An Ocean Mystery

An aircraft recovery group is starting a new search for wreckage from famed pilot Amelia Earhart’s plane

Mar 21, 2012 | By Kelli Plasket
AP

The celebrated American aviator Amelia Earhart has been missing for 75 years. She vanished while flying over the South Pacific on July 2, 1937, and was never found. Her disappearance is one of the great mysteries of the 20th century. But now, a team of historians, scientists and salvagers are opening a new investigation. They plan to search for the wreckage of Earhart’s plane in the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro in the western Pacific Ocean. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery is behind the search.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her support to the investigation at a State Department event held March 20 to announce the new plans. Clinton spoke about how Earhart was an inspiration to Americans who were struggling to recover after the Great Depression. “[Earhart] gave people hope, and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder,” Clinton said. “Like that earlier generation, we too could use some of Amelia’s spirit.”

Earhart stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E plane in 1937.
AP
Earhart stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E plane in 1937.

Flying First

Amelia Earhart was a pioneer for women aviators. She bought her first plane in 1922. In May of 1932, she became the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean. The trip took 14 hours, 56 minutes—a new record.

Earhart set out to fly around the world in 1937 with her navigator, Frederick Noonan, in her Lockheed Electra plane. The pilot and navigator disappeared on their way to Howland Island, a small island in the Pacific Ocean. The U.S. Navy searched for the pair, but they were never found. Many historians believe the two fliers crashed into the ocean. (Click here to watch a video about Amelia’s life.)

A New Discovery

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery believes Earhart and Noonan may have managed to land on a reef near Nikumaroro and survived for a short time. In earlier visits to the island, the group recovered artifacts that could have belonged to the pair. They think the plane’s wreckage may be found in the deep waters nearby.

This October 1937 photo of the shoreline of Nikumaroro Island shows what analysts say could be parts of a Lockheed Electra plane sticking out of the water, to the left.
AP

This October 1937 photo of the shoreline of Nikumaroro Island shows what analysts say could be parts of a Lockheed Electra plane sticking out of the water, to the left.

Now, the aircraft recovery group has taken a new look at an old photo of the shoreline of the island. The recent analysis of the October 1937 picture shows what may be part of a Lockheed Electra landing gear sticking out of the water. The evidence could help narrow the wide search area for the plane.

Ric Gillespie is the executive director of the aircraft recovery group. He says that the evidence is circumstantial but strong and that a new search will provide an opportunity to explore. "The most important thing is not whether we find the ultimate answer or what we find. It is the way we look," Gillespie said. The search is scheduled to last for 10 days in July and will use high-tech underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment. The Discovery Channel will film the expedition for a documentary.

In her speech, Clinton cheered on the searchers. "Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself," she said. "We are excited and looking forward to (hearing) about your own great adventure."