For Immediate Release
27 October 2014
New Research Focuses TIGHAR’s Underwater Search for Earhart Plane

Increasing confidence that a piece of aluminum aircraft debris found on a remote, uninhabited South Pacific atoll came from Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra has bolstered speculation that a sonar anomaly detected at a depth of 600 feet off the west end of the island is the lost aircraft.

In June 2015, TIGHAR will return to Nikumaroro to investigate the anomaly with Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) technology supported by Nai’a, the 120-foot Fiji-based vessel that has served five previous TIGHAR explorations. During the twenty-four day expedition, divers will search for other wreckage at shallower depths and an onshore search team will seek to identify objects detected in historical photographs that may be relics of an initial survival camp.

New Research

During Amelia Earhart’s stay in Miami at the beginning of her second world flight attempt, a custom-made, special window on her Lockheed Electra aircraft was removed and replaced with an aluminum patch. The patch was an expedient field modification. Its dimensions, proportions, and pattern of rivets were dictated by the hole to be covered and the structure of the aircraft. The patch was as unique to her particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual. Research has now shown that a section of aircraft aluminum TIGHAR found on Nikumaroro in 1991 matches that fingerprint in many respects. For a detailed study of this important new development see The Window, The Patch, and The Artifact, Research Bulletin #73 on the TIGHAR website.

The strong possibility that Artifact 2-2-V-1 is the “Miami Patch” means that the many fractures, tears, dents and gouges evident on the metal may be important clues to the fate – and resting place – of the aircraft itself. Deciphering those clues will be the next phase in TIGHAR’s analysis of this complex and fascinating artifact.

The Anomaly

Abundant evidence suggests that Earhart landed her aircraft safely on the reef at Nikumaroro and sent radio distress calls for at least five nights before the Electra was washed into the ocean by rising tides and surf leaving Earhart and Noonan cast away on the uninhabited atoll. TIGHAR researchers previously speculated that Artifact 2-2-V-1, which was found on shore, apparently washed up by a storm, might be debris from the break-up of the Electra in the surf. According to this hypothesis, the plane was torn apart and there should be other pieces scattered all along the underwater reef slope.

TIGHAR tested that hypothesis during expeditions in 2010 and 2012 but no wreckage was found. Numerous explorations of the reef slope using camera-equipped Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) revealed no shards of aircraft wreckage and all of the sonar “targets” identified by contractor Phoenix International turned out to be coral boulders or shipwreck debris. Something was clearly wrong.

Several months after the 2012 expedition a member of TIGHAR’s online Amelia Earhart Search Forum spotted an unusual feature in the sonar imagery. During the expedition the contractor’s sonar technicians, if they noticed it all, did not alert the TIGHAR team to the anomaly in the underwater topography, so TIGHAR had no opportunity to check it out with the ROV. The object rests at a depth of six hundred feet at the base of a cliff just offshore where TIGHAR believes the Earhart aircraft was washed into the ocean. Seeking to learn more, TIGHAR commissioned an analysis of the anomaly by Ocean Imaging Consultants, Inc. of Honolulu – experts in post-processing sonar data. Their report revealed the anomaly to be the right size and shape to be the fuselage of Earhart’s aircraft. A variety of experts have, not surprisingly, offered a variety of opinions. Some are convinced the anomaly is a man-made object. Other think it is probably a geological feature. All agree that it needs to be visited.

The new research on Artifact 2-2-V-1 may reinforce the possibility that the anomaly is the rest of the aircraft. The artifact is not, as previously suspected, a random fragment from an aircraft shredded by the surf, and its removal from the aircraft appears to have been due, at least in part, to human action. That could only happen if the patch was broken out when the aircraft was on the reef surface – but when and by whom? Somehow the patch/artifact ended up on the island, so it must have either washed or been carried ashore.

If Artifact 2-2-V-1 is from the Earhart aircraft, as it appears to be, it seems to have had a different history from the rest of the aircraft. Did the underwater search for scattered wreckage fail because the wreckage is not scattered? Is the wreck of Earhart’s aircraft far more intact than TIGHAR had assumed? Is the anomaly the aircraft? The only way to know is to go look.

For additional information contact:

Ric Gillespie
Executive Director

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