Expedition Scours Pacific for Amelia Earhart Wreck

December 15, 2003

Modern sonar technology is scanning the Pacific in a high-tech search for a legendary grave—the crash site of famed pilot Amelia Earhart.

The most recent two-month expedition is headquartered on the research vessel Davidson, operated by Nauticos, an ocean exploration company in Cape Porpoise, Maine. The president, David Jourdan, has crammed the ship with cutting-edge equipment that can "look" three miles (five kilometers) beneath the surface of the ocean. If successful, Nauticos will solve a mystery thats held the world's curiosity for over six decades.

Elgen Long, a professional pilot, from Reno, Nevada, is helping to lead the charge. After studying logs of Earhart's radio transmissions, he's narrowed the search area down to a few hundred square miles near Howland Island. That tiny speck in the Pacific, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, is where Earhart was headed when her plane vanished on July 2, 1937. No trace of it was ever found.

"This is one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century, now into the 21st century," said Long. "We're dealing with somebody who was a great lady of her time. The memories that we have of her should be based on the truth."

Catching the World's Attention

Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in May, 1932; the first to fly alone from coast to coast in the U.S. in August, 1932; and the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to California in January, 1935. Her successes drew worldwide attention—she was breaking down gender boundaries with every flight.

"As she was growing up at the turn of the century, there were still so many things girls were not allowed to do," said Susan Ware, a lecturer on 20th Century United States history at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"She's up there all alone in this huge machine, she knows she's any man's equal, and she doesn't have to deal with any of the barriers and discrimination on the ground. She's totally free. And I think that for Earhart, I think that was a huge part of flying, that sense of freedom that she had."

Beginning in May, 1937, Earhart launched an epic flight around the world—flying in stages across the U.S., Atlantic, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Earhart's Lockheed Electra E10 took off for Howland from a small grass airstrip in Lae, New Guinea, in July—launching her crossing of the Pacific. It was the longest and most dangerous leg of her journey.

Earhart ran into trouble shortly after take off, veering south to avoid thunderstorms. She hit 30-mile (48-kilometer)-an-hour headwinds. Ascending to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), probably to avoid clouds, she burnt fuel fast.

About 65 miles (105 kilometers) away from Howland, she began descending to look for the island. She was flying into the sun, searching for Howland through a fierce glare.

Continued on Next Page >>


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