s flight path out of Lae, past north of Buka Island in a straight northeast direction to Howland."

Earhart Project Research Bulletin "Too True to Believe" dated March 9, 2011

Marshall Islands

Mili Atoll

Leslie G. Kinney, Forum, 30 May 2015
With that said, I am a firm believer Earhart went down in the Marshalls and met her fate on Saipan. During the course of my research I have uncovered “one” document written by a U.S. military department branch that would stand up to court scrutiny. This document indicates our military had evidence Earhart had been in the custody of the Japanese in the Marshalls. Only one document, that’s it! However, I have found many documents that would lead one to believe Earhart landed in the Marshalls.
There were three eyewitnesses to the Earhart landing at Mili Atoll which Ric categorizes as “folklore.”
Excerpt from letter Fred Goerner wrote to TIGHAR member Rob Gerth on April 13, 1989
"I truly believed the north of course theory was the most probable at the time I wrote THE SEARCH FOR AE in 1966, and I chose Mili as the most logical landing place. Through the assistance of Dr. Dirk Ballendorf, who was Deputy Director for our U.S. Peace Corps activities in the Pacific, I was able to disabuse myself of that conjecture by 1969. Dr. Ballendorf assigned a fine young American named Eric Sussman to assist me with the people of Mili Atoll. Mr. Sussman spent nearly two years in Mili as a Peace Corps Volunteer, and he interviewed every Marshallese there who was old enough to remember anything about the pre-WWII years, especially 1937. A story existed about a woman pilot being picked up somewhere in or about the Marshalls in 1937, but Mr. Sussman satisfied himself and consequently satisfied me that Mili HAD NOT BEEN the landing place of the Earhart plane. It is more than a little surprising that Vincent Loomis, Oliver Knaggs, Buddy Brennan, Paul Bryce, Jim Slade and all the other people who visited Mili in the late 1970's and early 1980's and made such extravagant, unsupportable claims, did not even attempt to contact me before they made their "expeditions". It is almost as if they did not want to hear ANYTHING which might not support their conclusions and what they were trying to promulgate to their investors. What was amusing but not surprising was that they were calling each other names and threatening lawsuits against one another within months after their returns to The States."

Star Trekked

An episode of Star Trek supposed that Earhart and Noonan were abducted by aliens.[9]

Remote viewing

Some groups disagree with the Niku hypothesis on the basis of remote viewing. Some practitioners of "remote viewing" call it "anomalous cognition." Since the ordinary bodily senses are not used in these exercises, it seems fair to classify the technique as an example of "Extra Sensory Perception or ESP."


  1. "The First 24 Hours."
  2. Google Earhart + Saipan.
  3. "TIGHARS on Tinian."
  4. Ric Gillespie, "Incredible Adventures" (TIGHAR Tracks 1993:9).
  5. "Love to Mother."
  6. "Is This Amelia Earhart?"
  7. 12 October 1998 Forum
  8. AE Home page (New Britain)
  9. "The 37's"