Could one of aviation’s most enduring mysteries be solved? An aircraft recovery group says it may have identified a part of Amelia Earhart’s plane—and knows where to find the rest of it. (Washington Post)
Teachers, scroll all the way down for a short list of key resources in our “Teachers’ Toolkit.”
- Read through the Washington Post article. Why do Ric Gillespie and The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) think they have found a piece of Amelia Earhart’s plane? TIGHAR’s photo gallery might help.
- TIGHAR researchers think they have identified a piece of aluminum recovered on Nikumaroro, an island in the general area where Earhart’s plane may have gone down. Based on photographs and a model of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra, TIGHAR says the shape and markings on the metal match an aluminum “patch” on the plane.
- Why are other Earhart experts questioning TIGHAR’s findings?
- TIGHAR’s findings are not scientifically tested, and there are many competing theories as to what happened to the aviators. Without locating the elusive wreckage itself, it’s nearly impossible to prove the aluminum belonged to the plane.
- Why do members of TIGHAR want to return to Nikumaroro?
- TIGHAR thinks Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan died on Nikumaroro, after Earhart made an emergency landing on the island’s fringing coral reef. Why do you think Earhart and Noonan died, while castaways such as the “real-life Robinson Crusoe” survived for years alone on deserted islands?
- People like Alexander Selkirk, the “real-life Robinson Crusoe,” are the exception. Most people don’t survive alone on a deserted island. There’s a reason why Gilligan, Prospero, and the passengers of Oceanic 815 are fictional.
- Earhart and Noonan were probably injured from their crash landing.
- Earhart and Noonan had no supplies.
- Nikumaroro does not have a source of freshwater. (This is crucial.) Earhart and Noonan would have had to rely on collecting rainwater in order to survive.
- Earhart and Noonan may have crashed on the reef of Gardner Island. In 1979, the name of the island changed to Nikumaroro. Why do you think the island’s name changed?
- Gardner Island was part of the Gilbert Islands, a British protectorate, in 1937. In 1979, these islands achieved independence as part of the nation of Kiribati. (Click here for a map of Kiribati.) Native islanders, called I-Kiritabi, gave indigenous names to several individual islands, including Gardner. (The region is still called the Gilbert Islands, however, and its inhabitants sometimes called Gilbertese.)
- Read our short This Day in Geographic History article on the “Last Contact with Amelia Earhart.” According to the article, Earhart and Noonan were flying from Lae, Papua New Guinea, to Howland Island, a territory of the United States. In what direction were they flying? Over what geographic feature were they navigating? Take a look at our MapMaker Interactive for reference.
- Earhart and Noonan were flying east, on one of the last legs of their around-the-world flight. See their route here.
- Earhart and Noonan were navigating over the vast South Pacific Ocean—many tiny islets, lots and lots of open water.
- Use our MapMaker Interactive to find the region where Earhart’s Lockheed Electra went down. Identify Lae, Papua New Guinea, as well as Howland and Nikumaroro islands.
- Your map might look something like this! (Click to get to the full-size map.)
- We used the “Satellite” base map.
- We used the Search feature in the upper right corner to find Howland and Nikumaroro.
- We used the medium-sized airplane markers from the marker collection on the left-hand side.
- We labeled in red, just so it would show up nicely against the dark blue of the Pacific. (Edit your markers and layers using the Edit button—second-to-last on the left-hand side—and the Formatting Tool that magically appears when you click on a feature.)
Nat Geo This Day in Geographic History: Last Contact with Amelia Earhart
Nat Geo 1-Page Map: Kiribati
Nat Geo MapMaker Interactive: Earhart Map
(extra credit!) Nat Geo magazine: The Amelia Earhart Story—The Society’s Special Medal Awarded to Amelia Earhart