Elusive End to Earhart Enigma?


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)

Use our resources to learn more about Amelia Earhart’s final flight.

Teachers, scroll all the way down for a short list of key resources in our “Teachers’ Toolkit.”

Amelia Earhart smiles at the controls of her modified Lockheed Electra aircraft—the very plane history buffs are searching for. Photograph by Acme Newspictures, courtesy Library of Congress
Amelia Earhart smiles at the controls of her modified Lockheed Electra aircraft—the very plane history buffs are searching for.
Photograph by Acme Newspictures, courtesy Library of Congress

Discussion Ideas

  • 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 do members of TIGHAR want to return to Nikumaroro?
    • TIGHAR is hoping to return to Nikumaroro to investigate an intriguing sonaranomaly” they think may be the wreckage of the Lockheed Electra.


  • 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.)



  • 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.
earhart map
Click for the full-size image! We kept some familiar landmarks just to give you some perspective about the ocean Earhart was navigating. (That’s the island of New Guinea and Northern Australia in the southwest, and the islands of Hawaii in the northeast.)
  • 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.)



Washington Post: The metal fragment that could solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance

Nat Geo This Day in Geographic History: Last Contact with Amelia Earhart

TIGHAR: The Earhart Project—The Window, the Patch, & the Artifact

Nat Geo 1-Page Map: Kiribati

Nat Geo MapMaker Interactive: Earhart Map

NG glossary:

(extra credit!) Nat Geo magazine: The Amelia Earhart Story—The Society’s Special Medal Awarded to Amelia Earhart

2 thoughts on “Elusive End to Earhart Enigma?

  1. This should be sub-titled “Drunken Hystory”. Nat Geo should have questions like:
    1. How many aircraft has the International Group For “Hysteric” Aircraft Recovery saved since 1989 ?
    a. Two
    b. Five
    c. None (Correct answer )
    d. Well over a hundred.

    2. As Executive Director of this Non-Profit, Mr. Gillespie has an annual salary of:
    a. $ 10,000 / year
    b. $ 120,000 plus /year (correct answer )
    c. $ 1.00 / year
    d. Works for free

    3. As Executive Director, Mr. Gillespie funds “expeditions” to Nikumaroro:

    a. By paying for the expedition members to attend

    b. By looking for wealthy donors. (correct answer)

    c. Mass marketing of this “theories” so as to get citizens to donate. ( correct answer )

    d. Endorsements from Hillary Clinton (correct answer )

    Nat Geo has either out-sourced their research staff to India, or they have no staff and utilize Wikipedia. Sad indeed.

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