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.”

Post by:
Filed under: Aviation • History
soundoff (731 Responses)
  1. GOP21

    Omg ppl this doesn't need to be a politically motivated story. Who cares if it is being paid for by "your" tax dollars, at least its not a 300 pound black lady with 12 kids. Im not a racist im just truthful African Americans have been looking for handouts since they abolished slavery in the United states of America.

    March 20, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Billy Z

      "Im not a racist..." I just watch Fox News 12 hours a day and believe every spin-free fact they tell me.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reeally??

      Are you insane? Your comments makes no sense??Why are you talking about a 300 lb black woman . I think your comments are supposed to be about Amelia. Your ignorant and irrelevant comments are a perfect example of the decline of the American intellect.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • ThrowMeaBone

      And I think Rush Limbaugh is a kind hearted old soul with no agenda. If he's the best spokesman the GOP right wing has, you all are in serious trouble come election time! Limbaugh is the "Tokoyo Rose" of our time - and he knows there's a sucker born every minute that will listen to his hate-filled garbage. He's what is wrong with America. And if people would stop listening to him he'd go back under the rock from which he came.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      Hahaha I love comments like "I'm not racist...but..." and "I have a black friend..."; moron. there's 300 pound white women with 12 kids on welfare, WIC, unemployment, disability, social security AND they have a handicapped placard for being so fat. Talk about them. OOOHHHH, or the 1000 pound hispanic lady that's trying to get in the guiness book of records for being corpulent.

      LOL. "I'm not racist... but..."

      March 21, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. The B

    The picture is at the top of the page. The enlarged part is the clue.

    March 20, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Billy Z

    Yeah sure, remember when that guy said he found "her" shoe? It was an old rubber sole about her size – yeah really narrows it down. So this photo was around 70-somethin years and they just "enhanced" it? Seeing landing gear there is like seeing a face on Mars – or Jesus in a piece of toast...

    March 20, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. David

    These Earhart stories are like 'cure for cancer' stories. Dont bother us again until you have something.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. -ME

    Now im not an expert or anything, but this actually kinda neat! I mean are you really that mad that they found something? Now, by all means, it could be nothing, but at least they're trying! 🙂

    March 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Erin

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

    Into the drink? Is that even an expression, or did they mean brink??

    March 20, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • jross

      It's an expression. It's an old one, drink meaning water. Could mean coffee too, but that would make no sense...

      March 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • andilayne


      March 20, 2012 at 10:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Duh

      Yes, it's an expression.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • GetReal

      "Drink" is a slang expression for a large body of water.

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

      Yes into the drink is an expression.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • English major

      Informal . a large body of water, as a lake, ocean, river, etc. (usually preceded by the ): His teammates threw him in the drink.

      March 21, 2012 at 12:20 am | Report abuse |
    • oldecactus

      I have always heard "there are no dumb questions" however this one really pushes the limit.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
    • nonplussed

      Yes it is, "into the drink" means into the water, and has since the very first aviators started using it. If this is indeed their plane it is entirely possible that the last words spoken by Earhart or Noonan was something along the lines of "this is it we are going into the drink!"

      March 21, 2012 at 5:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Stein

      "going into the drink" is pretty standard British lingo for "crashing into the sea".

      March 21, 2012 at 6:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Just Sayin'

      Yes it's an expression. Into the drink = into the water.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Trina

      Into the drink means into the water. There would be no "into the brink". "On the brink" would mean on the edge, but wouldn't apply here.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Locode

      yes, "into the drink" is an expression. "into the brink" is definitely not an expression, nor does it make sense at all.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:38 am | Report abuse |
    • MARK IN VA

      Yes, by the way, it IS an expression. Sailors and aviators use this phrase extensively.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Kat

      To get back to the story, why has it taken so long to really verify not just "guess" that this might be her? Talk about slow communication plus it almost sounds like someone is trying to hide something.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff


      March 21, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Athiest Al

      Yes it is a term. It means to enter water. Into the drink.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:54 am | Report abuse |
    • bbd

      "into the drink" = "into the water (ocean)" 😉

      March 21, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • JJ

      An aviation expression.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
    • jakob

      It is an expression, and it's mostly used by people who actually happen to spend time on the ocean as part of their professional job... ie sailors and merchant marine people...

      March 21, 2012 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • ChiefGunner

      No. He meant "drink". It is a nautical slang term for the ocean.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:04 am | Report abuse |
    • Tickethead

      No, tehy mean "drink".. it's a very common phrase used when talking about something going into the water. Used in naval and aviation terms as well as sporting terms. It's used often in Golf.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      "into the drink" means "into the water"

      March 21, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      LOL @ how many comments this question received. How many people does it take to tell this dolt, (who could've easily "googled" the expression), what it means?

