The Spectacle Blog

The Search for Amelia Earhart Continues

By on 3.20.12 | 1:32PM

This morning I watched a ceremony on the State Department's website featuring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announce the support of the federal government in renewing the search for Amelia Earhart this summer. The search will coincide with the 75th anniversary of her disappearance as Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan attempted to circumnavigate the globe aboard the Lockheed Electra.

I have long been fascinated by Earhart. In July 2008, I wrote an article about her in July 2008 and put out a poetry chapbook titled Woman in the Sky in October 2009.

As you can imagine, it was quite the Hillary lovefest. LaHood compared Hillary to Earhart calling her "a hero and a trailblazer." I guess in the eyes of the Obama Administration being a parachute candidate in the New York Senate race is equivalent to flying solo across both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Also on hand was Ric Gillespie of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) which has spent nearly a quarter century searching for Earhart, Noonan and the wreckage of the Lockheed Electra. They believe the Lockheed Electra crash landed on Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro Island) and that Earhart and Noonan set up camp there before perishing. Several years ago, TIGHAR found glass and makeup on Nikumaroro which they had tested for DNA but the sample was contaminated and the results were inconclusive. I remember this because the DNA lab that did the testing is located in my hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario. Last year, a DNA lab in Oklahoma tested bone fragments found on Nikumaroro but those tests were also inconclusive as researchers could not determine if the bones belonged to a human or to a sea turtle.

However, the reason the State Department has become involved is because their officials analyzed a photo of Gardner Island taken three months after Earhart and Noonan's disappearance. These officials believe that part of the wheel from the Lockheed Electra is protruding from the water just off the island. Gillespie said his group will set sail for Nikumaroro on July 2nd (the 75th anniversary of her disappearance) and will arrive on the island eight days later. TIGHAR plans to spend about ten days trying to find the wreckage of the Electra Lockheed.

I am more inclined to believe the crash and sink theory advanced by pilot Elgen Long. The Lockheed Electra was supposed to refuel at Howland Island before flying onto Honululu. But Howland Island is a tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean with low elevation. Earhart's last radio communication indicated she was on top of Howland Island but could not see it and was running out of fuel. Unless Earhart and Noonan were way off course it is difficult to imagine they could have flown another 350 nautical miles to Gardner Island with their limited fuel supply. The Lockheed Electra was also not a sea plane and could not have lasted long on water. The depth of the water in that part of the Pacific is more than 16,000 feet. Chances are that Earhart, Noonan and the Lockheed Electra are at the bottom of the Pacific.

Here's a piece written earlier this year by skeptic Brian Dunning. He does not think Noonan could have made such a dramatic navigational error and is also critical of TIGHAR's position that no one other than Earhart and Noonan could have possibly been on Gardner Island. Dunning argues that Gardner was regularly visited by pearl boats going back to the 1800s.

Now while the TIGHAR expedition itself is privately funded one must wonder how much the State Department is spending to provide logistical support. Of course, if TIGHAR does find Earhart's plane it is yet another thing for which the Obama Administration will take credit. On the other hand, if this is yet another failed expedition it will be just be one more investment on borrowed money with no return.

Well, at least the crash and sink theorists and the folks at TIGHAR can agree on one thing. Earhart and Noonan were not spying on the Japanese despite the claims advanced by the late CBS newsman Fred Goerner. I will say though that Plainsong's' "The True Story of Amelia Earhart" (written by Iain Matthews and based on Goerner's research) is probably the best song about a conspiracy theory ever recorded.

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