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Amelia Earhart
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Woodinville man could be key to finding what happened to Amelia Earhart

Robert Ballard is the ocean explorer who found the Titanic wreckage in 1985. Right now, he is scouring Nikumaroro Island — a remote coral island in the South Pacific. His goal: find where Amelia Earhart ended up.

What prompted this latest search? A Woodinville expert’s eye.

Jeff Glickman volunteers as a forensic image analyst to The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery or (TIGHAR) a non-profit dedicated to aviation archaeology.

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Over the course of a year, Glickman analyzed a 1937 photo. Something in the photo didn’t seem like it belonged. He says the photo was taken near Nikumaroro Island three months after Amelia’s plane went missing.

“Sitting in the middle of a reef in the middle of the South Pacific that bears some decent resemblance to a Lockhead 10-E landing gear assembly, knowing that within the vicinity at least there had been a Lockhead 10-E that got lost just 90 days earlier.”

Executive Director of TIGHAR, Ric Gillespie, says finding and verifying that photo was a huge piece in a puzzle that has been forming since 1988 — what happened on July 2, 1937?

Earhart was expected to land at Howland Island in the South Pacific along on her journey to be the first woman to fly around the world.

“Some people accepted that she crashed at sea. Other’s thought she’d been captured by the Japanese,” Gillespie said. “In 1988 our organization started investigating a different theory. That she had, in fact, made it to another Island, had landed there and died as a castaway.”

Crash landing on Nikumaroro Island

Evidence amassed over three decades by TIGHAR points to a crash landing at Nikumaroro. The radio distress calls from Earhart have been pinpointed to that island.

“The airplane manufacturer Lockhead said if she sent out radio calls from this airplane night-after-night, that means that the plane had to land on its wheels because the radio won’t work unless she was able to run one of the engines to recharge the battery that the radio depends upon. So she made a safe landing someplace.”

TIGHAR believes she landed on a reef. Unfortunately, by the time the Navy got to the island that was surrounded by that reef, the tide came in and washed the airplane away.

“Navy got there and says, ‘No airplane here.’ They believed all the radio calls had been a mistake or hoaxes,” Gillespie said. “And the rest of the Navy search took place in open ocean looking for floating wreckage or a life raft. They didn’t find anything.”

Gillespie says they narrowed down the radio signals to 57 credible calls. Nine of them were heard on home radios in North America.

“In those cases they were hearing very clear messages, ‘This is Amelia Earhart, help me, help me.'”

Betty, a 15-year-old girl in Florida wrote what Amelia was saying “down.” Gillespie says her notes read like a modern day 911 call and indicated Amelia’s navigator Fred Noonan was injured.

“If that airplane is out on that reef in the tropical sun it was probably 120-130 degrees in the plane. Betty had gotten the impression that Noonan had suffered some kind of head injury, and was giving Earhart a hard time as he was trying to get out of there and they were fighting with each other. She was trying to calm him down while she was also calling for help.”

Despite all the radio signals, the Navy never went to the island.

Amelia Earhart found?

Evidence at an old campsite on the island suggests Amelia Earhart survived as a castaway for weeks. They also found a broken compact, a pocket knife, lotion, and a zipper.

“(And) a little jar that once contained stuff called Dr. Berry’s Freckle Cream. It was an ointment that women used to make their freckles fade. We know she had freckles and we know she didn’t like her freckles, but we don’t know if she used freckle cream.”

Gillespie is certain Earhart died on that island. Three years after her death, bones were found.

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“The partial skeleton was found as if the person had died just lying under a tree. They just became so weak and sick they just laid down and died.”

A doctor later measured the bones around 1940 and said the remains were of a man’s skeleton.

The bones were lost, but the autopsy notes were discovered in a British archive in 1988. An expert examined the measurements on the skeleton that was found and compared them with information about Amelia Earhart.

“World renowned forensic anthropologist Richard Jantz at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville was able to ultimately determine that there’s a 99.28 percent chance that the castaway was Amelia Earhart.”

The expedition with National Geographic and Robert Ballard is looking underwater for wreckage, but also they hope to find bones that could belong to Earhart. That search is expected to wrap up by Aug. 25, 2019.

A documentary on the search will premiere on October 20.

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