After she disappeared without a trace with her navigator, Fred Noonan on July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart has captured the fascination of millions as the mystery of what happened to her--and her plane--remain shrouded in shadows. Several extensive searches on her behalf have revealed next to nothing, despite the invention of new technology in the past 75 years to support them.
A new search mission could change all that.
A group of historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery want to launch a new search for the wreckage of Earhart's plane in the waters off the island Nikumaroro--what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati--and they have the full support of Hillary Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The search will be advised by oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic wreckage.
Previous search groups believed that Earhart crashed into the ocean, but the IGHAR believes she may have landed on a reef and actually survived there with Noonan for a short time. If this were true, the plane would have been washed off the reef by the tide, meaning it could be sitting in the deep waters nearby after all this time, just waiting to be discovered.
In previous visits to the island, the group has recovered artifacts that could have belonged to Earhart and Noonan which suggest they might have lived for days or weeks. And after a new analysis of a photo from October of 1937, which the scientists believe show a strut and wheel from a Lockheed Electra--the same model of airplane that Earhart flew--sticking out of the water, they believe they've zeroed in on the correct location. Ballard said the photo has helped narrow the search area from thousands of miles to a more manageable size.
"If you ever want a case of finding a needle in a haystack, this is at the top of the list," he said.
Ballard and his team are hoping their theories will at least shed a little more light on what happened during the last hours of Earhart and Noonan's life. Certainly it will be heartbreaking to find out they survived the crash only to perish alone on an island. But the executive director of the group, Ric Gillespie, says he isn't concerned with the final outcome as much as how they get there.
"The most important thing is not whether we find the ultimate answer or what we find, it is the way we look," he said. "We see this opportunity to explore ... the last great American mystery of the 20th century as a vehicle for demonstrating how to go about figuring out what is true."
The search will begin during the last week of July and will be filmed for a documentary to air on the Discovery Channel.
Secretary of State Clinton names Earhart as an inspiration to a nation which was struggling to pull itself out of the Great Depression and says she not only gave people hope, she "inspired them to dream bigger and bolder". She gave the explorers these final words of wisdom:
"Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself," she said. "So, like our lost heroine, you will all carry our hopes ... We are excited and looking forward to hear about your own great adventure."
The public seems intrigued by the opportunity to begin a new search.