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. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ JD©, 9:15 AM:
    But i red it!!! I sure did.
    Ih said my taxes would bring her home and Discover Card support it to.
    I went to 11 years public school AN I got my ged.

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

      Ah, Good Morning, JIF.
      You are in an irreverant mood today!

      March 20, 2012 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    I think it would be cool to find out what finally happened.
    Amelia Earhart lived her dream, and died her dream.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

      Irreverent? I was nice long enough.
      I paid my dues.
      Good morning.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Play all you want, JIF.
      I wasn't complaining, merely making an observation.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    I would rather this article have shown us a copy of the "recently discovered photo", instead of a portrait of Earhart.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
    • mistamista

      Um, so? I love reading anything about my Aunt. Interesting that you're not as interested in the history of the woman as you are the potentially gory conclusion of the life. Pft...

      March 20, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Hank A.

      Yea, what is up with that? They talk about the photo and don't show it. Oh, I get it, it is the tease for the Discovery Channel show.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      I don't know where you read this story at but at the VERY TOP of the article I read, the Photo, as well as a blown up section of the supposed landing gear was clearly posted.

      May 3, 2012 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  4. Donna

    OK, We all know this is a piece of history they are looking for. But my question is this... Is this expedition a "want" or a "need"? If it's a "want" can't we wait until our economy stabilizes to put money up for this? I mean I'm pretty sure we won't find any survivors. I am actually from Atchison, KS, the birthplace of Amelia. But I think the money used for this could be better spent to correct our economy. JS

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

      The search is privately funded. The government is only providing technical advice.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Unless you are one of those who donated towards this expedition, you haven't funded anything.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:37 am | Report abuse |
    • alibabba

      It's privately funded. So, let them go for it.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Bucktooth

      Hey Donna! My parents are from Atchison, KS. We were all there a couple of years ago for my Dad's reunion, and visited Ms. Earhardt's home and had a tour of the town! Interesting! Ms. E. Is a hero, and always will be! If someone can solve the mystery..Great! She was a brave woman, and some would like to know.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Ernie

      Stay in Kansas and keep your stupid opinions there as well. This is a privately funded venture. Please read the entire article before making inane comments.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Russ

      The article does not say how the government is "supporting" the venture. It may not cost anything. Funding is being supplied by the Discovery Channel.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bob

    She was the Danica Patrick of flight, known for two things. Being a woman. And crashing.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
    • JuneCleaversBeaver

      AE's record is better though as she only wrecked one plane.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. Portland tony

    Google the Earhart Project (TIGHAR). It tells all about the current plan etc...At one time this lady was one of America's biggest heroes. The entire world searched for her plane including the Pan American Airways, the USN ( about 8 ships) and the US coast guard.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
  7. SearchingForAnAtheistExtremist

    I find it sad that even an article about a search for Amelia's plane wreckage is somehow cause for political bickering.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      I agree.

      March 20, 2012 at 9:58 am | Report abuse |
  8. Carl Peterson

    That's great. Now taxpayers are going to pay for a journey that we can't afford. We're broke and yet this stuff is happening. Combine this with all the vacations Obama is taking and all the campaign expenses taxpayers are paying for how much more can taxpayers take. It is just another one of the Obama Administration's show-off moment.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:50 am | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Read. The. Article.
      This is a privately funded venture, which means none of your tax dollars are going for it.
      Just start your post off with "I Hate Obama", and be done with it.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
    • Archibald

      It's being privately funded so taxes aren't involved. Also, if I'm not mistaken Obama has taken a fraction of the holiday days that past presidents have taken. But hey, don't let facts get in the way of your complaining.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      You opened wide and put your foot right in it. Learn to read and you might get a GED or equivalent. I really hope you are a troll sir. Otherwise you are ODMF!

      March 20, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Nudge

      Carl Peterson...

      Typical Republican, cant read, and makes up lies.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
    • jack

      Read the big words: IT IS PRIVATELY FUNDED.

