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Was Amelia Earhart’s plane found? PA expert on her disappearance debunks explorers’ claims

Ric Gillespie offers an explanation for the disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart, 40, stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator.  (AP File Photo)
Amelia Earhart, 40, stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. (AP File Photo)
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EAST NOTTINGHAM — A Chester County man has thoroughly debunked recent reports showing the possible remains of pilot Amelia Earhart’s plane, which disappeared somewhere in the Pacific 86 years ago.

Earhart was trying to become the first woman to fly around the world. She left New Guinea, with navigator Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937, intending to fly 2,500 miles, over 19 hours, and reach Howland Island to refuel. She never made it there.

Earhart had achieved superstar status. She had set the women’s altitude record at 14,000 feet, was the second person to solo non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean and was the first person to solo non-stop across the United States.

In his book, Ric Gillespie speculates about what might have happened to pilot Amelia Earhart on her last flight. (SUBMITTED PHOTO/RIC GILLESPIE)
MATT SMITH / SPECIAL TO THE MORNING CALL
In his book, Ric Gillespie speculates about what might have happened to pilot Amelia Earhart on her last flight. (SUBMITTED PHOTO/RIC GILLESPIE)

About 100 miles short of Earhart’s intended destination and using sonar imaging and marine robotics in 16,400 feet of water, Deep Sea Vision from South Carolina has recently published a photo of what might be Earhart’s plane.

Ric Gillespie lives near Oxford and has studied Earhart’s last flight in her Lockheed 10-E Electra for 35 years. Instead of running out of fuel and crashing into the ocean as recent reports suggest, he believes that Earhart was a castaway on a remote desert island for two months before she died there.

“She was getting lower and lower on gas,” Gillespie said. “She was really worried.

“If you have to put the airplane into the ocean, you’re going to die.”

Wat happened to Amelia Earhart? (SUBMITTED PHOTO/RIC GILLESPIE)
MORNING CALL FILE PHOTO
What happened to Amelia Earhart? (SUBMITTED PHOTO/RIC GILLESPIE)

Gillespie has taken the five-day ship ride from Fiji to Nikumaroro Island a dozen times. The four-by-one-mile island is where he believes Earhart crash-landed after taking a wrong turn and missing the intended mark.

Navigator Noonan used a sextant and sightings of the stars but was not able to see the stars and plot a proper course to find the small Howland Island due to overcast skies. Instead, he likely used dead reckoning, or course and wind estimates, according to Gillespie.

Gillespie, along with fellow members of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), present a large body of evidence to show that Earhart, and maybe the navigator, likely lived on the deserted island.

Human bones were found on Nikumaroro Island in 1940. The original examination showed that the remains weren’t from a woman. Later forensic findings showed that there is more than a 99 percent probability that the skeleton belonged to Earhart.

Oxford's Ric Gillespie has studied the disappearance of Amelia Earhart for 35 years. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Oxford’s Ric Gillespie has studied the disappearance of Amelia Earhart for 35 years. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Distress calls attributed to Earhart were received after the pair went missing.

“There is no other explanation on how this could happen except for Earhart,” Gillespie said. “Somebody was sending radio calls with her voice and her frequency.”

Although nothing with Earhart’s name on it was discovered in a campsite, a woman’s shoe, a zipper, a jack knife handle like from a previous one owned by the pilot and a freckle cream jar — all dating to the correct time period — were found on Nikumaroro Island. Gillespie also said that a photo taken of the sea and island shows part of the landing gear from Earhart’s Lockheed 10-E Electra sticking out of the water.

Amelia Earhart likely crash-landed somewhere near this spot in the Pacific. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)
Amelia Earhart likely crash-landed somewhere near this spot in the Pacific. (BILL RETTEW/MEDIANEWS GROUP)

Gillespie believes that Earhart made a safe landing on a coral reef at low tide and eventually rising waters took the plane out to sea.

The U.S.S. Colorado sailed for a week from Pearl Harbor but the crew decided that the plane had not landed on Nikumaroro since there was no obvious wreckage visible.

Gillespie said that while there is no fresh water in Nikumaroro, it’s a beautiful place. Fish, sharks, and birds are friendly due to little contact with humans.

“I love it and hate it,” Gillespie said.

The coral is slick, very slippery, and very sharp, and if you fall on it as Gillespie did, you suffer from instant infection.

So why did Gillespie spend more than 35 years studying Earhart and visit the island a dozen times?

“It doesn’t matter what happened to Amelia Earhart,” he said. “She’s dead.

“She had no impact on aviation history. But the public is really interested.”

Gillespie said that the Earhart story is a perfect way for TIGHAR to promote exploring, demonstrating and teaching how to figure out what is true.

“It’s our job to teach,” he said. “It took a long time to solve this, with hundreds of dead ends.

“That’s how science works, it’s not an overnight process.”

Gillespie has published a book on Earhart, with another one to soon be printed.

Gillespie wrote, “Finding Amelia: The True Story of the Earhart Disappearance,” which is available at Amazon. On September 15, “One More Good Flight: The Amelia Earhart Tragedy” will be released.

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