Archive for Monday, August 20, 2001

Three groups renew Earhart search

August 20, 2001


— Amelia Earhart disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean more than 64 years ago. Now three unrelated teams are searching separate locations for the Kansas-native's plane.

A Maryland company is planning a winter expedition of about 600 miles of the Pacific Ocean floor. A Delaware group is to leave Friday to scour a south Pacific isle it has already searched five times. And a third team is investigating a north Pacific island on a different theory.

Hanover, Md.-based Nauticos, which specializes in deep-ocean searches and finds missing vessels for the U.S. Navy, believes Earhart's aluminum Electra is under 17,000 feet of water.

If so, the plane is probably well-preserved, said Nauticos President David Jourdan.

"It's like cold storage down there," Jourdan said.

The company's working theory is that Earhart ran out of gas just after making her last radio transmission. They believe she had a life raft but may not have been able to escape the quickly sinking plane.

Using about $3 million of privately raised funds, the company plans to search the ocean floor near Howland Island, where her plane was headed when it disappeared, with sonar equipment.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, has believed for more than a decade that Earhart abandoned hope of finding Howland and turned southeast, toward the Phoenix Islands about 350 miles away.

Wilmington, Del.-based TIGHAR executive director Rick Gillespie said he believes Earhart crash-landed on a coral reef at Nikumaroro, formerly known as Gardner Island. Witnesses have said a plane crashed there, he said.

Gillespie leaves Friday with a 12-member team to explore that island for the sixth time since 1989. Over the years, TIGHAR has raised and spent about $2 million trying to solve the Earhart puzzle on Nikumaroro.

Besides looking for the plane, team members also will look for bones from a castaway whose remains were reported to the British in 1940, before the island was inhabited.

After deciding the bones were not Earhart's, the British never told the United States about them, Gillespie's research shows.

Having consulted a U.S. expert, Gillespie thinks the British were wrong.

Three other researchers from the Amelia Earhart Society spent two weeks this month in the Marshall Islands investigating an old photograph that apparently shows an Electra on the beach.

The group believes that the Japanese, who controlled that island at that time, took Earhart prisoner after she crashed there.

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