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The Man who Found the Titanic is Now Looking for Amelia Earhart

Steve Palace
Amelia Earhart and the Titanic
Amelia Earhart and the Titanic

Amelia Earhart and her fateful wreck are being searched for by none other than the man who found the Titanic wreck on the ocean floor. One of the planet’s greatest sea explorers is looking to unlock the mysteries of the deep once again. Robert Ballard found the watery graves of the Bismarck and USS Yorktown, not to mention a little discovery called RMS Titanic.

Now he’s looking to find out what happened to pilot Amelia Earhart, who went down with navigator Fred Noonan and her Lockheed Electra 10E in 1937. Following decades of speculation by TIGHAR (The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery), Ballard and his futuristic ship the E/V Nautilus have made for Nikumaroro, an island in the Western Pacific.

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra in which she disappeared in July 1937.

Why there? National Geographic – who provided funding – reports on Dr. Ballard’s mission, writing that “At the time of Earhart’s disappearance, the tide on Nikumaroro was especially low, revealing a reef surface along the shore long and flat enough for a plane to land.”

Robert Ballard Titanic
Robert Ballard giving a talk on his Titanic discovery. Photo by Erik Charlton CC by 2.0

TIGHAR’s Earhart Project also traced a photograph in 2010, taken 3 months after the plane’s disappearance. Inspirational to Ballard, it shows something called “The Bevington Object”, named after the British officer who unwittingly captured it, Eric Bevington.

The organization’s website describes “something sticking up out of the water on the island’s fringing reef” that after analysis appeared “consistent with Lockheed Electra landing gear components. In 2011, three photo analysts at the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research Imagery Center reached the same conclusion.”

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan
Pilot Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, with a map of the Pacific that shows the planned route of their last flight.

There are also clues in Earhart’s last radio transmission. She had radioed in, stating her position as “line 157 337”. This navigational line crossed nearby Howland Island. It’s thought the Electra could have missed Howland, with Nikumaroro being a viable landing point, owing to there being nowhere else to set down.

Other factors behind the hypothesis include 57 mystery radio transmissions. 5 of these had direction bearings in the vicinity of Gardner Island (what Nikumaroro used to be known as) and could have been made by Earhart and Noonan.

Many visits have been made to the reef, however there are high hopes for the Nautilus. Ballard’s vessel is “equipped with a multi-beam sonar on the hull, two ROVs with high definition cameras, an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV), and multiple drones”. If anyone can work out what happened it’s this cutting edge craft and the veteran investigator at the helm.

If the thinking is correct, and the Electra was buoyed by the rising tide before sinking or coming apart, then Ballard and co might be in with a shot. It won’t all be plain sailing though. The reef is a dangerous place to approach, with the northeastern shore of Nikumaroro playing host to the S.S. Norwich City. Or to be more precise, what’s left of it.

Nikumaroro atoll
Map of Nikumaroro. Photo by P Minton, from Ikonos image (04-2001) CC by 2.0

Quoted by The Maritime Executive, Ballard remarked “The plane will probably be in pieces, which will actually be good for us. If you can find one piece, you can find them all. And so our first order of business will be to make an extremely detailed map”.

Earhart was also famous for becoming the first person to fly across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the case of the former, she broke records as the first woman to make the journey. At the time of her fateful flight she was aiming to circumnavigate the equator. Then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered a $4 million search and recovery mission.

Related Article: New Clue in Amelia Earhart Mystery from Images a Day Before she Disappeared

As for her and Noonan’s bodies, experts are awaiting the results of testing on bone fragments found in a museum on the island of Tarawa. These are believed to be the same bones uncovered on Nikumaroro in 1940 by British colonists, which were subsequently lost, and thought to be Earhart’s remains.

An enduring mystery that baffled the world could soon be resolved. As for the missing pilot herself, National Geographic thinks the forward-thinking Earhart “would have been astonished at the technological wonders being marshaled to discover her fate.”