The $2.2 million effort, undertaken by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar), involved a five-day search of the waters surrounding the Pacific island of Nikumaroro.
The expedition was launched under the claimed belief by the group that Earhart may have made an emergency landing on that island, as opposed to running out of fuel while on the way to Howland Island, the predominant speculation regarding her ill-fated flight.
Tighar team members say they have unearthed several pieces of evidence that point to an intentional crash landing on Nikumaroro, including the finding of human remains on the island, as well as artifacts that point to a castaway presence of an American female from the 1930s.
One factor propelling the group’s theory is a photograph taken of the island approximately three months after Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while trying to circumnavigate the globe. Within the small photo is a section, approximately the size of a grain of rice, that TIGHAR researchers say looks like the landing gear of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra protruding out of the water surrounding the island’s coastal region.
The group’s recent expedition, however, found no such remnants of the aircraft.
Tighar team members say the intricate nature of the waters they searched – which contain an extensive reef full of nooks, crannies and vertical cliffs that extend down as far as 250 feet – made the search difficult. Even if the group’s theory is true, whether or not an aircraft lost 75 years ago could be found in such conditions has been a question eliciting much public skepticism in recent months.
Tighar team members, however, say they are coming home with “hours upon hours of high-definition video” and sonar data collected at the site, which they will examine in hope of finding some confirmation as to what happened to Earhart.