Since 1937, when legendary aviator Amelia Earhart went missing during an attempt to fly around the world, competing theories have flourished as to her fate. The most common one — and the one that was endorsed by the U.S. government when she was declared dead — is that her plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, sinking to the seabed and killing her along with her navigator, Fred Noonan.
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Some believe Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese, on suspicion of being spies. But an alternate theory has recently resurfaced and strongly argued by Ric Gillespie, who directs the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). Gillespie believes Earhart crash-landed her aircraft on a coral reef off Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro), spending her last days as a castaway, after radioing for help for nearly a week before the plane was pulled into the sea.
Gillespie says he’s been testing the theory for almost three decades, visiting Gardner Island 11 times, with plans for a 12th trip. Among the evidence he claims supports his theory are “47 messages heard by professional radio operators that appear to be credible” and who say they recognized Earhart’s voice, as well as a photo taken by a 1937 British expedition, that apparently shows part of the landing gear from Earhart’s plane sticking out of a reef.
Gillespie, who believes Noonan’s injuries were worse than Earhart’s, cites one interview in particular with a ham radio operator in Florida, Betty Clank. “What she heard is not just a woman calling for help, there was a man with her and he seemed to be out of his head,” Gillespie said. “And he was grabbing the mic. The whole thing reads like a 911 call.”
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