FedEx Making Dreams Come True For TIGHAR and Earhart Project
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Seventy-five years and one day after the disappearance of one of the world’s most famous aviators — Amelia Earhart — TIGHAR will set sail from Honolulu, Hawaii for the small uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, where research crew will begin scouring the ocean depths for the remains of Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10E “Electra” that is believed to have gone down in the region on July 2, 1937.
The hunt for the plane is made possible with the ambitious efforts of global overnight delivery pioneer FedEx, which has donated all shipping costs, logistics and expertise of the Earhart Project’s precious cargo that will be used for the expedition. FedEx has been a passionate supporter of TIGHAR for more than 16 years and was more than happy to jump on board for the hunt for one of America’s most beloved heroes.
FedEx shipped more than 27,000 pounds of equipment, more than 22,000 miles by ground, sea and air to Honolulu where it also aided in loading all equipment — which includes a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) and the Bluefin 21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle — onto the cargo vessel that will carry the equipment and 18 research members on an eight-day journey to the Pacific island of Nikumaroro.
Once the team, led by Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, arrives at the Pacific atoll, they will map out the ocean floor around the island and then use the side-scan sonar of the AUV to search for the presence of a manmade object hidden amongst the craggy reefs of the island. If the team does find evidence of a manmade object, they will then implement the use of the ROV, which is equipped with HD cameras and video equipment, to see what is actually there.
In soundbites from an interview on June 30, Gillespie voiced his concerns with the mission.
“What goes through my mind at a time like this is: is this a dream come true or a case of be careful what you wish for?” He noted that without the help of supporters such as FedEx, this mission would not be possible.
And now that FedEx has made this mission a reality for TIGHAR, “we have to go do it, we have to look under that rock where we think it is,” he said. “And it’s either going to be there or it won’t be there. And that’s scary… But you don‘t have a choice. Given the opportunity, you have to try.”
According to TIGHAR, the US Coast Guard cutter Itasca had received distress calls from what seemed to be the plane of Amelia Earhart before it disappeared, with the last in-flight message stating: “We are on the line 157 337. … We are running on line north and south.” Those numbers refer to compass headings and pass through Howland Island, the intended destination of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan.
Several conspiracies abound as to what really happened to Earhart after she vanished in the Pacific. The most notable suggests she was a spy and was captured by the Japanese only to return to the US years later under a new identity.
TIGHAR doesn’t buy into these theories and has its own theory. The group believes Earhart never found Howland Island and traveled to Gardner Island instead, 356 nautical miles away. With fuel running low, Earhart would of had no choice but to attempt a landing on the reef below. At times the reef is smooth enough to land an airplane, making it possible for Earhart to land there and become stranded.
However, during the search and rescue missions, Navy fliers said they hadn’t seen a plane, but did notice “signs of recent habitation.” But at that time, it was believed all the islands in the area were inhabited and the searchers did not think twice about the evidence. In reality, Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, has been uninhabited since 1892.
In nine previous searches of the island, TIGHAR has found evidence that someone had lived on the island as a castaway. They had found bones and clam shells that appeared to have been eaten. Gillespie said they are unsure how long Earhart may have survived as a castaway on the island.
“We just know the bones of a woman, Amelia we think, were found there,” Gillespie told ABCNews.com. “Based on the volume of food remains, and also, the context that a lot of the artifacts were found this was somebody who had figured out how to catch fish and birds and how to get clams open.”
Although TIGHAR has yet to fully prove their theory, it believes it has the correct answer. And finding evidence of her plane will provide the evidence needed to confirm their suspicions.
“We go where the evidence leads us,” he added. “All of it that we’ve found points to landing on this island and dying there as a castaway.”
He told AFP that if debris is found, it will be photographed and its location carefully documented for a future expedition.
The 26-day expedition will be captured by a film crew from Discovery Channel and aired as a documentary in August 2012.
“This is when Discovery truly embodies its namesake. We are excited and proud to be working with TIGHAR, paying tribute to an American icon and hero while developing new technologies to reach back into the past and solve one of the last great mysteries of the 20th century,” said Eileen O’Neill, president of Discovery Channel and TLC Networks.
“The search for answers in the Earhart mystery has been a decades-long passion for all the members of TIGHAR,” said Gillespie. “The exhaustive research leading up to today’s departure gives us great hope that the Niku VII expedition will provide conclusive answers in the search for Earhart’s final landing place.”
B-roll footage of FedEx Louisiana cargo pickup is available here.
B-roll footage of Delivering History is available here.