Filmmaker Stephani Gordon records the encrusted cockpit area of the aircraft. Copyright Project Blue Angel.
The disappearance of famous pilot Amelia Earhart as she tried to circumnavigate the world in 1937 has obsessed many for years, with theories ranging from Earhart and her navigator dying on an island after they crashed in the ocean to being imprisoned by the Japanese military, suspected of spying.
Now a group of researchers say they’ve found a wreck off Buka Island, Papua New Guinea, that could provide the longed-for answers.
Divers from Project Blue Angel say they first located the wreckage in August 2018, and identified several characteristics of Earhart’s plane, most significantly a glass disc that could be a light lens from the plane.
Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were last heard from on July 2, 1937, during the final stretch of the circumnavigation, stretching from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific.
Earhart had left Oakland, California, on May 20, 1937, for Miami (with stops along the way), where she announced her intention was to circumnavigate the globe.
Then they flew across South America, Africa, India, Southeast Asia, arriving at Lae in New Guinea on June 29, 1937. With 20,000 miles behind them, they had only 7,000 left to go over the Pacific Ocean.
On July 2nd, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae, planning to land on Howland Island. A ship, the USCGC Itasca, was stationed at Howland Island to help Earhart navigate landing her plane.
At 7:42 a.m., she radioed: “We must be on you, but cannot see you – but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet”
At 8:43 a.m., Earhart reported, “We are on the line 157 337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.” And a few moments later: “We are running on line north and south.”
She was never heard from again.
The searchers of Project Blue Angel took a different approach to solve the mystery. “The Buka Island wreck site was directly on Amelia and Fred’s flight path, and it is an area never searched following their disappearance,” said William Snavely, Project Blue Angel director, in a statement. “What we’ve found so far is consistent with the plane she flew.”
Most of the searches have concentrated on the area of the ocean near Howland Island. But what if, worried about fuel running low and facing headwinds, she turned around?
Divers from Papua New Guinea surveyed the site several times for Snavely. Last year Project Blue Angel divers personally investigated the site, about 100 feet below the ocean’s surface.
“While the complete data is still under review by experts, initial reports indicate that a piece of glass raised from the wreckage shares some consistencies with a landing light on the Lockheed Electra 10,” explains the Project, in its statement.
“Amelia’s Electra had specific modifications done to it for this specific journey, and some of those unique modifications appear to be verified in the wreckage that’s been found,” added pilot and aerospace engineer Jill Meyers, who is Blue Angel’s publicity manager.
According to Live Science, Snavely was following up on a story heard in the 1930s. “A little boy on a Papua New Guinean island saw a plane — its left wing engulfed in flames — crash onto the beach. The little boy told his elders, but they didn’t believe him.”
The tide dragged the plane offshore and underwater, and it became covered with coral.
“We’re still exploring to try to find out whose plane it is. We don’t want to jump ahead and assume that it’s Amelia’s,” said Snavely. “But everything that we’re seeing so far would tend to make us think it could be.”
The glass discovered will be further analyzed.
“It’s obviously glass that appears to be old and covered significantly with barnacles,” Snavely told Live Science. “It has a rough shape and diameter that appears to be relatively consistent with lights that were on the plane back in the 1930s for Lockheed. But we don’t know for sure if it’s a Lockheed light. That’s what we’re getting checked right now.”