But the departure was postponed for a day, until Tuesday, because of a delay in the arrival of a Kiribati customs official who is to accompany the expedition, said Stephanie Buttrill, a spokeswoman for the group. The team will spend 10 days at the search site, plus 16 days at sea traveling to and from the island.
Previous missions to Nikumaroro have unearthed tantalizing evidence that Earhart was there, including a cosmetic bottle from the 1930s that appeared to be jar of a once-popular brand of anti-freckle cream.
Also found were a clothing zipper from the '30s, pieces of a woman's compact, a bottle of hand lotion, parts of a woman's shoe and a man's shoe, a bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart carried and human bone fragments.
"We've found artifacts of an American woman castaway from the 1930s, but we haven't found anything with her name on it," said Gillespie. "We've tried to get contact DNA from things that were touched, and it didn't work. The environment was too destructive. The recovered bone samples were too small. The logical thing is the airplane."
Earhart and Noonan were last seen taking off in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra on July 2, 1937, from Papua New Guinea en route to tiny Howland Island, some 2,500 miles away in the central Pacific. Radio contact with her plane was lost hours later after she reported running low on fuel.
A massive air-and-sea search, the most extensive such U.S. operation at that time, was unsuccessful. Earhart's plane was presumed to have gone down, but it has never been known whether she survived, and if so, for how long.
TIGHAR researchers theorize that Earhart and Noonan made an emergency landing on Nikumaroro, then called Gardner Island, about 400 miles southeast of their destination on Howland.