      March 21, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Carl, Step off of your Obama hating soap-box for a moment and read the article instead of trying to politicize something that has NO political over-shadows. The search is Privately Funded....that means that NONE of your precious tax dollars are going toward anything that has to do with this and, I HIGHLY doubt that the Obama administration has anything to do with this at all. Lose your tunnel vision for a moment...not everything is a Republican vs. Democrat issue

      May 3, 2012 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. aviationmysteries

    Hi Hillary. I would love to accompany you on this exposition. Recently I excavated parts from an airliner crash that occured not to far from my home about 38 years ago. With the help of a metal detector, forensic aviation archeaology as I call it, is something I love to do. Please contact me.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ Pandi:
    You came right up with the airline that finally got hit for Kapell's death.
    I was going to ask whether you were a musician or a lawyer, but I think that you may be Philip Douglas doing his research thing.
    @ Tutti:
    A few ladies and gentlemen here failed to sense my sarcasm alert.

    March 20, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      No, but I am somebody's daughter, and that apple does't fall far from the tree. She also adores you, and scolded me for my second remark. She would be aghast at the comparison you outlined above!

      March 20, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
  11. bob

    How stupid can people be....when it says the 'government will help' it means TAX PAYER MONEY WILL BE SPENT...... or are the obamabots saying the government employee's will be volunteering their time for this search............ only those with their eyes open know what's going on.....the rest are kicking back, drinking their daily requirement of Koolaid and looking at their govt check that just arrived.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Portland tony

      You sir are the stupid one. The Earhart search and Tighart are funding this effort..

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

      so you are saying that some private funding group is PAYING for the govt's help......please enlighten me.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

      Well, who has my check? Did they send it to your house by mistake? bob?
      I've got to go out and make some more doughnuts today or we'll all get hungry over here.
      BTW, we're contemplating buying a parakeet for our dogs. He could talk to them.
      I'm a great teacher.
      What do y'all think?

      March 20, 2012 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • MonkieByte

      Actually, Bob, the exact quote is " U.S. government will help in a privately funded search for Earhart's lost plane in waters near the Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro, formerly Gardner Island, in the Pacific nation of Kiribati."
      Notice the words "PRIVATELY FUNDED".
      Now, if you can present me with facts or evidence that the U.S. is spending money on this...please feel free to continue your complaining, and let me know if it accomplishes anything.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      Bob, Seriously? Do you associate Every news article to some Obama Conspiracy? I'm FAR from an Obama supporter but, to somehow try and link this story to a Democrats vs. Republicans issue is not only Very's shows a lack of thought on your part. Tell me.....Whitney Houston died recently......How was Obama involved in that? I'm sure you have your theories......Pfft

      May 3, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ Pandi:
    I think you may be on a school break–?
    I retract the comparison and apologise.
    I'm into England's spellings right now: trying to conserve *something.*

    March 20, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      I am honoured that to have duduced my identi ty. (They don't take off points if I write the old English, either!) Yes, I am on break. I am on here for a Sociology paper I have to write. Interesting blog, interesting people!

      March 20, 2012 at 10:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      I spelled deduce wrong. I apologise.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
  13. wb

    I already know what happened to her. She crashed somewhere and she's dead. I don't need to know exactly where. IF they find anything at all, it's probably only going to lead to more questions than answers.

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

      You are of course correct....but think about all the press that Obama can get if they find or fabricate that they found something....that way the press will run story after story about how obama really cares about women and repubs are evil.....mean while no one will be paying attention to Obamas executive orders or the crushing debt he has foist upon us.......let alone what taxes are getting ready to be implemented on us through obamacare.

      March 20, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      bob, with all due respect, this isn't about Obama. Why are you trying to make this about him?

      March 20, 2012 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
  14. palintwit

    If the toothbrush had been invented anywhere but the southern bible belt it would have been called a teethbrush.

    March 20, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  15. JPX

    Really? Who cares about this at this point? As others have noted, she crashed trying to break some stupid record; end of story. What if they do find the wreckage (they won't), what difference will it make?

    March 20, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Pandi

      Didn't they say the same thing about the Ti tanic?

      March 20, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
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