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. Blue 19

    Looks like the Loch Ness monster to me.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jack Anderson

    Hillary said it best-Jack Anderson Pa.

    March 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. brian

    Any fool can plainly see that is a picture of Bigfoot.

    March 21, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    "Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell called the disappearance of Earhart "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century." So I guess who shot JFK or Roswell or the moon landing who what plane crashed into the pentagon on 9/11 have all ben solved then????????

    March 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tom bokori

    I really can't believe the idiots using this site to show their ignorance and spew their venom! Amelia was and is one of our most beloved aviators and a role model to us all! I for one applaud the state department for giving their blessing in this matter.This is NOT a waste of anyone's money ! By saying it is you do a great disservice to this lady and all she stood for and represented!!!!!–You petty little people and your petty ignorances disgust all who hold this great lady in such high esteem–YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMEND OF YOURSELVES!

    March 21, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • geebs

      Amen brother!! Well said!!!

      March 21, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sneekasnocks

    It looks like a ghoul with a bonnet on. Scary.

    March 21, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • SilentBoy741

      I thought it was a chihuahua in an Easter bonnet. Still scary, but on a whole other level.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Sara

    There are more trolls in the CNN comments sections than there are on the Something Awful forums... do you people have lives? A.elia Erhart is a role model and one of the great pioneers of the 20th century. Completing her story in history books serves to not only improve our understanding of her disappearance, but also honors a hero for women's achievements and aviation ass a whole.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • preston

      I don't know if if tthe misspellings in this post were intentional or accidental, either way, thanks for the best belly laugh I've had in a long time

      March 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chris

    I think its the lochness monster

    March 21, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. john smothsen

    emilia as involved in something big. i think she was invovled in a government coverup. possibly testing a spy camera.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. SDC.clark

    I wonder if they ever pondered the idea that whoever took the photo in 1937 might have been curious at an airplane wheel sticking up out of the ocean and just floated on over to check it out? Or any of the others (tens? hundreds?) who looked at it since.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Kay

    If the landing gear was just sticking up out of the water like that, and very plainly visible, why didn't anybody see it when they were trying to find her? Certainly the British surveying crew taking the photograph would have noticed an airplane's landing gear in the water. It looks pretty close to shore, too.

    Has this photograph been checked to make sure it's not a forgery?

    March 21, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aloisae

      The photo wasn't taken during the search.. it was taken several months later for an unrelated purpose and survey teams didn't actually take residence on the atoll until December of 1938. In July of 1937, when Amelia Earhart and her navigator disappeared, it was just one of the many, many uninhabited atolls in the Pacific and nobody physically searched for them there.

      March 21, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  12. George

    Plane crashed, landing gear broke off, buoyant tire/landing gear floated away (miles) and finally got snagged on the shallow reef. Good luck!

    March 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mongoose_king

      A good theory, i hope the searchers have lots of time and lot's of coffee.

      March 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Report abuse |
  13. hhbvfrcgyydgiurtal;skfl;ajfg

    guess the people who asked for a pic where right

    March 21, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. APersona

    Money issues aside (the article DOES say it's privately funded...I do hope that's true)...I will totally watch this on Discovery Channel. If they DO find the plane or what remains of it, it would be so fascinating to see the journey taken and equipment they use, etc. Not to mention it will bring more closure to the families of Earhart and Noonan.

    March 21, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Robert Richards

    First of all, Mz. Earhart was a human creature, exactly as the the other 6 billion of us now on this earth. The young lady had more guts than you or I, to undertake such a task. It was out here, just like Mt. Everest; and she was going to prove that it could be done. She paid dearly for that desire. As an aviator myself, who has made several trips across the South Pacific; I can tell you it is a lonely open expanse of endless water and horizon. I was in the company of several other well experienced aviators, including a Navigator; and in a four engine propeller driven aircraft. It was no cake walk.
    I salute Amelia Earhart for her determination. Bob Richards

    March 21, 2012 at 3:59 pm | 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