Finding Amelia Earhart’s Plane Seemed Impossible. Then Came a Startling Clue.


Robert Ballard is the finder of vital misplaced issues.

In 1985, he found the Titanic scattered beneath the Atlantic Ocean. He and his workforce additionally situated the large Nazi battleship Bismarck and, extra not too long ago, 18 shipwrecks within the Black Sea.

Dr. Ballard has all the time needed to search out the stays of the airplane Amelia Earhart was flying when she disappeared in 1937. But he feared the hunt can be yet one more in a lengthy line of futile searches.

“You have it in a holding pattern in your head,” stated Dr. Ballard, founding father of the Ocean Exploration Trust. “You’re still saying, ‘No, no, it’s too big a search area.’”

Then, a few years in the past, one other group of explorers discovered clues so compelling that Dr. Ballard modified his thoughts. Now, not solely is he sure he is aware of the place the airplane is, he has set course for a distant atoll within the Pacific island nation of Kiribati to get better it.

Kurt M. Campbell, who served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs in the Obama administration, invited Dr. Ballard to a meeting. The two had known each other since their days in Naval intelligence.

Mr. Campbell ushered him into his office, Dr. Ballard recalled in a recent interview: “He closed the door, and he said, ‘I want to show you a picture.’”

Decades later, an organization called The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or Tighar, received Mr. Bevington’s pictures. The group is a nonprofit organization dedicated to aviation archaeology and aircraft preservation. It has been heavily involved in searching for Earhart at Nikumaroro.

Fascination with Earhart’s disappearance has led to wild theories: that she was an American spy captured by the Japanese, or that she lived out her days after assuming a false identity as a New Jersey housewife.

Those who believe in the crash at Nikumaroro say it was along Earhart’s stated navigational line.

Mr. Campbell shared the photo with experts at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, who used classified technology to enhance the picture. It was sent to intelligence analysts at the Pentagon, who independently concluded the object looked like the landing gear of a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra, Mr. Campbell said.

So Mr. Campbell called Dr. Ballard to see if he thought it was a good idea to support Mr. Gillespie’s 2012 mission to Nikumaroro, one of a dozen Tighar has made to the island, but the first to search underwater.

That expedition was unsuccessful. But the group didn’t have the funding or capabilities of Dr. Ballard and his team. And with his ship, the Nautilus, now in the Pacific Ocean, and its other research obligations completed, Dr. Ballard is ready to focus on the search for Earhart.

“The more I read, the more I was convinced I could do it,” he said.

Beyond his 60 years of experience, Dr. Ballard’s ship is equipped with a suite of high-definition cameras, a 3-D mapping system and remotely operated underwater vehicles, or ROV’s, one of which can descend nearly 20,000 feet.

But that doesn’t mean the expedition will be easy.

Viewed from above, Nikumaroro is small and flat. But the island is only the plateau of a steep underwater mountain rising 10,000 feet from the ocean floor. Earhart landed on the very edge of the island, Dr. Ballard believes. As tides rose, her plane may have slipped down the underwater slope.

The ridges of the mountain are rugged — full of troughs and valleys that can hinder sonar. After using onboard technology to create a 3-D map of its sides, the team will have to search the mountain visually, monitoring video feeds from the ROV’s in 12-hour shifts.

“Imagine searching the side of a volcano at night with a flashlight,” Dr. Ballard said.

Ms. Fundis said she is thrilled to be sharing leadership of the Earhart expedition.

“She just had a remarkable life and was a remarkable person, with a sense of bravery that broke down barriers and expectations at a time when society kind of felt like a woman really shouldn’t or couldn’t accomplish what she did,” Ms. Fundis said.

The two explorers are confident they will find the Electra.

“Science explorers are like an ideal gas,” Mr. Ballard joked. “They can expand to fill any volume, but they can only do work under pressure.”

Then he laughed, “And the pressure’s on.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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