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. Justin

    I want to know how who the idiot was that thought that looks like landing gear. Of course you are going to think its landing gear of ONE specific plane of the billions if you are obsessed with an unsolved event and cant move on with your life. These researchers need to put their time and money into current research. Like alternative energy, making solar power for efficient, and even getting rid of the monetary system which is taking away the true lives a living creature should live.

    March 26, 2012 at 7:42 pm | Report abuse |
  2. bud

    Islanders have said for 75 years it was there. "scientists" are just now finding it

    March 26, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Zoe

    This is one of the many annoyances of living in the Google Generation, this incessant "need to know" every answer in the world. Amelia's "disappearance" has been a mystery throughout our lives that has captivated our imaginations, I don't want to know she crashed, I want to think she escaped to a desert island and lived out the rest of her days in anonymity, sipping pineapple juice and relaxing on a sandy beach. Some things should remain a mystery; Amelia gave many permission to dream and hope, let us all retain that feeling.

    March 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Recovering Republican

    I've seen this picture before, and it is of "Nessie" the famous monster of the Loch Ness. No jive dudes, Nessie is real, and after many shots of scotch you cn see her in detail.

    March 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. cheryl

    Well,So what's up? Why did those investigating this pic a long time ago did not look at it thouroughly enough to go there and make sure it was or was not Emelia's airplane?,now in 2012 they will go and check it out.IF it is her plane,SOMEONE dropped the ball and it could have been found way long before now!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 27, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
  6. John

    The dead? More like an American hero.

    March 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. yahmez

    I sure hope she is OK.

    March 27, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jerry

    Maybe they expect to find her alive. Let the dead RIP.

    March 28, 2012 at 12:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      You are an idiot. Her voyage was a landmark in aviation and one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th Century. I personally can say i my elderly neighbor as a child was Earhart's personal secretary amongst her many claims of fame, including restoring a Betsy Ross's American flag for the Smithsonian. She was an amazing woman. Her husband was a pilot in the air force in WW 2 and flew off aircraft carriers in the Pacific. Both of them, plus everyone alive at that time and since who has a love of history and exploration, and the children of our future would love to have this mystery solved. Once again, you are a idiot and a fool.

      March 29, 2012 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
  9. Diplomad

    State Department "experts" identified the landing gear of a plane built in the 1930s? I doubt that very much. Where are these amazing State Department experts?

    March 28, 2012 at 4:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Bob Brown

      Do a Google search on "Lockheed Electra" and look at the images. The Electra was a "tail-dragger" with particularly large landing gear. And besides, the main role of the experts was to enhance the photograph. It's the "read license plates from satellite photos" kind of thing.

      March 28, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. lee

    Well they found Atlantis. Did Cameron find the Electra in the Marianas Trench? LOL.

    March 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. lroy

    I know you idiots think this is a waste of money-private or otherwise. But Amelia was on a US Government mission during war time. Therefore, in my opinion, tax dollars SHOULD be used for research and discovery of the doomed flight if only in part. Better for this than my tax dollars paying for SOMEONE ELSE'S abortion or birth control!!!!!!!!!!

    March 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • chrisnot

      Are tax $ involved.., I don't think so.

      March 28, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • urhopeless

      Well of course you would. Why pay for something that pertains to society today when you can pizz money on a mystery people stopped giving 2 shts about a zillion years ago? You're a moron and should've been aborted.

      March 29, 2012 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • pj

      or viagra?

      March 30, 2012 at 6:46 am | Report abuse |
  12. James G. Hartley

    Amelia E. seemed to be a cutesy, gutsy little gal that enamored people with her boldness and bravado. The "mystique" of her diappearance will fuel our need to know what happened to her. Excessive monies spent to find out, though, is of concern.

    March 28, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |

    Thats not her ,its Tom Hanks and Mr. wilson.

    March 28, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. kia

    Oh, this sounds so cool! I've always been interested in her disappearance!

    March 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. valend

    So this wheel has been sticking out of the reef for like, what, 75 years and only now people are looking at it? What's up with that?

    March 28, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
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