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. JGoggles

    There the only people that were their. If only you know they were they're until now!

    March 20, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. SteelerFan

    And now there is a larger majority who wish you were on the plane.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Mike


    My sarcasm was directed at that very idea; that the photo hasn't been released. Not that CNN somehow decided to not show it.

    And thank you for pointing out my potentially inappropriate maturity pompous donkey's rear. 😉

    March 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Duke

    We all know she was transported by aliens to Rigel-3. We saw this on Star Trek years ago.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kyle

    That's no plane... THAT IS A HUMAN FACE!

    March 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Penny

      I actually spit out coffee LOL

      March 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrew

      That's no moon......................... it's a space station

      March 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. I know science and stuff

    You are all having a good laugh I see but she could have crashed and survived and she could still be alive. Let me tell you how. First, she was born in 1897, so she would be 115 if my calculator works. That would not be a record because that Asian guy lived over 120 and he said he wasn't really trying hard. If she got lots of calcium and nutrients and oat bran like Wilford Brimley, she would still be alive. I don't think she would have cigarrettes and alcohol, so that would help. Also, she was in a plane, and planes move fast they don't stand still. According to Einstein E=me2, so the faster the plane goes, the farther back in time she would go. That is why when you fly from Tokyo to LA you go back 1 day, relatively. You don't go back 1 day going the other way because you are not going as fast, you are fighting gulf streams. But you go back a few hours at least. I think so but I fell asleep on the way. So she is still alive and running around naked looking for women and bananas. That's what I think.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • calla

      That was the most amazing thing I've ever read.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sure

      meth is a hell of a drug

      March 20, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • LolzLynx

      This made me laugh. Thank you. 🙂

      March 20, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • ruducky2

      Great humor. Sadly, you sound like some of my H.S. Freshman students.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Transplanted58

      Now THAT was funny! Thanks for the laugh...:)

      March 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Just Saying

    "Gillespie acknowledged their would be skeptics after his 23 years of searching for Earhart had yet to yield an answer."

    THEIR!?! And this is supposedly a "professional" writer? This is such a basic grammar mistake, and one which is repeated WAY too often.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |

      Here! Here!

      March 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      Welcome to the internet – land of forgotten grammar and misspelled words galore.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • mkl

      I miss commas. Don’t you miss commas? They seem to be missing from a lot of “professional” writing lately.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • GODis

      There, there.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. scott

    nice job again cnn. Thanks for the article about a photo without the actual photo.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. alpg49

    This guy is a scam artist. Period. The plane is at the bottom of the Pacific. His previous exploits include recovering metal artifacts from a sporadically inhabited island in the region, then trying to convince aviation experts it came from somewhere on the plane.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. JS

    The moment it went to U.S. State Department officials- it's been tainted. They photo shopped the landing gear into the picture and it's a fake- much like the socialist commandante Kenyan's forged birth certificate. Anything the government touches immediately becomes FRAUD. Maybe they should just send the picture to the Federal Reserve where they can just recreate the plane out of thin air.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Machipongo John

      It is, of course, Obama's fault that Earhart disappeared.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • EarlGrayHot

      Please don't start. Birther nonsense has no place in this discussion.

      March 20, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ert

    ...."It's a man, baby!!!!!"

    March 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  12. soulcatcher

    You think they were having a romp before they crashed?

    March 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  13. larry5

    Finally America might recognize the service these two rendered to the government as they gathered information in a time leading up to war. What they did was a brave and unselfish deed. There was no Internet or spy satellites or cell phones or email and certainly no GPS navigation. This was one brave adventure akin to putting an astronaut in orbit. If the truth can finally come out their service should acknowledged.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Operaman

    I was pretty sure that I found Amelia Earhart's plane in my backyard the other day, but when I got closer it turned out to be a just a big rock. I will continue my search until we prove once and for all that she isn't secretly living in my neighborhood.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. sxer

    So give us a look at his foto

    March 20, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
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