The Kansas City Star
When Earhart reported being low on fuel, she could have meant the amount
remaining before she possibly invoked a contingency plan, some
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, based in a house on the outskirts of Wilmington, Delaware, has believed for more than a decade that Earhart abandoned hope of finding Howland and turned southeast, toward the Phoenix Islands about 350 miles (563 kilometers) away.
Explaining his theory recently in a Delaware restaurant, TIGHAR executive director Rick Gillespie used a saltshaker to represent Howland. His small tub of coleslaw became the plane. A knife represented the line along which Earhart said she was flying north and south.
"If you don't see this island, you explore in both directions," Gillespie explained, moving the coleslaw up and down the knife.
An island with a large lagoon would have been easy to spot because lagoon water is a different hue than the ocean, Gillespie said.
Based on witnesses who place a plane wreck there, and other evidence, Gillespie believes there's a 95 percent chance Earhart landed on a coral reef at Nikumaroro, formerly known as Gardner Island.
Gillespie leaves Friday with a 12-member team to explore that island for the sixth time since 1989. Over the years, TIGHAR has raised and spent about U.S. $2 million trying to solve the Earhart puzzle on Nikumaroro.
If Earhart reached Nikumaroro, it would explain why radio operators hundreds of miles away later claimed to have heard distress calls days after she vanished, Gillespie said. She couldn't have made radio calls if her plane was in the water, Lockheed experts have said.
Back in 1937, U.S. officials labeled the distress calls hoaxes. Gillespie, who has plotted the calls on a map, believes some were real. He thinks waves bashed the plane apart before searchers flew over it days later.
The current TIGHAR team includes a great-nephew of Earhart's, a forensic specialist and three divers, who will check the reef. A recent satellite photo appears to show something embedded there, Gillespie said.
Team members also will look for bones from a castaway whose remains were reported to the British in 1940, before the island was inhabited. After deciding the bones were not Earhart's, the British never told the United States about them, Gillespie's research shows.