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Dublin: 19 °C Wednesday 30 July, 2014

Amelia Earhart search project prepares to launch new expedition

New search will focus on area of underwater reef along the Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro.

Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan posing in front of their Lockheed Electra in May 1937.
Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan posing in front of their Lockheed Electra in May 1937.
Image: AP Photo, PA File

A NEW EXPEDITION to search for the remains of Amelia Earhart’s lost plane is preparing to launch from Honolulu tomorrow.

The pioneering pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared during their bid to successfully carry out the longest circumnavigation of the globe in 1937. The pair took off from what is now Papua New Guinea in their Lockheed Electra on 2 July, but they never reached their destination and no sign has been found of them or the plane since then.

At a US State Department event in March, Hillary Clinton confirmed plans were underway for a new search. She said that when Earhart took off on her final journey, “she carried the aspirations of our entire country with her”.

US officials said that the search was being launched after photos had emerged which were taken near a Pacific atoll in the months after the disappearance. The photos appear to show a section of a plane’s landing gear, although the image is unclear.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is leading the expedition which aims to thoroughly search an area of underwater reef off the west end of the atoll, Nikumaroro, for any surviving wreckage of Earhart’s plane.

The expedition will use high-frequency sonar equipment and an autonomous underwater vehicle to take images from a depth of 1,500 metres in a bid to test TIGHAR’s “hypothesis that the more massive parts of the aircraft travelled down the reef slope and came to rest in, as yet, unexplored depths”.

It says that aircraft debris was used by local villagers in later years and believes that this suggests a plane broke up in a relatively shallow area, but that no large parts (such as engines) came ashore.

The project involves transporting over 13,400 kgs of equipment for a 35,400 km roundtrip, according to FedEx, which is involved in the expedition’s logistics.

Theories behind the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan have included that they ran out of fuel over the sea or crash-landed on a Pacific island before later succumbing to injury or hungry.

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