Amelia Earhart may have survived months as castaway

Amelia Earhart - Credit FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By Rossella Lorenzi - Discovey News

Amelia Earhart, the legendary pilot who disappeared 73 years ago while flying over the Pacific Ocean in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator, may have survived several weeks, or even months as a castaway on a remote South Pacific island, according to preliminary results of a two-week expedition on the tiny coral atoll believed to be her final resting place.

"There is evidence on the island suggesting that a castaway was there for weeks and possibly months," Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), told Discovery News.

Gillespie has just returned from an expedition on Nikumaroro, the uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati where Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan are believed to have landed when running out of fuel.

"We noticed that the forest can be an excellent source of water for a castaway in an island where there is no fresh water. After heavy rain, you can easily collect water from the bowl-shaped hollows in the buka trees.

We also found a campsite and nine fire features containing thousands of fish, turtle and bird bones. This might suggest that many meals took place there," Gillespie said.

TIGHAR's expedition to Nikumaroro was the tenth since 1989. During the previous campaigns, the team uncovered a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.

"On this expedition we have recovered nearly 100 objects," Gillespie said. Among the items, 10 are being tested by a Canadian lab for DNA.

"We are talking about 'touch DNA,' genetic material that can be retrieved from objects that have been touched," he explained.

The best candidate for contact DNA appears to be a small glass jar that was found broken in five pieces, most likely a cosmetic jar.

Other candidates for DNA extraction include two buttons, parts of a pocket knife that was beaten apart to detach the blades for some reason, a cloth that appears to have been shaped as a bow, and cosmetic fragments of rouge from a woman's compact.

The excavation took place on the island's remote southeast end, in an area called the Seven Site, where the campsite and fire features were found.


Amelia Earhart Pacific Ocean castaway South Pacific island The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery