The popular theory, detailed in Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved
by Elgen and Marie Long, is that Amelia Earhart ran out of fuel searching for Howland Island
. She was the victim of cloud cover, which hampered navigation, and a strong headwind, which made it difficult to tell how far they'd flown. She eventually crashed at sea
while searching for the island, some 2,500 miles from her starting point on New Guinea
Going by this theory, Nauticos Corp. hopes to raise $3 million to search a 17,000-foot-deep stretch of water for the plane. (http://www.nauticos.com)
2. But suppose Earhart managed to land on a deserted island? Satellite images show something resting on the coral near Nikumaroro Island -- formerly called Gardner Island, part of the Kiribati republic, located just south of Howland. That island is Earhart's likely resting place, according to a 12-year investigation by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). They've made some reconnaissance trips and on August 24, 2001 launched a $500,000 expedition, their fourth, to the island.
The previous trips have recovered evidence including human remains (on a desert isle, remember) that could, kind of, maybe match Earhart's dimensions. The hypothesis is that Earhart and Noonan survived their landing there but died shortly after.
Space.com has a picture of the island (it's more like an atoll). You know how these photos are ... one of those dots might be a plane ... it might also be a ducky or a fire engine. The thing to keep in mind is that TIGHAR pinpointed the island first, then got the satellite image. http://www.space.com./missionlaunches/missions/amelia_plane_010711-1.html
TIGHAR landed on Nikumaroro on August 31, 2001. Daily status reports are posted at: http://www.tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/dailies.html. The team headed home on September 22, 2001 to analyze their findings.
3. The contrarian theory goes like this: Earhart turned back upon realizing she didn't have enough fuel, and she crashed in the jungle of New Britain, the island just east of New Guinea. Australian aircraft engineer David Billings has been espousing this theory for years and has scouted the area six times for the plane, to no avail; he's trying to raise $100,000 for yet another try, this time with a helicopter and magnetometer.
The location of the crash would be somewhere south of Rabaul on the eastern side of New Britain. Here's the key: In 1937, Rabaul was the only airstrip between the city of Lae (Earhart's starting point that day) and Howland. If she needed to turn back for an emergency landing, Rabaul would be the place to head for.
Billings' theory is based on testimony from Australian soldiers who patrolled New Britain during the final year of World War II. They were hacking their way through dense jungle when they stumbled onto the wreckage of a plane, too overgrown to be investigated thoroughly.
The Australians saved the crude map they'd drawn up during the mission, not realizing until 1990 that they might have found Earhart's plane. The map isn't particularly accurate, however -- hence Billings' six failed searches.
The kicker to Billings' theory is a handwritten scrawl on the map, hidden for years by a piece of military tape: C/N 1055.
That's the serial number of Earhart's plane -- something that a random group of Australian soldiers wouldn't know, Billings maintains. It's part of a series of notes on the map dated roughly five weeks after the patrol; the Australians had been querying the U.S. Army about the plane by then, and the notes might have come from those conversations.
Almost no Earhart scholars are buying into Billings' theory. It requires Earhart to have flown a few hundred miles farther than possible, according to some. In addition, her last radio messages indicated she was searching for Howland with only 30 minutes of fuel left; Billings supposes that she meant she had 30 minutes before locking into her contingency plan and turning around.
4. Of course, there are also the conspiracy theorists who think the Japanese captured her as a spy. One theory supposes that this happened after she discovered underground military bases near Rabaul: http://fas-history.rutgers.edu/oralhistory/frankel.html.
-- USA Today, August 14, 2001
-- The Howland and Baker Tribune online, July 15, 2001: http://users.metro2000.net/~stabbott/hbTribune.htm