Underwater debris field found in latest Earhart expedition

August 23, 2012

The latest expedition to recover possible evidence of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra has video footage that shows man-made objects in deep water off the uninhabited atoll where she is believed to have landed.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) said last week that a review of high-definition underwater video footage taken during its July expedition has revealed “a scattering of man-made objects on the reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro.” TIGHAR sailed from Hawaii to Nikumaroro to investigate a clue spotted in an original negative of a photo of the western shoreline of the atoll. The negative showed a protrusion from a reef that appears to resemble an aircraft landing gear.

Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared July 2, 1937, during an attempt to fly around the world. At the time of their disappearance, Earhart was trying to find Howland Island, an atoll 356 nautical miles north of Nikumaroro that been equipped as a refueling station.

The debris field is in deep water offshore the location where an object “thought to be Lockheed Electra landing gear appears in a photo taken three months after Amelia Earhart disappeared,” TIGHAR said on its website. “Items in the debris field appear to be consistent with the object in the 1937 photo.”

TIGHAR’s announcement preceded the Aug. 19 airing of a Discovery Channel documentary on the most recent expedition to Nikumaroro, “Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved?”

The organization admitted in July that its initial findings were not conclusive, but said that forensic specialists would be analyzing the sonar data and high-definition footage obtained through the use of an autonomous underwater vehicle and a remotely operated vehicle. TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie told Discovery News that he believes early media reports “rushed to judgment in saying that the expedition didn’t find anything.” He said the “severe underwater environment” at Nikumaroro indicated that “we would be looking for debris from an airplane that had been torn to pieces 75 years ago.”

TIGHAR’s forensic experts will continue to analyze the video. According to Discovery News, forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman has reviewed less than 30 percent of the footage. If further analysis continues to support the hypothesis that TIGHAR has indeed found the object that appears in the 1937 photo, “we’ll certainly want to recover it,” Gillespie told Discovery News.

Jill W. Tallman

Jill W. Tallman | AOPA Technical Editor, AOPA

AOPA Technical Editor Jill W. Tallman is an instrument-rated private pilot who owns a Piper Cherokee 140.