The team of researchers scouring the South Pacific for the wreckage of the plane flown by American aviator Amelia Earhart on her ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937 say they may be nearing success after seeing an unexplained shadow on sonar images which were taken off the island of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kirbati last year.
Experts with The International Group for Historic Airport Recovery, TIGHAR, revealed that painstaking analysis of sonar images captured in July 2012 revealed an anomaly on the slopes of a reef at a depth of about 600 feet that could turn out to be a section of the Lockheed Electra aircraft the American aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were flying.
The team has described the discovery as “exciting” but “frustrating”, as nothing is sure yet. “Maybe the anomaly is a coral feature that just happens to give a sonar return unlike any other coral feature on the entire reef slope,” the group said. “Maybe it’s a sunken fishing boat that isn’t mentioned in any of the historical literature.”
But the sighting of the unexplained scar or shadow is enough to spur the group to seek funding to return as soon as possible. “What initially got our attention is that there is no other sonar return like it in the entire body of data collected,” Ric Gillespie, director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. “It is truly an anomaly, and when you’re looking for man-made objects against a natural background, anomalies are good.” Few aviation mysteries generate more interest than the disappearance of Earhart who, in 1932, had captured the hearts of the world becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Five years later, she planned to fly around the globe more or less following the line of the equator.
Team members believe Earhart may have landed her plane on dry reef and it later slipped into the ocean and down the sides of the reef below the surface. She, however, may have made it to land and survived for weeks before perishing. They were drawn to the precise area after a newly discovered photograph taken by a military survey ship showed something sticking out of the water looking like a plane’s landing gear.
The Electra had been expected to land in Howland Island, between Hawaii and Australia, on the day it vanished. With no wreckage ever found, conspiracy theories abounded, among them that Ms Earhart had somehow been captured by the Japanese or had decided to go incognito and return to live in New Jersey.
The images now creating new excitement were taken by the group’s Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, a robot submarine, using multi-beam sonar to scan the ocean bed.