On January 11, 1935, Amelia Earhart became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific, traveling from Honolulu to Oakland, Calif. But in her larger quest to traverse the globe, she vanished forever.
Tomorrow, a day after the 75th anniversary of Earhart's disappearance during an around-the-world flight attempt, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGAR) is launching a high-tech deep water expedition -- Niku VII -- to search for her aircraft, the Earhart Electra, in the waters adjacent to Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati.
On June 1, 1937, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. By June 29, when they landed in Lae, New Guinea, all but 7,000 miles of the planned journey had been completed.
The final radio transmission came through on July 2, 1937: "We are running north and south." Earhart and Noonan were never heard from again.
A rescue attempt commenced immediately and became what was then the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, 1937, after spending $4 million and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the U.S. government called off the operation.
Having failed to find their next destination on the journey, Howland Island, Earhart and Noonan continued on the navigational line Earhart said they were following when they last communicated with their radio contact.
Following that line, researchers now believe the uninhabited Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, may be the location where Amelia Earhart landed the Electra safely on the island’s reef.
The nonprofit TIGHAR, dedicated to promoting responsible aviation archaeology and historic preservation, will set sail tomorrow from Honolulu to try to solve one of aviation's most famous mysteries.
Using sonar technology, TIGHAR's research vessel, Ka’Imikai-O-Kanaloa (meaning heavenly searcher of the seas) will set out on the long-awaited search for Earhart’s Lockheed Electra in the deep waters off the reef at Nikumaroro.
The search area will be mapped using "multi-beam sonar hull-mounted on the expedition vessel," supplemented in shallower areas by multi-beam sonar mounted on the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) seen here, according to TIGHAR.
Once the AUV has concluded its coverage of the search area, the collected sonar data have been analyzed, and a list of targets of interest have been compiled, a remote operated vehicle (ROV) will be deployed to further investigate the targets. Tethered to the expedition vessel, the ROV is directed to the desired locations by an operator aboard the expedition vessel.
The ROV is equipped with sector-scan sonar to help re-locate the target. It has powerful lights and high-definition video cameras to provide real-time imagery to the operator, along with a manipulator arm which can be used to remove obscuring objects, TIGHAR explained.
The primary search area is based upon the hypothesis that the aircraft landed safely on the reef and remained there for several days before being washed over the reef edge by rising tides and surf at or near the point where the object on the reef –- thought to be a detached landing gear assembly –- appears this photo taken by Navy Cadet Officer Eric Bevington.
Photo analysts at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research have examined the Bevington photo, taken of the island’s shoreline three months after Earhart’s disappearance (shown zoomed in here). They agree with TIGHAR forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman that an object visible in the photo is consistent with Lockheed Installation 40650, one of the main landing gear assemblies on Earhart’s Lockheed Electra Model 10E Special.
This bottle, an apparent container of Campana Italian Balm popular for American women back in the 1930s, was found near the remote island of Nikumaroro and suggests that Earhart may have been there, researchers believe. Other artifacts found include bits of rouge and a mirror believed to be from a woman’s compact.
Tests of a bone fragment that could have been from Earhart’s finger are, to date, inconclusive. The bone fragment was found on Nikumaroro, where a large and growing body of circumstantial evidence suggests the missing flyer and her navigator landed and lived for a time as castaways only to eventually perish on the uninhabited, waterless atoll.
DNA tests have been inconclusive, but researchers say the finger-like fragment is from neither a fish nor a bird. Because the process of DNA testing is destructive to the material by nature, researchers have decided that further testing on any of the bone fragments should await the development of new technologies and techniques.