If Earhart did crash land on Nikumaroro, her last days were most likely a struggle. “There are a lot of ways to die on that island,” Gillespie says. “I’ve [accidentally] tried several of them.”
No freshwater exists, save that that falls out of the sky. Plenty of fish and marine birds inhabit Nikumaroro and its surrounding waters, but a person could still starve to death if they expended more energy chasing after darting fish and skittish birds than those small snacks would provide. Alternatively, falling on the jagged reef while hunting for food or checking the plane could have resulted in lacerations, making a fatal infection more likely. Gillespie does not know how long the castaway survived, but speculates weeks to months, not a year. Archeological evidence has revealed a campfire pit, animal bones and partially melted broken bottles – perhaps used for sterilising water. “It’s honestly a tragic tale,” Gillespie says. “Someone was really using their imagination, working hard, but ultimately not making it.”
TIGHAR has searched available historical documents – Lloyd’s shipping records, Colonial Service records, newspapers and more – and has not found any accounts of Europeans who went missing in the South Central Pacific between 1933, the date stamped on the glass bottles found at the castaway’s campfire site, and 1940, when the bones were found.
Still, the evidence on Nikumaroro could turn out to be an odd coincidence and wishful thinking, meaning that the castaway’s bones actually belong to some other poor, stranded soul. In this scenario, Earhart simply crashed into the ocean and died on impact – probably a preferable ending to being eaten by giant coconut crabs.