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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Blurry sonar picture sparks renewed interest and doubt about Earhart’s last journey

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From the heart of COLUMBIA, S.C., ⁤a captivating mystery from the last century has been reignited.‍ The question that has puzzled many for decades: What became ⁣of Amelia Earhart and‍ her ‌aircraft when they disappeared during her global flight in 1937?

Despite numerous expeditions, no trace of her twin-tailed monoplane has been found, until now. Tony Romeo, the founder of ​a new sea exploration company‌ based in South Carolina, believes that his ⁢team has captured a sonar image of the legendary American pilot’s Lockheed 10-E Electra.

Archaeologists and explorers are filled with‌ anticipation. However, whether the plane of the iconic pilot rests at the‌ estimated‌ 16,000-foot depth is yet to be confirmed. There are ongoing debates about the appropriate treatment⁣ of any object that is discovered.

Archivists are optimistic that Romeo’s Deep Sea Vision is on the brink of solving this enigma, not just to solve the mystery, but to bring back the focus on Earhart’s achievements. The hunt ‍is on for the first ⁢woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

Romeo, who comes from an “aviation family” and holds a private pilot’s license himself, ​was seeking an⁣ adventure beyond his⁤ commercial real estate career. He has always ⁤been intrigued by the Earhart‍ mystery.

He‌ sold his real estate⁣ interests to finance last year’s search and purchase a $9 million underwater drone from a Norwegian company. The ‌cutting-edge technology, known as the Hugin 6000,⁢ can reach ​the deepest layer of⁢ the ocean at 19,700 feet.

In September ‌2023, a ⁢16-person‍ crew embarked on a​ roughly 100-day search, scanning over 5,200 square miles of seafloor around Howland Island, a mid-Pacific⁤ atoll‍ between Papua New Guinea and Hawaii.

It‍ was only in December, upon reviewing the sonar data, that they spotted a fuzzy yellow outline resembling a plane. “We believe very strongly that we ⁣have an image of‍ Amelia’s ‌aircraft,” Romeo ⁤told the Associated Press.

The next step is to ⁣send a‍ camera underwater ⁢for a closer look at the unidentified object. If the visuals confirm their hopes, Romeo said the aim would be to recover the long-lost Electra.

Romeo’s team ​embarked on this ⁣costly adventure ⁢to “solve aviation’s greatest⁢ unsolved mystery.” He believes that⁢ an open hatch⁣ could suggest that Earhart and her flight companion escaped after the initial impact, and a cockpit dial could provide clues about‌ what went wrong.

Earhart and her navigator,​ Fred Noonan, vanished while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island during her attempt ⁤to become the first ⁢female pilot to circumnavigate the globe. She⁤ had radioed that she was running low on fuel.

The Navy searched but found no trace. The ‍U.S. government’s‍ official position has been that Earhart and Noonan went down with their plane.

Since then, theories have ranged from the absurd, such as alien ⁢abduction or⁤ Earhart living in New Jersey under an alias, to speculation that she and Noonan were⁤ executed by the Japanese or died ‍as castaways on an island.

“Amelia is America’s favorite missing person,” ⁢Romeo said.

Deep ⁣Sea⁣ Vision’s expedition is ‌not the⁤ first. David Jourdan’s‌ exploration company Nauticos conducted three unsuccessful expeditions between 2002 and 2017, surveying an area of seafloor about‌ the size of Connecticut. These efforts were preceded by a $1 million​ hunt in 1999 from Nevada-based Dana Timmer. As recently as 2014, Timmer had not given up and sought to raise nearly $2‌ million for another attempt.

Between 1988 and⁤ 2002, the International Group for Historic Aircraft‌ Recovery made six trips to a different island in the western‌ Pacific Ocean under the impression that ‌Earhart‌ crash-landed on a flat reef 1,800 ‌miles south of Hawaii.

Hillary Clinton, then the U.S. Secretary ⁤of State, encouraged the ⁣group ​in 2012 when it launched a new search ‌for the wreckage fueled by analysis of a 1937 photo⁣ believed to show the Lockheed Electra’s ‌landing⁢ gear jutting out of⁣ the island’s shoreline.

Maritime archaeologist James Delgado ⁤said Romeo’s potential ​find would change the narrative, but “we need to see more.”

“Let’s drop‌ some cameras down ‍there and ‌take a‍ look,” said ​Delgado, senior vice president of ⁣the archaeological‍ firm SEARCH Inc.

Delgado said Romeo’s expedition employed world-class, cutting-edge technology that was once classified and is “revolutionizing our understanding⁤ of the deep ocean.”

But he said Romeo’s team must ‍provide “a forensic level of documentation” to prove it’s Earhart’s Lockheed. That could mean the patterns⁢ in the fuselage’s aluminum, the‍ configuration of its tail and details from the cockpit.

Jourdan, of Nauticos, would have expected to see straight wings and not swept wings, like the new‌ sonar suggests, as‍ well as engines. But⁣ that could ⁣be explained by⁤ damage to the aircraft or reflections ⁢distorting the image, he acknowledged.

“It could be a plane. It certainly looks like a plane. It could be a geological feature that looks like a plane,” he said.

Dorothy Cochrane, an aeronautics curator at‍ the National Air and‌ Space Museum, said Romeo’s crew searched in‌ the right place near Howland Island. That’s where Earhart desperately sought a runway when she disappeared on the last leg ‌of her flight.

If the object really is the historic aircraft, the question for Cochrane will be whether⁣ it is safe to raise. How ⁤much of the machinery is still intact would be determined in⁤ part by how⁤ smoothly​ Earhart landed, she added.

“That’s ‍where you ‌have to really look at this image and‍ say, ‘What have‍ we ‍got here?'” said Cochrane.

If the fuzzy sonar images turn⁣ out to be the plane, ‍international standards for underwater archaeology would strongly suggest the aircraft remain where it is, said ​Ole Varmer, a retired attorney ‌with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a ​senior fellow at The​ Ocean Foundation.

Nonintrusive research can still be conducted to reveal ​why the⁢ plane possibly ‍crashed, Varmer said.

“You preserve as much of the story as you can,” Varmer ⁤said. “It’s not just ⁤the wreck. It’s where it ​is and its ‌context on the ⁣seabed. That is part of the story as to how and ⁤why it⁢ got there. When you‍ salvage it, you’re⁢ destroying part of the site, which can provide information.”

Raising the plane and placing it​ in a museum would likely cost ⁤hundreds of‍ millions of dollars, Varmer said. And while Romeo could conceivably make a salvage ‌claim in the courts, the plane’s owner has the​ right to ⁣deny it.

Earhart bought the Lockheed with money raised, at least in part, by the Purdue Research Foundation, according to a blog post by‍ Purdue University in‍ Indiana. And she planned to return the aircraft to the school.

Romeo ‍said the team believes the​ plane belongs ⁣in the⁣ Smithsonian. Acknowledging the “uncharted territory” of potential legal issues, he said his ⁢exploration company will “deal with those as they come up.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. Blurry but intriguing, this sonar picture adds fuel to the fire of speculation surrounding Earhart’s final journey. #RenewedInterest

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