Two summers ago, a theory emerged that Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviatrix who disappeared without trace in 1937 on an attempt to circumnavigate the world, had landed on a remote Pacific island. Sonar pictures were produced that purported to reveal parts of her plane lodged on a coastal shelf on the island of Nikumaroro. The theory went on to surmise that Earhart and her navigator has gone on to survive as castaways.
Nikumaroro was back then known as Gardner Island and was uninhabited. It is seven miles long and has a fresh water lagoon in its center. It is completely on the other side of Australia to where a fleet of ships and aircraft from many countries are currently scouring the Indian Ocean for traces of flight MH370. It lies 3,000 to the northeast off the furthest point of the Northern Territory and is part of a group of Pacific islands called the Phoenix.
The 45 old photographs were found in an unlabeled box, and inside was a piece of paper saying Gardner Island. They had come to rest in the New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch, and were taken in 1938, a year after Earhart’s disappearance. An aviation survey had been commissioned by the British Navy to locate suitable landing strips in the Pacific regions.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has made several reconnaissance trips to the island to try to collect more evidence. They are quite sure that a female lived there during the era as they found American beauty products, including a bottle of St Joseph’s lineament, and a smashed mirror from a powder compact. No human remains were even detected but this has been put down to the island’s population of giant carnivorous coconut crabs.
The theory has come under heavy fire though. A ship was wrecked on the reef in 1929 when SS Norwich City ran aground and 35 were drowned. The survivors were later rescued. Before that, in 1915, workers for British entrepreneur John Aspinal, lived there, growing coconuts. So the island had seen a fair bit of human habitation in the twentieth century. In a 2012 interview with the New Republic, a Smithsonian Institution Air and Space Museum curator said he did not think TIGHAR’s findings had any significance. If there was a missing plane on Nikumaroro, it had long ago been swept away again.
The episode brings up parallels with the current mystery and disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370 the missing plane which went off radar on March 8th 2014 and has vanished, so far without trace. Explanations, especially in this day and age, are called for, yet none are forthcoming.
If there is one thing the human race cannot abide it is an unresolved mystery. Answers are needed, in the modern parlance, for “closure.” For the friends and relatives of those on board missing plane MH370 the past few weeks have been unmitigated torture.
Conspiracy theories have run amok and sightings of debris, all of which so far have turned out to be ocean garbage, have raised and dashed hopes numerous times. The search area is enormous, the costs are gargantuan, no-one is giving up, but the task is phenomenal. As with Earhart’s disappearance, the desire to find an explanation, any explanation whatsoever, has been paramount.
Now, Saturday April 5th, for the first time, there is a ray of actual hope. A Chinese patrol boat may have picked up a “ping” from the ill-fated plane’s black box, mere hours before the batteries are due to expire. There is as yet no confirmation, and as ever, it is unwise to leap to any conclusions, however desperately they are longed for.
Most senior officials involved in the search are exercising great caution. There have been so many red herrings already. Hishamuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transport minister only tweeted “Another night of hope – praying hard.” A relative, in the light of the lack of confirmation, simply said “we are all waiting patiently.”
It has never been determined what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. After they left Papua New Guinea on July 2nd 1937 they were never seen again. Of course they had none of the sophisticated tracking equipment on board that aircraft have today, not least a black box. They were in a two-seater and carried no passengers. The scale of the tragedy is smaller.
However, both of these missing planes were assumed to have plummeted into the ocean without any evidence to the contrary. Both lost contact far out to sea and in Earhart’s case, a Honululu radio station still got radio transmissions from the plane hours after she last spoke, so did the Coastguard. Some say if she made those transmission she must have been on land. Which brings her story back to the possibility of touching down safely on Nikumaroro Island.
It is fervently to be hoped that decades will not elapse before answers are finally found, and people are not still guessing, the outcome to the modern day mystery of what has happened to missing plane MH370.
By Kate Henderson