THE US STATE Department has announced plans for a new search for the plane of missing aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.
Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and was the second person in the world to do so.
She and Noonan took off from what is now Papua New Guinea on 2 July 1937 for Howland Island in the South Pacific, but never reached their destination. They were undertaking the longest circumnavigation of the globe, following an equatorial route, at the time.
Neither their bodies nor the remains of their aircraft have ever been found. Various theories for their disappearance have included that they crashed into the sea or that they managed to land on another Pacific island alive but were never rescued.
Announcing the new search today, Hillary Clinton said that “there is great honour and possibility in the search itself”.
Clinton said that when she was 13 she wrote to NASA asking what she needed to do to become an astronaut, but that the space agency wrote back to say that there would not be any women astronauts. “I was crestfallen,” she said. “But I knew that there were women”, such as Amelia Earhart, “who, if given the chance, would certainly be able to live up to their own God-given potential and lead the way for others”.
“Amelia Earhart may have been an unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck, but she embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world,” Clinton said. “She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder. When she took off on that historic journey, she carried the aspirations of our entire country with her.”
The renewed search is expected to focus on an area of water near the atoll Nikumaroro, where a search carried out two years ago focused on a shallow area of water and coral reefs.
US officials said that the decision to mount a new search was prompted by the recent discovery of a photo reportedly taken at Nikumaroro in the months after Earhart and Noonan disappeared. The image appears to show a section of a plane’s landing gear, but one official warned that it should be treated with “a healthy dose of skepticism”.
The atoll is part of what is now the Republic of Kiribati. Leaders of the island nation have warned that Kiribati’s future is seriously threatened by rising sea levels and they have been exploring the possibility of moving the entire population (around 100,000 people) to nearby Fiji.
Previous searches of Nikumaroro have resulted in the discovery of a number of items some believe may have belonged to Earhart, such as a shoe fragment and a compact mirror. DNA tests on small bone fragments found on the island which some hoped could be linked to Earhart proved inconclusive; the tests were unable to determine if the fragments were human.