Investigators say they've found key clue to fate of Amelia Earhart
March 20th, 2012
10:50 AM ET

Investigators say they've found key clue to fate of Amelia Earhart

Investigators think they've uncovered a key clue that will lead them to solve the mystery of what happened to legendary aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared on a trans-Pacific flight 75 years ago.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), said a new enhanced analysis of a photo taken on the Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner Island, three months after Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared, may show the landing gear of her Lockheed Electra protruding from a reef.

“We found some really fascinating and compelling evidence," Gillespie said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.

“Finding the airplane would be the thing that would make it conclusive,” he said.

Gillespie said the photo was taken by a British survey team in October 1937 and had been seen by Earhart researchers many times. But investigators took a new look at it in 2010 and, when their suspicions were triggered, had the photo checked by U.S. State Department experts. In a blind review, they determined the component in the picture is the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra.

"This is where the airplane went into the drink," Gillespie said.

On July 2, 75 years to the day after Earhart was last heard from, Gillespie will depart Honolulu on a University of Hawaii research vessel to try to find that plane in the deep waters off a flat reef on Nikumaroro.

The privately funded effort will use robotic submarines from Phoenix International, the U.S. Navy's primary contractor for deep ocean search and recovery, to comb the area. The Discovery Channel will film the exploration for a TV presentation, Gillespie said.

Gillespie acknowledged there would be skeptics after his 23 years of searching for Earhart had yet to yield an answer.

“There are some very smart people who think we’re wrong about this, but there are some very smart people who think we’re right about this,” he said.

One Gillespie supporter is Robert Ballard, the explorer who found the Titanic and other deep sea wrecks, who called himself  "a ringer" brought in to vet Gillespie's case.

Ballard said he had rejected offers to look for Earhart's plane, thinking the task too difficult.

“If you ever wanted a case of finding a needle in a haystack, this is at the top of the list in deep sea exploration,” he said at the Washington press conference.

Ballard said he did a strict analysis of  Gillespie's research and signed off on the science.

"Every time he passed the test," Ballard said. "Clearly the smoking gun was the analysis of that enhanced image."

Earhart and Noonan disappeared while on a flight from New Guinea to Howland Island that summer of 1937. The flat reef off Gardner Island, 300 miles off their course, had been a suspected landing spot. But those suspicions were largely based on speculation.

At Tuesday's press conference, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell called the disappearance of Earhart "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century."

If the mystery is solved this summer, Earhart's aviation trailblazing will have played a part, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said.

"In no small part because of Amelia Earhart our world is smaller," LaHood said. "This very voyage to recover her remains in some ways is doable because of Earhart herself."

“We take a special measure of pride in an expedition that is as enterprising and inspiring as the woman with which it will unite us,” he said.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saluted Earhart's memory, too.

“Her legacy resonates today for anyone girls and boys who dreams about the stars,” Clinton said. “She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder.”

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Filed under: Aviation • History
soundoff (731 Responses)
  1. D

    What's with not showing "the pic" in this article??
    WTH

    March 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Wrongway

    She was a groundbreaking feminist.
    Also a mediocre pilot and a very sub-par navigator (navigatrix).
    She had reputation for all three qualities.
    That, and being pushed to stay in the limelight.
    "There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots; but there are no old, bold pilots."
    She had "pluck."

    March 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ThrowMeaBone

    She's working at the same Seven Eleven in Kalamazoo with Elvis. Geez! I thought this was common knowledge!

    Seriously, though. If something of the plane was to be recovered, wouldn't it be cool to go see it at the Smithsonian? Just think of all the things that have changed in this world since 1937... Emelia wouldn't recognize it.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. thedude

    Before we get too carried away with all the "inspirational" blather surrounding Earhart, let's not forget that she scorned the use of radio, seldom used a chart, cracked up a number of other airplanes, managed to fly her airplane into the ocean, and killed herself and a passenger.

    On the other hand, it's easy to see how such a clueless individual would become a hero to democrats.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JJ

    This is old news and an old f@rt looking for more attention. Please. No more "Earhart's been found cr@p. If they find her, then they can be newsworthy.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • lavinia

      We all know the jungle pygmies ate her for lunch that day – with a side of cole slaw and a coke!

      March 20, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patti

      They've already found where she landed, it was on land to begin with. They've found her compass, and a few other artifacts that belonged to her. They believe her body was taken by local animals, so they won't ever find that. But you're exactly right, just some old shmold writer that can't think of something clever. It's amazing that even writers and researchers can't look stuff up on the internet... not everything on here is false. This story has been beat to death. GIVE IT UP!!!

      March 20, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cruisecontrol

    Now that the news is out, what'll you bet when those researchers finally get there, they're going to find yachts anchored everywhere, and folks diving and poking around in the sand looking for artifacts and bones?

    March 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Frank

    So ..... I thought this story was about a new clue found in an old picture.
    So.......Where is the picture and the clue?

    I'm not a reporter so call me crazy, but if your doing a story about a clue found in a picture, would it make sense to show the picture and clue as part of the report? Is it top secret or something?

    Confused....

    March 20, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • possum

      I don't know why they didn't show it... Maybe because it doesn't show anything! It's from a plane and far away, and old and blurry. I couldn't see anything interesting. Everytime they run this story with 'new evidence' I end up wondering how they get so much attention.

      March 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stan Iverson

      They DID show the picture!

      March 20, 2012 at 8:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • teresa

      @Frank: did you see the top picture? it shows the photo and the "enhanced" thing in the water. far reach if you ask me.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      It's a "Blues Clues: The Movie" teaser story.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:09 am | Report abuse |
  8. TOEISH BALPOO

    SEND BOBBI KRISTINA SO SHE WON'T MARRY HER BROTHER!!!

    March 20, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. KM

    Probably not too good. More than likely, she's "bone thin" by now.

    March 20, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Elijah McCoy

    How about...we FIND the plane and stuff, THEN we make a big deal about obama and tax?????

    March 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JellO

    Elijah Mccoy... isnt that like a dead inventor??? or something??????

    March 20, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jimmy

    Yeah, and isn't Jello a food???

    March 20, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rock

    What utter rubbish. This glory hound is making a living on this old mystery. Why is the Gov't involved? And please, "experts from the State Department" ?? Don't make me laugh. Morons.

    March 20, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. jon

    Great example of the sad state of journalism today, how many of you expected to see the photo they hyped in the headline?

    March 20, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • lavinia

      the housewives of bora bora ate her for lunch! they juz luvs that white meat!

      March 20, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Debbie

    A couple of observations and correction. 1. It's no mystery who killed Nicole Brown-Simpson. 2. Palintwit: post somewhere relevant. 3. President Carter was elected because of a majority of electoral votes-just like every President. 4. The true spelling is Reagan-not Regan. 5. The biggest mystery is: why do postings continue to get pushed off the track? Short attention span? Lack of IQ? No friends and your pet won't have anything to do with you? All of the above? It's privately funded, and it would be interesting to discover what did happen to her. Amelia was an aviation pioneer well ahead of her time.

    March 20, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      Relax Debbie Downer... people are actually using HUMOR in this forum rather than the rants from OTHER forums. It's amusing. Clippity Clop on your high horse to the I hate the GOP thread.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
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