Mys­tery of the air

Lat­est on the search for Amelia Earhart

Paradise - - Contents -

The ocean de­tec­tive who found the wreck of the

Ti­tanic in 1985 be­lieves he’s solved an­other en­dur­ing mys­tery: what hap­pened to avi­a­tion pi­o­neer Amilia Earhart after she took off from Lae more than 80 years ago and van­ished over the Pa­cific.

Oceanog­ra­pher Dr Robert Bal­lard and his team sailed to Kiri­bati last Au­gust fol­low­ing ev­i­dence Earhart and her nav­i­ga­tor, Fred Noo­nan, ended up on the is­land of Niku­maroro. Bal­lard’s ex­pe­di­tion on the 64-me­tre Nau­tilus was filmed by Na­tional Ge­o­graphic for a doc­u­men­tary.

“I have al­ways been in­trigued by the story of Amelia Earhart be­cause she shocked the world do­ing what ev­ery­one thought was im­pos­si­ble, much like what I have at­tempted to do my en­tire ca­reer as a deep-sea ex­plorer,” says the founder and pres­i­dent of the Ocean Ex­plo­ration Trust.

In 1932 Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the At­lantic and three years later com­pleted the first solo flight from Hawaii to Cal­i­for­nia. Then, in July 1937, she landed in Lae near the end of an at­tempt to com­plete the long­est cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the world.

“The Amer­i­can avi­a­tor must have looked like a glam­orous in­ter­na­tional odd­ity when she stopped over in a fron­tier town dom­i­nated by gold min­ers, planters, traders, land grab­bers, tough pa­trol of­fi­cers and the odd mis­sion­ary,” says Can­berra his­to­rian Dr Daniel Con­nell, a for­mer High­lands res­i­dent.

“But her dar­ing risk-tak­ing ap­proach to life prob­a­bly caused her to feel quite com­fort­able with Lae’s wild spirit.”

For many years it was be­lieved Earhart’s Lock­heed Elec­tra E10 ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean after leav­ing Lae. Oth­ers spec­u­lated that Earhart was an Amer­i­can spy cap­tured by the Ja­panese.

Bal­lard prefers the the­ory that Earhart and Noo­nan may have crashed on the un­in­hab­ited co­ral atoll and pos­si­bly

sur­vived for months.

He’s drawn to this view by ev­i­dence they couldn’t find tiny How­land Is­land, the next sched­uled stop on their world flight.

Fur­ther con­firm­ing that pos­si­bil­ity is a skele­ton found on Niku­maroro in the 1940s and con­firmed to be that of a tall woman. Un­for­tu­nately, the skele­ton has since been lost.

More re­cently, Pen­tagon an­a­lysts en­hanced an old photo, taken on the is­land, which ap­par­ently showed the land­ing gear of a Lock­heed Elec­tra.

But, de­spite an ex­ten­sive search of Niku­maroro and sur­round­ing wa­ters with drones, sonar and un­der­sea equip­ment, Bal­lard’s ex­pe­di­tion found no plane.

The 77-year-old ex­plorer is not dis­cour­aged. He hopes to re­turn to Niku­maroro and con­tinue search­ing if more ev­i­dence turns up.

The search con­tin­ues ... Amelia Earhart (op­po­site page); Robert Bal­lard, the oceanog­ra­pher who found the Ti­tanic (above left); the Nau­tilus search ves­sel (above).

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