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Mystery Solved? The Potential Discovery of Amelia Earhart’s Plane

New Sonar Images Reveal What Could Be the Aviator’s Lockheed E-10 Electra

By Kayleigh Weideman

Amelia Earhart in Airplane by Harris & Ewing via Library of Congress

The legacy of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, on their mission to circumnavigate the globe, endures to this day. On the 2nd of July 1937, the pair set off from Lae, New Guinea, on the final 7000-mile stretch of their journey, having already successfully travelled 22,000 miles in the Lockheed 10-E Electra. Following a series of failed radio transmissions and their failure to arrive at Howland Island for refuelling, naval search parties were sent out. Unfortunately, the efforts yielded no result, and 17 days later, the search was called off. The official search may have ceased, but many continue to search for answers about the fate of one of the most famous aviators in history.

Deep Sea Vision, founded by Tony Romeo, a former US Air Force intelligence officer, are one such group continuing the search, and they have recently made an important discovery. On the 27th of January, the team released a series of sonar images claiming that “Deep Sea Vision found what appears to be Earhart Lockheed 10-E Electra.” Using state-of-the-art sonar technology, the team believe they have located the plane 16,000 miles below the Pacific Ocean, just 100 miles off the coast of Howland Island; the island where Earhart and Noonan were expected to land for refuelling, but ultimately never arrived. While the images are low-resolution, Romeo is confident that this is Earhart’s plane, as he told NBC News:

“You’d be hard pressed to convince me that’s anything but an aircraft, for one and two that it’s not Amelia’s aircraft.” 

This discovery could be hugely influential in uncovering what happened to Earheart before her disappearance.

While it is widely accepted that Earheart ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean due to a navigational error, there are some who propose a counter-theory. Some, such as The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), suggest that Earhart was able to land her aircraft on the nearby Gardner Island, where she would have survived for several days before perishing. Their theory is based on two compelling pieces of evidence, the first being that signs of habitation on the supposedly uninhabited Gardner Island were spotted by naval aircraft.

However, after circling the island, it was declared that despite evidence of habitation, there was no sign of life, so the search of the area was abandoned. The second piece of evidence is a set of skeletal remains that were discovered by a British expedition to Gardner Island in 1940. At the time of their discovery, the remains were examined in Fiji by a physician, Dr. D. W. Hoodless, who dismissed the remains as belonging to a male. However, in 2018, Professor of Anthropology Dr. Richard Jantz undertook research at the University of Tennessee to revisit Hoodless's findings. Unfortunately, the remains were lost after Hoodless's findings were published. Still, Jantz was able to use modern forensic technology to analyse the original measurements of the remains, along with the assumed measurements of Earheart, to determine if they did belong to her. His findings were published in the Journal of Forensic Anthropology, and he concluded that the bones had “more similarity to Earhart’s than to 99% of individuals in a large reference sample.” 

Both theories have merit, and the discovery of Amelia Earheart’s plane would be monumental for those aspiring to solve the mystery of her disappearance. What is not a mystery, however, is the crucial role that modern technology is playing in the field of historical research, as without the sonar technology of the Deep Sea Vision team or modern forensic techniques, we would be no closer to uncovering the fate of Earheart than the search parties were 87 years ago. Romeo’s team intends to return to the initial discovery site later this year to verify their findings, in a mission that will certainly captivate scientists and historical enthusiasts alike. 


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