29 Apr 2012

New expedition preparing to search for Earhart

8:48 am on 29 April 2012

Final preparations are being made for an expedition to Kiribati that researchers hope will finally solve the fate of avaitor Amelia Earhart.

Radio Australia reports that a photograph that was overlooked for years has given researchers new hope that they will be able to locate the remains of her aircraft in which she was planning to be the first person to complete an equatorial circumnavigation of the earth.

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae in New Guinea on 2 July, 1937 and have never been seen again.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery is leading efforts to solve the mystery.

Executive director Ric Gillespie believes Earhart made a forced landing on Gardiner Island, now known as Niku-marorro Island and part of Kiribati.

''Gardiner Island is on the navigational line that Earhart said she was following when last heard from by the coastguard on 2 July, 1937,'' he said.

''In the ensuing days and nights, radio stations around the Pacific were hearing what were believed to be radio distress calls from the airplane.

''Pan American direction finding stations in Hawaii, Midway Island and Wake Island took bearings on some of these signals, and they crossed near Gardiner Island.''

Mr Gillespie believes Earhart died on Gardiner Island while awaiting rescue after a wide search by the US navy failed.

Human remains were found in the 1940s and sent to British Colonial authorities in Fiji for identification.

However, the doctor who carried out the autopsy concluded it was a man's body, a fact now in dispute.

Old photos re-checked

TIGER specialists have re-examined some old photographs from the area on Gardiner (Nikumaroro Island) where they believe Earhart spent her last days. On the reef was something that had been overlooked.

''With all the fancy work that can be done now, algorithms and computer programs with photo analysis, we were able to determine that the elements in the photo, or the shapes and dimensions that makeup this image, are consistent with the elements of the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra.'' Mr Gillespie said.

TIGER is to begin a high-tech search off the reefs of Nikumaroro Island in July.

''We're going to be using some very sophisticated mapping sonar to get a good underwater map of the area and then programme an autonomous underwater vehicle, like a robot, submarine, kind of looks like a torpedo, with science scan sonar that will swim through that whole area and look for targets that are suspicious in shape.

''And then we'll check them out with a remote operated vehicle that's actually tethered to the mother ship with strong lights and good cameras and manipulator arms to identify what's there. So we'll be able to map, search and identify, Mr Gillespie said.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly the Atlantic as a passenger, in 1928. She followed this by a solo flight in 1932. In 1935 she flew solo from Hawaii to Califofrnia.