Search for Amelia Earhart’s Plane Comes Up Empty

In July, I posted a story about a high-profile expedition traveling to the South Pacific to search for Amelia Earhart’s missing airplane. We’ve covered stories about similar expeditions in the past, of course, but what made this one unique and intriguing was exactly who was leading the search.

This time out, the team looking for the elusive aircraft was led by an underwater archaeologist and researcher, Robert Ballard, who has a long history of finding things that have gone missing in the ocean. In fact, it was Ballard who located the Titanic, amongst other notable ocean finds.

Historians are Optimistic

So, it was with some optimism that historians hoped he could find Earhart’s plane as well. Unfortunately, that search came up empty, although it did manage to uncover some long-lost clues.

For this latest search for Earhart, Ballard and his team focused on the remote Nikumaroro Atoll, which is part of the nation of Kiribati. Many researchers believe that the aviator may have set her plane down thereafter becoming lost on her way to Howland Island.

Nikumaroro falls upon her last known flight path, and artifacts located on the island in the past by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery have provided some evidence that someone visited the uninhabited island in the past. But without finding Earhart’s Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft, the pilot’s ultimate fate, and her navigator Fred Noonan, remains a mystery.

The High-Tech Search Continues

Using high-tech sonar, underwater scanning systems, and remotely piloted vehicles, Ballard and his team managed to create what is likely the most detailed map of the area surrounding Nikumaroro. Geologically speaking, they truly got to know the island, but all of those efforts came up short. There was no sign of the aircraft anywhere, and debris collected from the ocean floor showed no links to the Electra.

“We visually examined 100 percent of the island down to 750 meters [2,400 feet] and did not see evidence of the plane,” Ballard told National Geographic, which helped fund the expedition for a television show set to air in October. “We did 100 percent of the primary zone visually down to 900 meters [3,000 feet].”

At this time, Ballard doesn’t plan on going back to search any further, although his “ground team” may have uncovered evidence that could convince him to change his mind. Nat Geo reports that researchers may have uncovered a vital clue missing for nearly eight decades.

Human Remains

Back in the 1940s, some bones – including a human skull – were found on the island and were believed to have been shipped to Fiji, where they were promptly lost. Researchers now believe that they have found fragments of the skull and other bones in a museum in Kiribati and that those bones likely belonged to an adult female. Obviously, identifying them as Earhart will take some doing, but there is the possibility that an important clue to her fate may have been uncovered after nearly 80 years.

Though there are no new findings to truly report, and the location of the plane remains a mystery. However, we probably haven’t heard the last of this story, so stay tuned for future updates.

Kraig Becker