Blog: Amelia Earhart’s Bizarre and Minor Theories, and How to Get Involved in Real Scientific Research, Part 2


Last week we looked at the main plausible theories behind Amelia Earhart’s July 1937 disappearance in her magnificent Lockheed Electra. But there are other minor theories, and some really weird ones, as follows.

First: Amelia has become Tokyo Rose. This is the dumbest theory of all. There was no one broadcasting as Tokyo Rose, although Iva Ikuku Toguri D’Aquino was charged after World War II, jailed, pardoned by President Ford in 1977, and died in Chicago at age 90 years old. Earhart looked nothing like D’Aquino. And there is no evidence of any connection between Japanese propaganda broadcasters and Earhart.

Second: Amelia survived the crash and WWII and moved to New Jersey to become a banker. This was proposed in 1970 by Joe Klass in his book McGraw-Hill Amelia Earhart lives. Klass claimed that Middlesex County, NJ, banker Irene Bolam was Amelia, due to her slight resemblance to Earhart and the fact that Bolam was a pilot. Bolam denied the claim, sued Klass for $ 1.5 million, and the book was officially retired. But you can still buy the second-hand but useless book on Amazon for $ 8.95.

Third: Earhart crashed in the lagoon of Nikumaroro Atoll in present-day Republic of Kiribati. This minor (silly?) Theory was proposed in March 2021, when Mike Ashmore from California thought he spotted the plane or wing just off Taraia Point in the northeastern part of the lagoon, in an Apple Maps image. He was also believed to have spotted SOS messages in the island’s underwater sand in old photographs. I have examined the lagoon with Google Earth and cannot see anything. From my extensive experience in finding lost planes, I know that aerial photos are often misleading and wreckage of planes can be difficult to spot, even in person, nearby. TIGHAR physically searched the lagoon on several expeditions. And why would a castaway write a distress message underwater, when there are miles of beautiful beaches on Niku? Go to roadtoamelia.org/ and see what you think.

Fourth: Earhart crashed off the island of Buka in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Bill Snavely of Salisbury, Md., Suggested that Earhart encountered strong head winds of 20 knots, realized halfway through Howland that she was not going to reach her destination, and made a half turn to the nearest airfield, a 2300 foot runway on Buka. He identified and dived on the debris field of a non-military twin-engine aircraft in 100 feet of seawater off Buka, which looks like the Electra. (See ProjectBlueAngel.com.) He thinks he needs $ 500,000 to make a proper shipment to verify this theory. (I suggest that an additional $ 50,000 recognition effort should be the next step.)

This minor theory seems unlikely, as Howland’s radio operators were convinced Earhart was nearby and his radio signals were read “5 by 5”. But recent research by TIGHAR scientist Greg George of Illinois showed that the sunspot activity at the time of the disappearance was phenomenal and could have caused a strong appearance of the radio signals from Earhart to Howland, when it was in fact 1760 nautical miles.

To get involved in finding Amelia, you should find out about the case at TIGHAR.org, and maybe join this organization. Some of their analysis is in the “true believer” style – a style advocating Niku’s theory, but most of it is good objective science. So read the best scientific book on the case, Amelia Earhart’s shoes, (2nd edition) by Dr. Tom King, Kenton Spading, et al.

Become addicted ? Contact BechartExpeditions.com to be on the notification list for any future Earhart Expeditions – this travel logistics company has organized pre-Earhart “expeditions” and does complex trips for scientific groups to observe eclipses and other phenomena. Attendance can cost around $ 11,000 for everything, per person. Betchart will likely be tapped if the “next big thing” happens – a larger study of Niku and his entire history as a microcosm of cultural and environmental change. This was proposed by expert archaeologist Dr. Richard Pettigrew of the Archeology Legacy Institute in Oregon. ALI also sponsors annual scientific seminars on the Earhart case. (See archeologychannel.org.)

Become REALLY envious? Let’s say you have a million dollars to spend on your search for Amelia and you want to maximize your chances of success. This is exactly the problem that search and rescue / recovery (SAR) teams face on a daily basis. We use the Mattson vote, where team members study the facts of the case, divide the field into regions, and then secretly vote on the likelihood that each region will hold the victim. Votes are counted and the resulting group consensus determines the allocation of resources. Surprisingly, this system works very well.

My Mattson vote in the Earhart case is: 50% for Nikumaroro (with the bodies on land and the plane off in over 5,000 feet of seawater); 10% for accidents near Howland; 20% for crashing in the Howland-Niku corridor; 5% for people crushed and captured in the Marshall Islands; 5% for crashed near Buka, PNG; 1% for in the Niku lagoon; and 9% for what SAR teams call “ROW” (rest of the world). It basically means, “We have no idea, but it is outside of the specified search regions.” This is a substantial change from 2017, where I would have voted 80% for Niku.

So, start spending your million dollars, and happy hunting!

Photos courtesy of Lew Toulmin

  • A. A map of the South Pacific, showing Earhart’s starting point in Lae, New Guinea, his destination as the small island of Howland, with Nikumaroro to the south of Howland and the Marshall Islands to the northwest. The island of Buka in present-day Papua New Guinea (PNG) is shown at the bottom left. All but Lae are possible crash sites for Earhart

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On Lew Toulmin, PhD, FRGS

Lew Toulmin, PhD, FRGS, is a member of the Royal Geographical Society and The Explorers Club. He has worked in 30 developing countries and traveled to 145 of the 196 nations of the world. He and his wife Susan live in Silver Spring.


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