Owner of Muriel, replica of Amelia Earhart’s plane, has theory on how famed aviator disappeared

Legendary pilot Amelia Earhart would be 120 years old this month, and theories still abound about her demise.

Visitors from around the globe are in Earhart's birthplace of Atchison, Kansas this weekend remembering her fateful attempt to circle the globe 80 years ago.

At the Amelia Earhart Festival, you can tour the Trinity Episcopal Church where Earhart was baptized or visit her grandparents home, where she was raised.

A recent documentary uncovered a picture that some believe prove Earhart and her navigator survived their 1937 attempt to circle the globe. It was quickly debunked, but organizers say all Earhart publicity is good publicity. Authors and explorers create a steady stream of interest that keeps the spirit of Earhart alive.

The highlight of this year's festival is the arrival of an Electra L-10 aircraft. It's the only one in existence that is just like the one Earhart disappeared in. The owner of the plane, named Muriel for Amelia's younger sister, says she knows how Earhart died 80 years ago. And Grace McGuire says Earhart's family agrees with her theory.

When McGuire purchased the plane in 1982, she intended to retrace Amelia's fateful flight using only celestial navigation, just like the 1937 aviators did.

"I plotted my course, and I looked at Amelia's charts and I thought, 'no,'" says McGuire. "One of us is going the wrong way. I was an instructor. I taught this stuff, and I thought 'it can't be me.' A thousand times I tried it."

McGuire believes that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were using old maps with charts from British Admiralty. She says they were designed for ships, not planes, and that the inaccuracies set Earhart off course by about 7 miles. "What I think happened, they certainly did crash into the sea, and the aircraft broke up. I think one of them managed to get out of the aircraft and tried to signal," says McGuire.

In 1986, McGuire, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Earhart, visited the South Pacific island where Earhart was trying to land. She was planning her own trip in the Electra. Shortly thereafter, McGuire was diagnosed with Lyme Disease and couldn't make the trip.

Pictured together on many occasions, McGuire and Muriel Earhart became friends. McGuire says the Earhart family believed her theory about the faulty maps.

Now, a museum is planned in Atchison to house Muriel.

The chairman of the Amelia Earhart Festival, Karen Seaberg, says it will be in grand 1930's style.

"It will be big and showcase Muriel. We are going to have experiential learning for children. A state of the art museum for everyone to enjoy in Atchison."

And now in her late 60's, McGuire plans to go back to the area and uncover some secrets she left buried there years ago, including what could be a piece of Amelia's downed plane.

"I'm not going to stop until we can bring part of the aircraft back. Amelia and Fred deserve a decent burial. I just have to do it. It is just something I have to do."

McGuire says any evidence she does find will be housed in the Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. and at the new museum in Atchison. She is making plans to film a documentary about her search early next year.