March 21, 2012
New Amelia Earhart Investigation To Begin
US Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton is supporting a new investigation into the disappearance of one of America´s most noted aviation pioneers, Amelia Earhart, who vanished without a trace over the South Pacific nearly three-quarters of a century ago.
The search for Earhart is resuming this summer in the waters off Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati where some believe she may have died as a castaway.
Enhanced analysis of a 1937 photo taken months after Earhart´s Lockheed Electra plane went missing shows what experts believe may be the landing gear of her airplane protruding from the waters off the island of Nikumaroro.
Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, said the evidence was “circumstantial” but compellingly “strong.”
The TIGHAR expedition will use high-tech underwater equipment to search for evidence of Earhart´s aircraft.
Earhart disappeared on July 2, 1937, while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island as part of her attempt to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. She was accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan, who replaced Earhart´s first choice navigator, Captain Harry Manning, for the difficult stage of her journey. Both Earhart and Noonan have never been found.
While the exact details of their disappearance remains a mystery, several conspiracy theories have arisen, including claims that Earhart and Noonan were US government agents captured by the Japanese before World War II.
Gillespie and his group believe they actually may have landed on a reef abutting the atoll and survived for a short time. They think perhaps the plane was washed off the reef by high tides shortly after landing and that it may be in the deep waters nearby.
“This was the oldest Earhart theory,” Gillespie told Rossella Lorenzi of Discovery News. “This was the theory the Navy came up with in the first days following the flight´s disappearance. And they did search the atoll, but only from the air,” he added.
Gillespie´s group, which have investigated the remote island before, discovered a number of artifacts on previous expeditions, including a shattered mirror from a woman´s makeup compact, parts of a pocket knife, and American bottles that predate WWII.
Most intriguing, though, are two sets of human bones, a man´s and woman´s, purportedly found in 1941 by a corps of New Zealand wartime military personnel while visiting the island.
The bones were placed in a box and taken to Suva, Fiji, where they were examined by a doctor, but later disappeared.
“We found archival records describing the discovering in Nikumaroro in 1940 of the partial skeleton and campsite of what appears to have been a female castaway,” Gillespie told Lorenzi. “We identified the place on a remote corner of the atoll that fits the description of where the bones and campsite were found.”
Gillespie said the upcoming expedition will concentrate mainly on the plane and its final resting place. The underwater search will be conducted by Phoenix International, the US Navy´s primary deep ocean search and recovery contractor.
TIGHAR will set sail from Honolulu on July 2, the 75th anniversary of Earhart´s disappearance, aboard the University of Hawaii oceanographic research ship R/V Ka Imikai-O-Kanaloa. The trip to the remote island will take about eight days.
“When we get there, we´ll survey the general area with multi-beam sonar to create an accurate map of the undersea topography and prioritize the search area,” Gillespie told Lorenzi.
“Targets will be identified using high resolution, side scan sonar mounted on an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). Finally, we will investigate suspicious looking targets using a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) with dual manipulators and color video camera system and lights,” he said.
Clinton met yesterday (March 20) with historians and scientists from TIGHAR. She noted just how pertinent this search is to Americans, saying that Earhart went missing when the country was in the grips of the Great Depression.
“Now Amelia Earhart may have been an unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck, but she embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world,” she said.
“When she took off on that historic journey she carried the aspirations of our entire country with her,” Clinton said.
Gillespie said he hopes his group can solve the long-lived mystery surrounding Earhart´s final fateful trip, and just what has happened to one of America´s most inspiring heroes.
“We'll do our best to find Amelia. During the painful recovery from the Great Depression, Amelia Earhart inspired America with her courage and determination. America needs Amelia again,” Gillespie said.
Robert Ballard, the oceanographer made famous by his discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, said: “If you ever want a case of finding a needle in a haystack, this is the top of the list.”
Image Caption: Amelia Earhart and Lockheed Electra 10E NR 16020, c. 1937.