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. banging away

    There should be a spoiler at the original link that says "This is half a story and there is no photo of any evidence."

    Oh wait, then nobody would click it. Stay Classy, CNN!

    March 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sherri

    I hope CNN stays with this story because I'd like to find out what happens. Wouldn't it be great if this mystery could be solved? Good for their families and all concerned.

    March 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  3. IvCNuB4

    Some of you are morons. NO WHERE in that article does it say that they expect to find Amelia alive. The point is that neither her body nor her plane were ever found so the mystery has always been what happened and WHERE. Jeez.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PlainSight

    I see the landing gear, it's partially obscured in a tuft of hair right behind Amelia's left ear. Great Photo CNN!

    March 20, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SpinDoctor

    Really...this tired old crap again? Every year about this time, TIGHAR pulls yet another new Emelia Earhart "smoking gun" theory out of their hat and swears that it's real. They've been playing this shell game for 20+ years and I can't believe people still take Ric Gillespie seriously.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • joe

      And every year around this time, you read it anyway, and complain. So, what is your point?

      March 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • KristinaKaye

      So why do you feel you need to comment on something that is soooo annoying to you? Why not just pass it by and spare us your meaningless comment?

      March 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  6. barbara

    I think the last greatest unsolved mystery of the 20th century is, "Who really shot JFK?"

    March 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Max

      I think it's why did the dems send Mondale against Raegan...

      March 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • LC B

      Agreed – and if we know the 'who'? will the 'why' follow?

      March 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • kevin

      That's not a mystery. WE just don't know.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • j

      Exactly what I thought. But if they find Earhart's wreckage that's one less mystery. I doubt we will ever know the truth behind JFK. Honestly, serial killers, mass murderers and assassins – why don't tell us the truth someone in some message they've tucked away for after their deaths?!!

      March 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hap Hazzard

      No mystery there. Aliens from a parallel dimension hired the mafia to kill him. Simple.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • rich

      Lee Harvey Oswald

      March 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kenny

    Another empty chase. Don't people watch TV. Captain Janeway and her crew of The Federation Starship Voyager for her in the Delta Quadrant in the 24th century.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • KristinaKaye

      I remember that episode of Star Trek VOYAGER and thought it was a very imaginative story. Thanks for reminding me of it!

      March 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bernie

      That was quite funny – well done!

      March 20, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • T

      I remember that episode and liked it so well, I bought a VHS copy of the episode (it was before the advent of TV DVD sets). Sharon Lawrence looked hot as Earhart.

      It would be interesting to find out what happened to the real Ms. Earhart.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mmathu

    > ... Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell called the disappearance
    > of Earhart "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century."

    Whoa... Aren't we still looking for the Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman murderer?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • jimatmad

      At least OJ is looking where the 'real killer' might be – in prison.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • longtooth

      Yes, OJ is looking for the murderer in prison. He already searched the golf courses.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pat F

    Two questions:

    1. Why were there high-ranking US administration officials at a private-venture/Discovery Channel press conference?

    2. Was Earhart the only person ever to crash a Lockheed Electra in the Pacific Ocean as of 1937 because, if not, why does the landing gear prove that it is her landing gear?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      It was a special plane, not a lot of them were built and for that landing gear to be in that part of the world in that part of the ocean in that particular year, hmmm the odds are in Amelia's favor

      March 20, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. im still laughing

    You children complain our taxdollars partially paying for one of the greatest mysteries to be solved of a national hero is sad. With all the waste already going on this is nothing. I suppose if it were Biggie Smalls that disappeared you'd be jumping on the bandwagon. What a American hero he was.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Animenut

    What a bunch of sticks in the mud. Are you naysayers enlivened only by Dancing with the Stars and Bachelor? Go have a beer and watch alligators get killed for fun.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BOMBO ©

    I think I'm losing my mind. Did the headline say "gmailInvestigators" before or did it just change? Weird.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      I understood it to mean that investigators from Gmail were behind this.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. James

    amazing. A simple search for a pair of lost aviators who captured the focus of a nation can be turned political. Absolutely bizarre. Next I will read from some of you that Obama traveled back in time using a secret program on your tax dollars so he could change his mother's birth certificate and in the process solved the Earhart mystery but can't tell anyone because some green alien was involved – an alien that is green because it eats your tax dollars and we are all doomed.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Hobbits

    OMG! How many times are we going to create story where there isn't one? Four years after their plane went down parts of it were found on an atoll along with a woman's shoe that matched the size and style of the pilot, personal items known to be carried by the crew, and bones from a woman.

    There is no unsolved mystery. Her plane went down near an atoll and she died sometimes afterwards. As for her navigator, no remains were found so either animals carried him away, he remained in the aircraft, or was lost at sea.

    Mystery solved!

    March 20, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Drowlord

    Supposing that this guy is right.... what does it matter? I can't believe that someone has spent 23 years of his life doing this.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
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