Amelia Earhart 75th Anniversary Prompts New Expedition

VIDEO: Evidence may lead to details about the disappearance of the famous female pilot.
ABCNEWS.com

In honor of the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart's disappearance, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is setting out to search for Earhart's plane, the Electra, at Nikumaroro, an island in the western Pacific Ocean, where they believe Earhart was stranded and later died.

Seventy-five years ago on July 2, 1937, Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, mysteriously vanished somewhere over the Pacific Ocean during her attempted flight around the world. Her two-engine plane, Lockheed Electra, was never found and neither was Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan.

TIGHAR, with the help of FedEx, plans to travel from Honolulu today to Nikumaroro. There, they will use advanced technology to search underwater off the west coast of the island for signs of manmade objects. They hope to find wreckage of Earhart's plane

"That's what should be down there based on the research and clues we have," Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director, said. "We think it should be down there, whether it thinks so is another question."

TIGHAR's theory regarding Earhart's disappearance is one of several. Here are five of them.

PHOTO: Amelia Earhart, Paul Mantz, Harry Manning and Fred Noonan
Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images
Earhart Crashed, Sank

This theory is probably the most obvious of them all. The default reasoning for Earhart's disappearance was that she ran out of gas somewhere near her destination, Howland Island, and crashed into the sea.

As Earhart and Noonan approached their destination, Howland Island, radio transmissions were sent between Earhart and their radio contact, the Itasca, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. At 7:42 a.m., the Itasca picked up the message, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet."

The Itasca tried to respond, but there was no answer. At 8:45 a.m. Earhart reported, "We are running north and south." Nothing further was heard from Earhart. Many believe Earhart's plane ran out of gas and crashed in the ocean shortly after the last transmission.

PHOTO: Japanese soldier
Popperfoto/Getty Images
Earhart Was a Spy Captured by Japan

There are many theories circulating about Earhart's being sent to Japan as a spy for the United States. One theory is that Earhart was simply asked by President Roosevelt to keep her eyes open as she flew over enemy territory to see what infrastructure they had.

Randall Brink, author of "Lost Star: The Search for Amelia Earhart," insists in his book that Earhart was a spy. He writes about interviewing a technician who told him, "I recall that I was directed to cut two 16-to-18-inch-diameter holes for the cameras, which were to be mounted in the lower aft fuselage bay and would be electrically operated.

Gillespie said, "There is no evidence that that's what happened. There are lots and lots of stories that people tell. Anecdotal recollections, witness testimony, old memories. Most of them conflict with each other and they all have one thing in common: there's no evidence to back them up."

PHOTO: Tokyo Rose
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Earhart Was Japanese Propagandist Tokyo Rose

This theory is another version of Earhart's being captured by the Japanese. Some believe after being captured, the pilot became Tokyo Rose, the Japanese propagandist. During World War II, Tokyo Rose was an English-speaking female broadcaster whose broadcasts were meant to lower the morale of Allied forces. The stories consisted of stories for servicemen about infidelity back at home and false reports of battle outcomes, all mixed with a few pop songs to keep sailors and soldiers listening.

In response to rumors that Earhart was Tokyo Rose, her husband, book publisher George Palmer Putnam, was flown to China for the purpose of hearing Tokyo Rose's voice. Afterward, Putnam said he would stake his life that it was not his wife's voice.

"Again, total absence of evidence," Gillespie said. "There were many Tokyo Roses. That was well investigated after the war. Amelia Earhart is Tokyo Rose? No."

PHOTO: Irene Bolam
Bettmann/Corbis
Earhart Returned to the U.S. Under a New Name

One of the oddest theories is that Earhart returned to the United States under a new name. This theory came about after the 1970 book, "Amelia Earhart Lives" by Joe Klaas, claimed Earhart was living in the United States as Irene Bolham. Throughout the book, Klaas reported former Air Force Maj. Joseph Gervais' claims that he saw Bolham at a party and "just knew" she was really Earhart. Gervais said that he saw Bolham wearing similar decorations to those that had been given to Earhart including a medallion and a ribbon.

The theory should have died after Bolham sued Klaas, his associate Joe Gervais, and McGraw-Hill for defamation and McGraw-Hill pulled the book from shelves. But 33 years later, another book, "Amelia Earhart Survives" by Col. Rollin Reineck, came out in 2003 making the same claim.

Reineck's version of the story says that Earhart and Bolham share a remarkable physical resemblance. Reineck also says that prominent, retired Roman Catholic clergyman Monsignor James Francis Kelley was a part of the rescue of Earhart from Japan and the establishment of her new identity. While Kelley's memoirs have many outrageous and fictitious stories, he never actually mentioned having met Earhart or anything about rescuing her.

"She fought that to the day she died and again there is no evidence that Irene Bolham was Amelia Earhart," Gillespie said. "That whole theory is an illustration of just how crazy it can get with the whole Earhart mystery stuff."

Bolham died in New Jersey in 1982 but this theory regarding Earhart lives on.

PHOTO: Nikumaroro island
TIGHAR/AP Photo
Stranded Earhart Died on Nikumaroro

This theory, Gillespie believes, is the true story of what happened to Amelia Earhart.

According to TIGHAR, in the last in-flight radio message heard by the Coast Guard cutter Itasca, Earhart said, "We are on the line 157 337. ... We are running on line north and south." The numbers refer to compass headings and pass through Howland Island, Earhart's intended destination.

TIGHAR believes Earhart never found Howland Island and traveled to Gardner Island instead, 356 nautical miles away instead. At times the reef is smooth enough to land an airplane, making it possible that Earhart landed and was then stranded there. Although when Navy fliers flew over the area they did not see a plane, they did notice "signs of recent habitation" but believed that all the islands in the area were inhabited. In reality, Gardner Island had not been inhabited since 1892.

In their searches of the island, TIGHAR has found evidence that someone lived on Nikumaroro as a castaway. They found bones and clam shells that appeared to have been eaten. Gillespie said they're unsure how long Earhart lived as a castaway on the island.

"We just know the bones of a woman, Amelia we think, were found there," Gillespie said. "Based on the volume of food remains, and also, the context that a lot of the artifacts were found this was somebody who had figured out how to catch fish and birds and how to get clams open."

Although TIGHAR has yet to fully prove this theory, it believes it is the correct answer.

"We go where the evidence leads us," Gillespie said. "All of it that we've found points to landing on this island and dying there as a castaway."

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