WASHINGTON, March 20, 2012 — Seventy-five years ago this summer, Amelia Earhart disappeared on her flight around the world. It has been a mystery that has intrigued and fascinated aviation buffs, historians, and conspiracy theorists. And now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood along with renowned oceanographer Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic and the Bismarck, are putting their considerable support behind a further exploration planned for this summer.
Clinton praised Earhart as a woman who “when it was really hard, decided she was going to break all kinds of limits – social limits, gravity limits, distance limits.”
Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan, during their attempt to be the first woman or man to circumvent the Earth along the longest equatorial route, went down on July 2, 1937, somewhere between New Guinea and Howland Island. When she vanished, Earhart was already the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Exhaustive searches following her disappearance found no trace of the twin-engine Lockheed Electra they were flying, and it was assumed that she had crashed into the Pacific Ocean. There were also those who believed she was working for the government as a spy and was captured by the Japanese before the outbreak of World War II.
Still other investigators believe Earhart and Noonan were merely doing what they set out to do and fly around the globe, when they ran out of gas, landing on an atoll. Some conjecture that they could have even survived for a time before being washed off the reef along with their plane by high tides.
Earlier visits to the atoll on Gardner Island, which is now known as Nikumaroro Island, had unearthed a drinking glass and makeup that could have belong to Earhart, suggesting they might have even survived for a few weeks. Some experts believe that 1937 photos of the area reveal the strut and wheel of the plane’s landing gear sticking up out of the water. It is those photos that convinced Ballard to come on board as an adviser, giving the investigation new life.
A group of historians and scientists from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) have searched for Amelia Earhart for more than 25 years and will be heading up the new search, hoping to find the wreckage of Earhart’s plane in the deep waters off the island.
Bone fragments were recovered 2010 on the atoll where earlier artifacts were found, but the DNA evidence was inclusive since it could not be determined if the bone chips were from a human or not.
Secretary Clinton had encouraging words for Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR’s executive director and his team as they renewed their efforts, saying that Earhart’s legacy “resonates today for anyone, girls and boys, who dreams of the stars.” And that we need “to keep our eyes on the stars and to keep our minds set on what we are able to do that keeps pushing the boundaries of human experience.”
The expedition to recover the plane parts, if that is what is actually in the waters off the atoll, will begin in July with the Discovery Channel filming the expedition and helping to defray the cost of the new investigation. The State Department with Secretary Clinton’s blessing helped pave the way for the exploration to begin since the little island is now part of the Republic of Kiribati.
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