At midnight on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart buckled into her twin-engine monoplane and lit off into the sky from Papua New Guinea. She was two-thirds through an equator-hugging circumnavigation that would have had Earhart—a stalwart feminist and gal pal of Eleanor Roosevelt—become the first woman to fly across the world.
Some six hours later, the USCGC Itasca, stationed at Howland Island smack in the middle of the Pacific, picked up one-way radio signals, unable to respond to Earhart's frequency. And that was the last ever heard of America's pioneering aviatrix, along with her navigator Fred Noonan.
Today, 80 years on, the mystery of Earhart's disappearance is alive and well. While no conclusive evidence has been unearthed about her final chapter—the US Navy's intensive search-and-rescue operations came up empty—Earhart's final flight has become fodder for historians, scientists, and conspiracy theorists.
Some think she ran off with her navigator to live in the jungle as free-spirited Paleoliths. Others swear she landed in Saipan and was executed by the Japanese for espionage. Several “experts” maintain that FDR covered up Earhart’s demise to protect Eleanor's feelings. And more than a few folks claim she snuck back to New Jersey and became a model housewife. And, of course, no amateur researcher can rule out those pesky extraterrestrials.
One of the longest-running hypotheses belongs to the Pennsylvania-based International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). A scrap of aluminum coupled with a smattering of circumstantial items (a boot, freckle cream, suitcase, comb, bones—see full list here) has had them obsessing over Nikumaroro, a tiny island 400 miles away from her destination. We’re talking like boy band-obsessed, times 28 years. Crowdsourcing has already enabled the crew to scour this 4.5-square-mile island 11 times since 1989, but the 12th time’s the charm, right?
That’s the hope of Rick Pettigrew, director of the Eugene non-profit Archeological Legacy Institute (ALI)—the organization invited to film the planned 2017 expedition for posterity. However, there’s one hiccup to ALI's scientific expedition: ALI has to foot its own bill, so they’ve naturally turned to Indiegogo for help.
Even if TIGHAR, which is also doing some serious fundraising, fails to find an indisputable link to Earhart, Pettigrew believes it’ll still be compelling cinema. “There’s more than one story going on," he says. "The story of the expedition itself is enough, and then of course the story of Amelia Earhart, a grand American legend. It all has the makings of a really cool story with many layers.”
Feel free to scoff at this perhaps far-fetched and dubious call-to-arms—you wouldn't be the first. But if the saga animates your inner Indiana Jones, either organization will gladly take your cash. And if you're really interested, you can go with. That’s right—to get to the island, TIGHAR partners with Betchart expeditions. For a very pretty penny ($8,995 plus airfare) you can book a berth. And, maybe—fingers crossed—participate in one damned elusive Eureka moment in the ongoing saga of Amelia Earhart.