A new search for missing aviator Amelia Earhart is all set to begin – just about 75 years to the day after she vanished while flying over the Pacific.
A research team will set off for the remote island of Nikumaroro with some high-tech tools in hopes of establishing what happened to the legendary pilot when she vanished on July 2, 1937.
It will be the tenth time in 23 years the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) will have searched the island for clues about Earhart’s disappearance – but this time they’ll be looking specifically for crash debris.
Enduring riddle: American aviator Amelia Earhart, posing by her plane in Long Beach, California, in 1930, disappeared while flying over the Pacific in 1937
Nikumaroro Island: Researchers will scour the island for clues and crash debris
Earhart, then 39, was on the final stage of an an ambitious around-the-world flight along the equator in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra when she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared.
The holder of several aeronautical records, including the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, Earhart had set off from New Guinea to refuel at Howland Island for a final long-distance hop to California.
In what turned out to be her final radio message, she declared she was unable to find Howland and that fuel was running low.
Several search-and-rescue missions ordered the next day by then-president Franklin Roosevelt turned up no trace of Earhart or Noonan, who were eventually presumed dead at sea.
Now, exactly 75 years after that search began, TIGHAR is launching one more, using underwater search equipment, which the organisation hopes will finally crack the mystery.
One such gizmo listed on TIGHAR’s website is a multi-beam sonar hull-mounted onto an expedition vessel to scan the sea floor for wreckage.
High-tech: Some tools that will be utilised by TIGHAR include a multi-beam sonar hull-mounted onto an expedition vessel
Conspiracy theories about Earhart’s final moments have flourished for years. One contended that Earhart was held by Japanese imperial forces as a spy.
Another claimed she completed her flight, but changed her identity and settled in New Jersey.
TIGHAR is operating under the hypothesis that the duo survived the crash, reached Gardner Island – which was then a British possession and now known as Nikumaroro – and managed to survive there for an unknown period of time.
The group is scheduled to hold a dockside media event on Monday to mark 75 years since the doomed flight, before beginning the search at 8am on Tuesday.
Nikumaroro, uninhabited in Earhart’s time, and a mere 3.7 miles long by 1.2 miles wide, is about 300 miles southeast of Howland Island.
Missing: Earhart and Fred Noonan, left, before they set off on their doomed flight. Right: Earhart as a young pilot
In TIGHAR’s latest expedition, about 20 scientists will depart Hawaii to explore over 10 days both the island and an underwater reef slope at the west end of the island.
‘This time, we’ll be searching for debris from the aircraft,’ TIGHAR’s founder and executive director Richard Gillespie, himself a pilot and former aviation accident investigator, revealed last month.
The team will be equipped with a multi-beam sonar to map the ocean floor, plus a remote-controlled device similar to the one that found the black boxes from the Rio-to-Paris Air France that crashed into the South Atlantic in 2009.
If any debris is found, it will be photographed and its location carefully documented for a future expedition, Gillespie said.
elebrated: Earhart posing in Southampton after completing a successful flight across the Atlantic Ocean
Sustaining the search are clues worthy of detective story, including items from the 1930s previously discovered on the island such as a jar of face cream, a penknife blade, the heel of a woman’s shoe and a bit of Plexiglas – all believed to belong to Earhart and her plane.
Skeletons of birds apparently cooked over a campfire have also contributed to the mystery, and settlers who reached Nikumaroro after 1937 have spoken of the existence of aircraft wreckage.
Bone fragments have meanwhile been subjected to DNA testing that turned out to be inconclusive, said Gillespie, who remains hopeful that parts of Earhart’s Electra are yet to be found.
The U.S. government is lending technical and diplomatic support to the TIGHAR effort, budgeted at $2million and otherwise funded through donations and sponsorships through TIGHAR’s website.
Earhart’s story – as well as her mysterious demise – have captivated America for decades.
She has been portrayed on the big screen by A-List actresses like Diane Keaton, Amy Adams and Hillary Swank.
Intrigue: In her day, Earhart was extremely popular, but her mysterious death has kept that fame alive 75 years later