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. Al Obama!

    So many mysteries, so few funds, So many GRANTS to the chosen ones.

    Spend millions and get reports like "could be", "may possibly be", etc. etc., which happens to be the original supposition. Only a lot cheaper.

    March 20, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sir Hugo Drax

    OJ's son killed them.

    March 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Michael

    PS. To those who argue over pvt vs public this will be a tax paid undertaking! How many understand the way the firm that buids submesible is funded and then the funds aquired to justify use to public? Even Discovery channel gets Gov Grants from NASA. NOAH, Military, and Earhart Foundation has gotten Fed such as Dept of Ed., Smithsonian Inst. Some 80 per cent of Dept of Ed 100 B plus budget goes into research for things military such as those submersibles within College and Universitys for Oceanic studies. Want a good career study how to write successeul Grant Apps, Every non profit. NGO. School Dist, Pvt/Public org, Think Tank, heck without fed funds half or more college grads would be unemployed and Tenured Proffessor would have to spend time educating instead of on Sabatical or doing research for Agri, Pharma, and millitary/Ine group. Yes indeed mostly tax dollars, but if nation can afford to continue to employ so many why quibble?

    March 20, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. TJ

    What's the mystery? This chick died when her plane crashed 75 years ago. Who cares?

    March 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Miriz01

    Hey guys going nuts over the photo– it was featured in Richard Gillespie's "Finding Amelia" tv program that I watched last summer. I think the program is available to watch on Netflix. There were some other pretty interesting coincidences that taken all together probably warrent further investigation.

    March 20, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. itoldyouso10

    Ok, so how about this for an idea of how to proceed with this investigation? Send a team to do research on the plane, and then at the same time, do DNA tests on the bones? I am sure there is some evidence that can confirm her if we can do that with people who lived 100's of years ago? As far as the mystery goes, at least this could be one of those paranormal cases that can finally be solved for real and for good (like the existence of the Giant Squid in 2005). At least this research would put this case to rest with a very plausible explanation. Now, asking rhetorically, what happened to Flight 19 in 1945?

    March 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  7. James

    Pics or it didn't happen

    March 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hercule Poirot

    Hey, while they're at it, maybe they can look for Judge Crater, too.

    March 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuckb

      While we are at it, let's find Jimmy Hoffa and Ambrose Bierce.

      March 20, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Max Headroom

    "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century" ? What about the hijacker DB Cooper? His story is more puzzling to me

    March 20, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ryan

    “Her legacy resonates today for anyone girls and boys who dreams about the stars,” Clinton said.


    March 20, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bitewell

      It's not good English but Clinton is a Washington bureaucrat and that's how those creatures speak.

      March 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      Clinton was later quoted but stricken from the record as saying "Detected, tol me to do things I dun start runnin'."

      March 21, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bob A. Booey

    Show us the picture

    March 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. gustavo jones

    I heard she died because she couldnt get contraception and now sandra fluke is going there to make sure this doesnt happen to anybody else. Also, guys, please make sure you put the toilet seat down or more women might's a women's rights issue

    March 20, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • torqueflite

      Can't get a date, huh?

      March 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • cando

      Forgot your meds again........ If you cant find them, call your mom.

      March 20, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. tilmeismoney

    I wanna know what happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • gustavo jones

      Hoffa was the the guy in the gorilla costume in the patterson bigfoot film. He was later mistaken for a real bigfoot and shot. Once they figured out who he was he was shipped to Scotland and dumped in Lochness Lake....dont you read your history?

      March 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      I loved Harry and the Hendersons.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  14. Randy

    What tighar needs to do is stop looking on the island and do a deep sea search off the reef. They keep on pointing out evidence for the plane on the reef. The only place it could have gone is deeper in the ocean. It would be a fairly small area. Put up or shut up.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. information

    She is alive, was found. Will be on Today show tomorrow.

    March 20, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dagwood

      If they prove her plane went down I guess this finally proves that aviation from its infancy is perfect. They haven't left one up there yet.

      March 20, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
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