Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Real Life Mystery: The Search for Amelia Earhart

        Sometimes the most fascinating mysteries are the ones that make up real life historical events. An expedition from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery is currently on the way to check for remains of the Lockheed Electra aircraft that carried Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, across the Pacific before it disappeared from sight. This enterprise is one of six that have attempted to solve the mystery of what happened to Ms. Earhart and her plane. Perhaps six will be a charm.
        Seventy-five years ago--1937--Earhart set off to become the first woman to fly solo and circumnavigate the globe. Already a huge presence in the minds of Americans, she had accomplished great navigational feats in a male- dominated industry that captured the public's imagination.
        In 1937, she and Noonan flew from California to New Guinea and then began a difficult leg of the trip to Howland Island in the central Pacific. Her plan was to use the equator, but the navigational maps were not always clear and radio communication was sketchy at best. When her plane did not arrive at Howland Island, a wide ocean search began but turned up nothing. Thus began the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart.
        The current expedition is centering on an island called Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati. The searchers are attempting to locate, identify, and photograph any wreckage.
from the TIGHAR.ORG website
        Over the years a numbers of items of interest have been found on this island. Explorers have discovered fish and bird bones, eaten as if Westerners were dining. Bottles wrapped with wires that might have been used to boil water to make it safe are also part of the discoveries. Most recently a 1930's U.S. makeup compact, a flight jacket zipper from the 1930's, and a jar of freckle cream (Earhart was known to have freckles) are all products found on the island. 
        The new expedition--at a cost of $2.2M--is hoping to find wreckage of her plane that could possibly have slipped off the reef near the island. The group left Honolulu on July 3 and should arrive at Nikumaroro on July 9.  They are banking on the possibility that Earhart and Noonan may have been alive for several weeks or months on what was then an uninhabited and largely uncharted island. Skeptics, however, believe the plane would have broken up from the ocean waves. Sonar will be used to determine whether the new theory is correct. You can follow their daily reports here.
Earhart and Noonan
        Earhart's life and her disappearance have been celebrated in books, movies, and even on the website, Pinterest. If you are a member and put her name in the search box, you will find pages of photos of Ms. Earhart. Her navigational feats remain a story for the record books and her untimely disappearance may forever be a mystery--unless the newest expedition's theory turns out to be true. That happened with the discovery of the Titanic; perhaps the Earhart disappearance will be one less mystery after this summer.

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