Team sets off to find aviatrix Earhart's fate
By Walter Wright, AFPHONOLULU, Hawaii--An expedition to test the theory that aviatrix Amelia Earhart survived the crash of her airplane 75 years ago and died a castaway on a desert island left Hawaii on Tuesday.
July 5, 2012, 12:36 am TWN
The University of Hawaii research ship left the Snug Harbor here without fanfare under somber, drizzling skies at the start of a 26-day trip, including eight days at sea each way to Kiribati, in the Central Pacific.
Richard Gillespie, the leader the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) mission, said they would use technology not previously available to try to learn the fate of the pioneering aviator.
The expedition is heading to Nikumaroro island in Kiribati to try to establish whether Earhart survived the apparent crash of her twin-engine Lockheed Electra aircraft.
Earhart was flying with navigator Fred Noonan during the final stage of an ambitious round-the-world flight along the equator at the time that her plane disappeared on July 2, 1937.
The holder of several aeronautical records — including the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air — Earhart had set off from New Guinea to refuel at Howland Island for a final long-distance hop to California.
In what turned out to be her final radio message, she declared she was unable to find Howland and that fuel was running low.
Conspiracy theories flourished, including one contending that Earhart was held by Japanese imperial forces as a spy. Another claimed she completed her flight, but changed her identity and settled in New Jersey.
Aircraft debris reportedly was found by island residents in subsequent years, but the TIGHAR research team is operating on the hypothesis that the aircraft landed safely on the reef and remained there for several days before being washed over the edge by rising tides and surf.
The expedition ship and a crew of about 20 scientists will spent 10 days on both the island and an underwater reef slope at its west end.
The search team is accompanied by a three-person camera crew who will film the expedition for a planned television special later this year.