Team to hunt for Amelia Earhart's plane off remote Pacific islet

Tue Jul 3, 2012 7:44pm EDT
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By Malia Mattoch McManus

HONOLULU (Reuters) - Seeking to chronicle Amelia Earhart's fate 75 years after she disappeared over the Pacific, researchers prepared on Monday to look for wreckage of her airplane near a remote island where they believe the famed U.S. aviator died as a castaway.

Organizers hope the expedition will conclusively solve one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th century - what became of Earhart after she vanished during an attempt to become the first pilot, man or woman, to circle the globe around the equator.

A recent flurry of clues point to the possibility that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, ended up marooned on the tiny uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, part of the Pacific archipelago Republic of Kiribati.

"The public wants evidence, a smoking gun, that this is the place where Amelia Earhart's journey ended," said Richard Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). "That smoking gun is Earhart's plane."

The group's research team had planned to set off by boat on Monday from Hawaii on a 1,800-mile voyage to Nikumaroro accompanied by the technicians from a U.S. Navy contractor called Phoenix International who recovered "black-box" flight-data recorders from an Air France crash from the floor of the Atlantic last year.

But the departure was postponed for a day, until Tuesday, because of a delay in the arrival of a Kiribati customs official who is to accompany the expedition, said Stephanie Buttrill, a spokeswoman for the group. The team will spend 10 days at the search site, plus 16 days at sea traveling to and from the island.

Previous missions to Nikumaroro have unearthed tantalizing evidence that Earhart was there, including a cosmetic bottle from the 1930s that appeared to be jar of a once-popular brand of anti-freckle cream.

Also found were a clothing zipper from the '30s, pieces of a woman's compact, a bottle of hand lotion, parts of a woman's shoe and a man's shoe, a bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart carried and human bone fragments.   Continued...

The reef at Nikumaroro, Republic of Kiribati, is pictured in this October 1937 photograph released on March 21, 2012. Scientists on March 20, 2012 announced a new search to resolve the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, saying fresh evidence from the remote Pacific island may reveal the fate of renowned Earhart, who vanished in 1937 while attempting to circle the globe. REUTERS/TIGHAR/Eric Bevington/TIGHAR/Handout