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. rharri

    This old man looking lady died over 50 years ago. Let it be who cares where she is who cares how she died.

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

    i don't see any photos of a plane?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mikes

    The photo appears in a youtube video. Search for "finding amelia earhart," uploaded by "archaeorama." The photo is shown starting at about 10:00.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cay in NC

    This is great. I wish my great aunt were still alive to read this news. She knew Amelia well; they flew together. I really hope the plane is found and finally there is answers. Aunt Lois said often she wondered what happened she speculated loss of fuel caused the plane to go down.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  5. lordpet

    where's the photo?

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

      I was thinking the same thing.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • pdhhhhh can this be news? If your story is about a photo, you might want to include it!!!

      March 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • k whole article about it and they forgot to include it...CNN at it's finest.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • trek820

      That looks more like a womans head than an airplane.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  6. J.C.

    Pic, or it didn't happen.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bobba Hutt

    Well heck people, I don't approve of my tax dollars being spent on a lot of silly garbage it's spent on; like undeclared wars and gigantic block buster bombs and obscenely expensive aircraft that constantly fall from the sky.

    You expect to choose where your tax revenue is spent? You must have been sleeping in civics class, 'cause you are acting ignorant.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • hag

      This was a privately funded effort.

      March 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Howard

      As the article clearly says, this is a privately funded effort.

      March 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cory

      Lisa, this article clearly stated private funds are being used in the search. Do you feel the normal knee-jerk reaction when you read things?

      March 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  8. j

    It did have gmail in the beginning – I thought 'are there some kind of gmail investigators'? some typo I guess...

    March 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John Hoffman

    I wonder will this end the mystery of Amelia Earhart disappearence? If people found out about her fate, will that stopped people from wondering about the legacy of Amelia?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Why not show the photo?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Aaron

    Is Hillary Clinton aware that Amelia Earhart was NOT an astronaut?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cory

      How do you conclude only astronauts can be role models?

      March 20, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  12. DanEden

    When I read this today I was shocked. Not because I care about Earhart's remains but because this location was precisely predicted by America's most decorated Remote Viewer. Then, if remote viewing is actually real we should also pay attention to their precise predictions of a global catastrophe, caused by the Sun, which has been 'seen' by every RV professional since the 70s, targeted to happen at the beginning of 2013. It sends chills up my spine to see that this latest news confirms their abilities. God help us. Everyone should check this out for themselves.

    March 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • JFX

      Rrrrrrrrright. Where's the evidence that they "saw" this precise location? It doesn't exist, just like their "abilities".

      March 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peteyroo

      In about 4 billion years the sun will swell and envelop the earth. I'm going to wait 3 billion years then get busy on a solution. Want to help?

      March 20, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Iconoclast

      Citations please? Who? When? etc... This just spreads fear. Here's my remote viewing prediction. NOTHING HAPPENS OUT OF THE ORDINARY.

      March 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. russellQbones

    "the last great unsolved mystery of the 20th century"?? I thought that was finding the real killer...did OJ find him?

    March 20, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. James

    I too want to see the photo

    March 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Roz

    CNN, you've had enough requests. Publish the photo!

    March 20, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
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