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. maniacmudd

    mikie, lest figuer out this mystery and forget you!

    March 20, 2012 at 8:13 am | Report abuse |
  2. TC

    People always want to talk crap... its a privately funded search based on newly surfaced research that suggests the wreckage site may be near that location! Its one of American histories enduring mysteries... what happened to Amelia!

    March 20, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  3. Andreas Moser

    A bit late, isn't it. Surely she has decomposed by now.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
  4. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    It's not always necessary to read the article to avoid appearing foolish in one's comment.
    If I just wanted to say that I have always considered Amelia Earhart a model of groundbreaking leadership in the movement for equal achievement by women, and that I use her as an example in my teaching of young Americans who may not know who she was, I could skip the article's copy and just comment.
    Thinking, and possibly reading the article and more about the matter, become important if it occurs to me that my tax money would be better sent to starving children in China and that Mrs. Earhart's children and grandchildren should pay for the recovery of her body (along with her husband's) so that the survivors can hold proper Christian (or Jewish) services and give the couple's remains a decent burial.
    Anyway–what ever happened to William Kapell?

    March 20, 2012 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      Ask Quantas.

      March 20, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      And MISS Earhart didn't have any children, but her husband had six. Frisky little fellow.

      March 20, 2012 at 8:52 am | Report abuse |
    • larry simpson

      what is surprising is people who say the money could be better spent on helping starving children in china or africa! How about helping the homeless and starving people in America first.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:13 am | Report abuse |
    • JD

      Did you not read the words, 'privately funded'? Your tax money isn't going toward this.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • mb2010a

      Fred Noonan was her navigator, not her husband...

      March 20, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      As it is privately funded, speculating where it could be better spent is moot. They decide where it is going to be spent, because it's THEIR money. Designate you money to a food bank, like I do!

      March 20, 2012 at 10:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Redoran

      He died in a plane crash. So what?

      March 21, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. Just the tip

    Theres a snuke in Hillary's snizz. I am unable to obtain the funds to prove this finding.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
  6. Capt Obvious

    "my tax money would be better sent to starving children in China" It's a privately-funded search; the US is going to help with maps and stuff, and the fifty cents you pay in tax each year isn't going to help China one bit. Why China anyway?

    March 20, 2012 at 8:49 am | Report abuse |
  7. Glenda Beck of Crox News

    If she had been attractive, they'd have found her right away. I'm just sayin'

    March 20, 2012 at 8:53 am | Report abuse |
    • justathought

      Hey Glenda! By what standard do you judge attractiveness? I think Emilia was attractive. Maybe she wasn't plastered with make-up and showing as much skin or leaving little to imagination as girls do today, but she was attractive!

      March 20, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • justathought

      Oppps, I meat Amelia

      March 20, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • justathought

      I'm having a bad time with spelling this a.m.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:34 am | Report abuse |
    • jack

      If you consider being a leading female figure in the late 30's, an accomplished aviatrix, a great American, and one who lived her dream and was lost to the dream, unattractive, exactly what do you find attractive.. Mary Ann and Ginger????

      March 21, 2012 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. brian

    Who ever finds the plane, brings it up and restores it, will 'profit' greatly.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. Dearest Puppy

    It would be amazing if they could also find her alive

    March 20, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
    • leeintulsa

      @dearest puppy: or at least decendants of her and the crab people, who surely rule atolls in the south pacific..

      wait a minute.. i wonder if she's *responsible* for the crab people of the south pacific..

      March 20, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      That would be very unlikely. She wasn't a young girl in 1937, so the odds would be against her surviving this long, even under the best of conditions.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • mb2010a

      Considering that she will be 115 years old this year...I would say that would be truly amazing.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:11 am | Report abuse |
  10. E

    Mm mm mm

    March 20, 2012 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  11. NB

    You realize privately funded means funding OTHER than the government, correct? And that "help" doesn't mean financial backing when it explicitly states otherwise. Critical thinking is an acquired skill....get some. Tool.

    March 20, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. Darryl

    We've already found her! In 1941 they found a female femur, a navigation instrument, a piece of windshield, and a cosmetic jar all known to have been used by Amelia on the trip. I think it was 1941, it was relatively shortly after her disappearance

    March 20, 2012 at 9:03 am | Report abuse |
  13. Jt_flyer

    This story has no real significance but I'm sure interested.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. omar

    who is the private group funding this and were will they get the funds...

    March 20, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I'm guessing they want to remain anonymous...hence to word 'private'...

      March 20, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  15. Floyd Johnson

    It would have been interesting if the article included the newly discovered photo. I just pulled up the island on google maps. Regardless if she was there or not, it looks like a great place to visit for a couple of weeks. If I had more sense I would get Discovery to pay for my vacation at some remote location.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:24 am | Report abuse |
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