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. bob

    John,

    Educate me on how the govt is getting paid back of its work.......waiting.........

    March 20, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • newton

      "privately funded effort" - do you know how to read, or are you just a kneejerk reactionary completely blinded by your agenda

      March 20, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Jerry

      bob, read it again, the article states it is privately funded. A show will be aired on the Discover Channel. No need to reimburse the government when the government doesn't pay for it.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jonny Eberle

    Can we get a copy editor over here? It's "there" not "their" and Clinton's quote makes no sense. Thanks.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob

      I thought the use of their was incorrect at first. I had to read it again and put it into context. Actually "their" is the correct word, however it is still a poorly written sentence. It is saying that they acknowledged their would be critics...

      March 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jon Bovi

      You are wrong. "Their" was used correctly in this article.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JOE SMOCKEROODI

    DO YOU THINK THEY SURVIVED THE CRASH AND SPENT THEIR LAST DAYS RUNNING AROUND NAKED??!! THAT'S WHAT I WOULD HAVE DONE WITH HER ANYWAY.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • woo

      Too much of a dog face for me.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • rich

      isnt her plane in turn 4 at daytona speedway?

      March 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. anon

    How many news stories can you have that are all about a picture, but you NEVER SHOW THE PICTURE???

    March 20, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • bob

      I agree – don't waste our time with this story unless you're going to show the F'in picture! How stupid can the editors be?

      March 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      So true! LOL

      How about having a few thousand people reading the story take a look-see and see what they think?! Then again, we're simpletons and would never be smart enough to say anything coherent on the subject. Because there just can't be anyone out there who may actually have aircraft restoration experience and who may know a thing or two about landing gear! Nahh...! Thank the heavens above that there are 'experts' at the State Dept. I can sleep easy now!

      Sorry...my sarcasm is showing again. 😦

      March 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jerutha

      Maybe if you dig a little further it is because the picture has not been released to any News Media. Instead of acting like a child do a little more research first.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      True. Where's the picture!?

      March 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  5. bob

    so when you are told that the govt will NOT be taking more taxes from you and they say it over and over again, you will of course believe them right? And when they say you can keep your current doctor under obamacare and they say it over and over again...then you will believe them right? And when they say that Obamacare will lower the cost of health insurance and they say it over and over again, you will believe them right? Just in case you were not aware the GBO just came out with their latest projection on the cost of Obamcare.......guess what direction it went in??? The new projection is TWICE the cost of the original political estimate...........if this doesn't wake you up....nothing will...

    March 20, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • newton

      Thanks Doctor Bob. Protecting your summer house are you?

      So far, what has been implemented of obamacare (which by legislation is just a little) is working by all accounts. will it work when fully implemented? Depends who you believe. but we do know one fact – the current system is awful, so at least something is being done.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • RF

      Must have missed that pat in the article on Amelia Erhart. Carry on !

      March 20, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • IhaveID

      And what does this have to do with searching for Amelia Earhart's plane?

      March 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • jonnycees

      @Bob What are you talking about? if you want to complain about Obamcare, go find an article that is at least slightly related. Don't get me wrong, I hate Obamcare too but how is an article about Amelia Earhart even relevant???

      March 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Huh?

      ummmm. where did that come from? Go troll the Ticker

      March 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • scrollman

      Yeah Bob, there wasn't a problem with medicine in general before Obamacare was there? Let's keep prescribing Viagra and Cialis while those without coverage die.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      Don't worry Bob – you don't have to be informed to be covered by the affordable care act. Settle down and relax. You won't have to go much longer without the mental health counseling you so very need.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      I don't see the link between obamacare and Amelia Earhart.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. EastCoastMike

    Bob, again....You do realize that there was no executive order signed on Friday....Right? It's called a hoax. That means it's not real.....But keep up that paranoia. It seems to work for you.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
  7. leavenworth teamster 38176

    ".....called the disappearance of Earhart "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century."

    No one has come close to finding brother Hoffa, have they?

    March 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • karlheiz

      he sleeps with the fish.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteelerFan

      No one cares about a crook.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Stan

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

    Some grammar mistakes in this sentence.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ben

    There is a difference between "their" and "there" .... not really related to the story, but very irritating to read!

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

    March 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Keoni

      I saw that error also but quickly attributed it to a typo as "there" and "their" were correctly used in the rest of the article. Good grief, lighten up folks!

      March 20, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. AZLib

    Personally I want to know who truly brought down the towers in 9/11... Why did building 7 fall into its own footprint even though it was never hit. Solve that Mystery! Who were the people buying United and American airlines short for those days.. Time to take that one apart...

    March 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
  11. scott

    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."

    I would think Jimmy Hoffa would qualify as a great unsolved mystery...

    March 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteelerFan

      No one cares about finding a crook teamster.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • soulcatcher

      It's no mystery what happened to him, just who and where.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Trey

    great reporting... Picture shows evidence (but no photo on story)... thier instead of there... WOW!

    March 20, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. woo

    So where is the picture showing the plane?

    March 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dana

    You use the wrong "there" in your article.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Grammer Troll

      Nice catch.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Erisian

    So they post a headline about a photo...and then don't include the photo?

    March 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
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