      Hello, 1930's? I'd like my expression back.

      This is what happens when you spend 23 years looking at old black and white photos of nothing.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
  7. Lisa

    I do feel weird thinking this but I hope they do not find it, what a shame it would be that they were so close to land and missed it.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • P.A.K.

      If the plane is intact, then the theory follows that they were successful in landing their aircraft on the reef. There was no place on the island to land on so they would have either ditched in the water or landed on the reef as the story goes. You would never lower your landing gear to ditch because when the wheels hit, this tends to cause airplanes to flip, so most likely they attempted to land on the reef. The real shame in all of this is, if they survived the landing, that means they died from exposure, dehydration, or some other god aweful thing while sitting on that island for who knows how long, waiting for the rescue to arrive.

      March 21, 2012 at 1:33 am | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      Yes, this reminds me of a TV series I once saw... there was a Smoke Monster, aggressive people called the "Others", a crazy French chick, a Polar Bear?, and a Hatch that causes planes to crash there. OH! And the Island moves locations...

      Smell a connection?

      March 21, 2012 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. David Swade

    Stop with the whole my tax dollars thing. She is a famous person in history who deserves a proper burial, I say let them go look for her even if it is not the right place and besides they said privately funded. Really people is that all you care about is your tax dollars.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Locode

      they aren't using tax dollars genius

      March 21, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      It specifically states in the article that this is privately funded. Anyone thinking tax dollars are being used for this is seriously misguided and should do more research before flipping a lid.

      March 21, 2012 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      Also, if she was so big about her planes – dying with it would be her proper burial... like a captain going down with his ship?

      March 21, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. Attila, The Hun

    A waste of money which could otherwise be used to save lives today.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert Guthrie

      well heck why not say all history is worthless you must have nothing better to do than complain. History is history we teach it our schools and colledegs finding her or her plain would be history in its self !

      March 21, 2012 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      I'm not sure where people are getting that this has tax-dollars associated with it. Even resources such as the vessel from the University of Hawaii can be paid for by private funds which actually helps lower the cost of maintenance and staffing. Non-public organizations have used the resources of public organizations for a fee in the past as the resources are there, why not use it. Whether that is camping on public parks or experiments and cargo on the space shuttle (or its replacement), it is a good model of how the public good can be supported through private use.

      March 21, 2012 at 6:54 am | Report abuse |
    • DNA

      @Robert Guthrie, Allow me to assist:

      Whether it was 75 years ago or yesterday, Earhart should be found and have a proper burial. It would be a great piece of history solved so her family can get some closure. Also, good lord, gas prices do what they want to do. Gas prices have nothing to to do with Earhart .

      There you go, Bubba. LRN2SPEL.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  10. Greek American

    I'm going to predict that they find NOTHING. Geraldo Rivera will do a live show on location as they pull up seaweeds and sand and seashells. Hahahahaha

    March 20, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Report abuse |
  11. DoTheFlippinMath

    Yeah, I bet Obama planned the whole thing, just to get bragging rights. I can just see him now at the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting, saying, "Ok, we already got Osama Bin Laden, so let's get that Amelia Earhart!

    March 21, 2012 at 1:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Jealous much?

      March 21, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
    • James Harrington

      The fact that President Obama got Bin Ladin means the Pres can do anything he wants in my book.

      March 21, 2012 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  12. Robert Guthrie

    wheather it was 75 years ago or yesterday Earhart should be found and have a burial and it would be a great piece of history solved her family never got closure. and good lord gas prices do what they wanna do nothing to to do with Earhart .

    March 21, 2012 at 2:37 am | Report abuse |
  13. loki301

    What else would one expect a female pilot to do other than crash her plane. A man would have made it!

    March 21, 2012 at 4:27 am | Report abuse |
    • PSHORT

      She had a GUY with her. idiot!

      March 21, 2012 at 5:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. rich

    TIghar has been looking here since the 1980s and all they have found is some turtle bones, and some trash left behind from when the island was colonized in the 40's. Now there is a picture of "landing gear"?

    more bull crap?

    March 21, 2012 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  15. No Spam

    This story is nothimg more than a lot of dumb speculation.

    The object in that photo could be anything - a jumping fish, a bad spot on the film negative, or group of seagulls above and on the water.

    March 21, 2012 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24