Today, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) Niku VII expedition will depart from Honolulu, Hawaii for Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner) Island. The team will be using underwater sonar technology in an attempt to locate the missing Lockheed Electra of Amelia Earhart.
Amelia Earhart disappeared 75 years ago today, July 2, 1937. Earhart was making a flight around the globe and was nearing the end of her journey when she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. She was due to land at Howland Island, and despite minimal radio contact, she never made it. Despite a search by the United States Navy, Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and her plane were never found. It has been assumed that Earhart crashed into the Pacific Ocean, and it has been speculated that she may have survived the crash by ditching the plane near one of the thousands of islands in the Pacific.
Earhart rose to stardom in 1932 when she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart hoped to become the first woman pilot to fly around the world and she began her first attempt in March 1937. This trip was cut short when her plane crashed on takeoff from Luke Field in Hawaii. She began her second attempt in June 1937, time flying from west to east. She was on the next to last flight of the journey when she disappeared.
The above photo, taken in 1937, was discovered earlier this year and appears to show a landing gear from a Loockheed aircraft. Many scientists, including famed explorer Robert Ballard, have examined the photograph and believe it is the best evidence to date. This evidence exciting the historical and aviation communities and the groundwork began to fund an expedition to explore the site. If Earhart’s plane is off the coast of Nikumaroro Island, it would prove that Earhart’s navigator was off course. There is also a chance that Earhart survived the crash and evidence of this may still be on the island. The hypothesis of the TIGHAR team is that Earhart landed the plane safely on the reef off the island and that the plane was washed off the reef and into deeper water. The appearance of the landing gear in the photograph would support this theory.
The expedition to locate the Lockeed Electra is using state-of-the-art technology and is being filmed by the Discovery Channel. TIGHAR is leading the expedition aboard the vessel R/V Ka’Imikai-o-Kanaloa. The research team is led by Richard Gillespie and has a total crew of nineteen. The expedition team left Hawaii today and should arrive at Nikumaroro Island on July 9. They will use the next ten days to comb the area using multi-beam sonar and side-scan sonar. The team also will be equipped with a ROV should the wreck be located. The expedition will leave Nikumaror Island on July 19 and arrive in Hawaii on July 27 where the team will demobilize. If the Electra is found, no plans have been made to recover the aircraft. The team will only document the crash site extensively using underwater camera technology.
TIGHAR is relying on corporate and private donations for the expedition and you can get involved and donate by visiting their donation webpage. Their corporate sponsors include Lookheed Martin, Discovery Channel, FedEx, GeoEye Foundation, Photek, White’s Metal Detectors, Fast Signs, and Bray & Scarff.
This could prove to be a historic expedition. I will keep a close eye on the expedition and post updates. You can follow the expedition by visiting the TIGHAR website, their expedition reports, or their Facebook page.
UPDATE: The expedition has been pushed back one day and will now leave Hawaii tomorrow, July 3. The delay is due to the fact the entire team could not be assembled today.