The fate of aviator Amelia Earhart and co-pilot Fred Noonan has been one of the more compelling and enduring mysteries of the 20th century. The duo went missing on July 2, 1937 as they attempted to become the first people to circumnavigate the globe by airplane. The Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft that they were flying at the time was somewhere over the South Pacific Ocean. It is believed that they somehow got off course, ran out of fuel, and crashed into the waters below. Speculation about where that might have been has run rampant ever since, as has the fate of Earhart and Noonan themselves. Now, famed explorer, underwater archaeologist, and researcher Robert Ballard will go in search of new clues to what happened to them, with the hopes of finding the Electra as well.
If Ballard’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because he is known as the man who found the Titanic in its watery resting place in the North Atlantic. But, he has also found a number of other notable shipwrecks as well, including the German battleship Bismark and the PT-109, John F. Kennedy’s patrol boat that went down in the Salomon Islands. In other words, Ballard seems to have a knack for locating these famous sunken ships. The question is, can he do it for Earhart’s Electra too?
On August 7, Ballard and his team will set sail from the island of Samoa for Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll that is part of the South Pacific nation of Kiribati. Nikumaroro has long been at the center for the search for Earhart, as the remote island falls along her last known flight path and is located about 350 nautical miles (648 km/402 miles) south of Howland Island, the next fueling destination on her and Noonan’s journey. Previous visits to Nikumaroro have located the remains of past visitors and turned up artifacts that date back to Earhart’s time. A team led by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has even found scraps of metal that could be from the airplane itself. The island also has a flat, open lagoon that would have made a reasonable landing spot during low tide.
The hypothesis long-held by TIGHAR and others is that Earhart landed the plane at Nikumaroro and that she and Noonan managed to survive there for awhile. A lack of fresh water would have made it a difficult place to exist however, particularly with the heat of the South Pacific sun. The movement of the tides would have likely pulled the aircraft out of the lagoon and off the reef, causing it to sink into the Pacific. Ballard and his team hope to locate it somewhere in that area.
The entire expedition is being filmed by National Geographic and is set to be a part of special that will air on October 20. Whether or not there is any new news to report remains to be seen. But considering Ballards resource and expertise, he seems to have as good of a shot of locating the missing plane as anyone. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.