“Everything has pointed to the airplane having gone over the edge of that reef in a particular spot and the wreckage ought to be right down there,” Rick Gillespie, the founder and executive director of TIGHAR, told The Associated Press in early July. There were reports of a 1937 British photo that showed the wreckage of the plane in the background.
“We’re going to search where it ‘should be,’” he said. “And maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not. And there’s no way to know unless you go and look.”
But last week, TIGHAR called off the expedition because of the difficulty of searching the reef. The slope of the reef was quite steep, and it was filled with nooks, crannies, caves, and crevices. One researcher at TIGHAR questioned the feasibility of the search.
In addition, two "targets" – which they thought could have been part of the wreckage of Earhart's plane – turned out to be a large coral boulder and a piece of the keel from The Norwich City, a well-known ship wreck.
“Given what we now know about this place, is it reasonable to think that an airplane which sank here 75 years ago is findable?” asked Patricia Thrasher, TIGHAR’s president, in an interview with Discovery News. “It would be easy to go over and over and over the same territory for weeks and still not really cover it all." And added Thrasher: "The aircraft could have floated away, as well.”
The TIGHAR search, funded in part by Discovery Channel and FedEx, began on July 3, and was scheduled to last about 26 days. Since 1989, TIGHAR has conducted 10 expeditions near Nikumaroro Island, which is part of the Pacific nation of Kiribati.
TIGHAR researchers say that significant finds on Nikumaroro lead them to continue to believe Earhart and Noonan may have survived as castaways there for some time. They found a zipper from the 1930s, a cosmetic bottle – possibly for anti-freckle cream – and human bone fragments.