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. Feralgirl

    On CNN just now the man talking about Amelia Earhart mentioned that in the 1940's bones were found, thinking they may be hers, but were tested and found to be male. There is a genetic condition, Androgen Insensity Syndrome, and others, where a woman has XY chromosomes. I wonder if that was considered in the testing?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Rod in Texas

    Ummm, wouldn't you post the actual photo?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. alalal1961

    poor reporting again.......seriously, can you please hire some better editors....

    March 20, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TPF

    I don't care if they found the plane complete with passenger are not. Is this helping anything with all the stuff we have going on in the world today. And Hillary wants to get involved in it too. She needs to just do her job and after November she can do whatever she wants to do, but right now this world is a dangerous place and the US policies have caused most of it.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sam

      Too singled minded. A lot of people would like to see this mystery solved.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peteyroo

      Really? Name the policies, please, so we can debate them.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. hhbvfrcgyydgiurtal;skfl;ajfg

    i don't understand why you all keep asking for a photo when it clrearly states that its a privately funded search so stop askin cause you ain gonna get it!!!!!!!!!!

    March 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • ojohnson

      The article clearly states that the photo was taken by a British survey team, which likely means it was taken by the British government. If so then anyone should be able to get the photo as they have something similar to the US Freedom of Information Act.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. anonymous

    where in the world did it say in the artical that you would be able to see the picture obviously its not for th publics eyes.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Peteyroo

    The missing airplane is in the photo above. You have to tilt your head just right to see it. If you tilt your head the wrong way, you'll see dolphins. If all you see is a photo of Amelia, you're just not trying!

    March 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • O J Simpson

      She had it comin'. And the Jewish dude was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ace

    Well that and who killed OJ Simpson's wife, another big mystery.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wes b.

      Ummm O.J. Simpson

      March 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fiona

      OJ killed his wife, and her friend. Zero mystery there.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Michael

    Those who have know their nations or cultures etc. etc. luigi came close to truth, Buisness! Earhart had a family while not exactly understanding her supported her, mostly for a liberated woman did have sociatal . Earhart was a publicity and damn near every fligt she made was a financial undertakeing. While the political woman want to make her out as some great example in truth it was men likd Hurst, and every male owned firm used to promote their products. Their were many more female pilots out there who were better pilots. Give the credit she is due though she made it in a male dominated society and inspired women to dream the possible! To those who worry about who dunds, what have you ever realy contributed to such an extent as what Ms. Earhart did to enrich this nations history. Heck as a male school child I contributed my dimes to her memorial for her exploits expanded my own visions of possabilitys. Yup, that someday I too could make a fortune by exploiting a female! NOT!!!

    March 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • bryan

      If you're going to write an entire paragraph, for God's sake learn how to write the English language. It's understandable if you're not a native speaker, but there are a couple things you wrote that imply you grew up in US.

      March 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      Maybe you should've paid your dimes to go to a better school. Grammar is not your strong suit. Those who can, look for Amelia for 23 years. Those who can't learn, pay to the private Amelia fund.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. John

    “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.

    BRILLIANT, don't you think?! HAHAHAHA

    March 20, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Makes Sense

      The only obvious thing is that you're not in either group.

      March 20, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  11. palintwit

    A special survey team from the prestigous Sarah Palin University is being assembled right now to explore the site. Sarah Palin would join the team as well but she is terrified of turtles.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fiona

      Thanks loads, Palintwit. Now I have this disturbing image in my head of an overly made-up Palin screaming in terror at the sight of a leatherback. No sleep tonight.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • snowdogg

      That DID make me laugh!

      March 20, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Not so fast there...

    "... the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century."

    Not true. It still remains to discover how Jimmy Carter was ever elected President.

    I do hope they find the answer to the mystery about Earhart. Then maybe they'll put this nonsense to bed for once and all.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      And the JFK Assasination. :O

      March 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patriot

      Or better yet, how did Carter ever loose to the lunatic Regan?

      March 20, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wrong

      @Not So Fast There...An even bigger mystery is the incredible thing that occurred in 2004 - people actually voted to re-elect George W. Bush. That, my friend, is stunning. And. Always. Will. Be.

      March 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  13. TAK

    Ray LaHood's comment makes it sound like this is a done deal.
    "This very voyage to recover her remains..."

    March 20, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. dutspup

    we have a photo but we cant show it to you. The landing gear of a Lockheed Electra (more than 75 years of age) is still classified, but we do have it, its been verified.

    March 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Alex

    And where, pray tell, can we see this photo?

    March 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
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