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. Oh'really

    This story is old as dirt, I thought there was something new. I guess with all the Trayvon pot stirring there's nobody to actually do current news.

    April 2, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  2. johnny

    I'm sorry you have to starve, but we really do need to spend a few more million dollars to find the crash site of this woman.

    April 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Report abuse |
  3. gene stewart

    I would rather have my tax dollars spent on this search than welfare. That is if it is a tax funded search.

    April 4, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • In-Passant

      It is privately funded. Sadly, public education is not and you exemplify the diminishing returns on that.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jim in Texas

    I'm confused. If the plane is alleged to rest in deep water, why is there a photo of the landing gear protruding from a reef?

    April 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • CptObvious

      Cause this guy is obsessed and will take ANY evidence as proof hes found a 70 year old crashed plane.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  5. Jonathan

    Is this why we have to cut back medicare?

    April 4, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Arnold's Illegit Child

    She's dead. There, I just saved this bunch of idiots a whole lotta dough.

    April 7, 2012 at 4:19 am | Report abuse |
  7. Pharmf120

    Hello! gdaggde interesting gdaggde site! I'm really like it! Very, very gdaggde good!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Pharmd427

    Hello! dfbfffa interesting dfbfffa site! I'm really like it! Very, very dfbfffa good!

    April 7, 2012 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JMRTS

      CNN is supposed to be news......what is this recycled trash????????News?????

      April 16, 2012 at 8:22 am | Report abuse |
  9. Klaas Jan

    Women pilots, just like women drivers, are inherently inferior.

    April 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • SuZieCoyote

      Just keep telling yourself that, sport and keep a good watch over your shoulder because we're gaining on you. There is no area in which women are inferior to men, except maybe brute physical labor. Socialized to be less than we can be, perhaps. I'd agree with that. The 3" of extra tissue (in your case, probably) just isn't that significant.

      April 12, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dorothy Berman


      Women have half the automobile accidents that men do. The statistics are very clear. Women are more cautious and less likely to be distracted. Women pilots have served admirably in the US Air Force. You are just wrong.

      April 13, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Ok, you provided your opinion, now, can you provide anything to prove your point because I can list thousand of women who have accomplished more than men.

      April 16, 2012 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      To Jan Klass, you provided your opinion, now can you provide proofs that women are inferior because I can provide names of women who have accomplished feat that we men could only dream of. Clinton, Merkel, lady Diana just to name a few. I am male but I do not believe that what is hanging between my legs makes me superior than the female.

      April 16, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Eddie

      To Jan Klass, you provided your opinion, now can you provide proofs that women are inferior because I can provide names of women who have accomplished feat that we men could only dream of. Clinton, Merkel, lady Diana just to name a few. I am male but I do not believe that what is hanging between my legs makes me superior than the female.

      April 16, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  10. Don Steitz

    That image could be that of anything. Saying it is the landing gear or any other part of the aircraft is akin to finding Jesus in the clouds.

    April 8, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • C.D.

      Did you read the article, or did you merely skim it?

      If you quickly skimmed it, and think you "got the drift", than make a comment based on that, your faith in your abilities to "get it" is over-blown.

      Sorry, I caught the damn, KNOW-IT-ALL virus from reading these stupid post's.

      Thanks CNN, for giving nobodies,who do nothing, the ability to weigh in with their nothing OPINIONS, you enrich the culture, shoot! that's sarcasm.

      Oh CRAP, I just invited the next jerk to reply sarcastically.

      Oh God .... make it stop!

      April 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Report abuse |
  11. fingercuffs


    Good story, not the typical Soledad race angle story.

    April 9, 2012 at 7:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. jimcrow


    April 9, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • jimcrow

      charlatan.........sorry,i had to go to spell check...ooops....but he is a fake. he cons people into paying him to go on wild goose chases while being on vacation in the south pacific.

      April 9, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  13. jimcrow

    find the f+++in+ airplane or shut the f*** up

    April 9, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. Ted Nugent

    I was rooting for the ocean when she took off on her flight. I won.

    April 9, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Jungle Mentality

    You may have to take in to consideration the Earhart Estate.

    April 10, 2012 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
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