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. palintwit

    Big sale in the gun and knife depts. at Walmart. A free autographed copy of Sarah Palin's crosshairs poster with every weapon sold.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I think your medication dosage needs to be adjusted.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  2. bob

    Do you KNOW what executive order Obama signed this past Friday or not?

    March 20, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe Fattal

      Yes he signed an order to kill all newborn Afghans.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
    • EastCoastMike

      Bob, if you're talking about the BS story that Obama and his secretaries took over all natural resources....I hope you know that its an urban legend....right?

      March 20, 2012 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Mavent

      Either make a point or STFU.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Ageis3

      Free all the people?

      March 20, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • SteveO

      Way to stay on topic people... *rolleyes*

      March 20, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Davis

      I do, and isn't it odd that CNN hasn't said squat about it. MSM is in lockdown on this one.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • The_Mick

      Bob. Your comment has nothing to do with the article and it's discouraging to see the right or left forcing us to encounter political opinion and hate at every turn. Please behave and restrict your politicking to the appropriate articles.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    A Pandi:
    Voglio scrivere un libro riguardo allo stile di cantando (opera) oggi e la sociologia.
    Sarebbe molto conservativo e molto come Italia stava circa 1950.
    Ora, devo andarmene via.
    Salutami Donna. Ciao.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  4. ali

    Fire your copy editor! It's disrespectful to your subject to submit a piece with so many errors.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • NEOhio

      Agreed. I was so distracted by the errors that it was hard to get the context of a couple of sentences.

      March 20, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. jinxma

    They should not have made this find public. Now Spain will claim in US courts that, in fact, it is their property and that they should get it free of charge.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  6. Martin T. Bass

    My neighbor...Ellie Lebenschitz..whose 103 years old...says she's Amelia...but she also says the mailman is an alien &

    there's snails in her have my doubts. Oh well..back to looking for JFK's killer.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:32 am | Report abuse |
  7. EastCoastMike

    Bob, please tell me that wasn't the executive order that you were so worried about....Now you know why none of the major news outlets reported it.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:35 am | Report abuse |
  8. Ageis3

    All for the effort to confirm that this is the conclusion of the Earhart flight. I'm grateful for the exlplorers and envelope pushers who take us to the new frontiers.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  9. Portland tony

    They should try looking for an" honorable man" first.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  10. K Kammeyer

    It would be nice if they'd show the picture that is the whole subject of this article.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  11. Pander Express

    Bob, get a grip.
    The National Defense Resources Preparedness executive order is nothing more than an update of executive orders that hve been in place since the Truman administration. It was also updated by your hero Bush, as well as Clinton. It is not something Obama made up, nor is it some vast conspiracy. Educate yourself.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. CNN reader

    Please post the photo!!

    March 20, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dan

    Not quite "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century." Names come to mind, Jimmy Hoffa, Vince Foster.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. jim

    a story about amelia earhart and foolish conservatives are making comments about obama? i guess they can't find any real facts so they have to make them up. if only they realized how stupid they wind up making themselves look.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. kurtinco

    I've always been fascinated by this story. It will be interesting to see what happens. I hope they find the plane so Earhart and Noonan can finally rest in peace.

    March 20, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
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