The explorer who discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985 has embarked on a mission to unravel the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart.
Dr. Robert Ballard is leading a team of experts to the remote western Pacific aboard the research vessel E/V Nautilus on a voyage to discover Earhart’s fate.
Earhart famously disappeared while attempting to fly around the world. The aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished on July 2, 1937 during a flight from Papua New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific. Their fate became one of the great mysteries of the 20th century and is still hotly debated in the 21st century, as well.
Ballard, who is president of Ocean Exploration Trust and a National Geographic explorer-at-large, is focusing the search on the remote island of Nikumaroro, a coral atoll 1,200 miles from the Marshall Islands.
One theory is that Earhart died a castaway after landing on the island or crashing into the sea nearby. Some 13 human bones were found on Nikumaroro, also known as Gardner Island, three years after Earhart’s disappearance.
The expedition, which is backed by National Geographic, began on Aug. 7 and will last until Aug. 25. Researchers will use underwater drones to search for Earhart’s plane in the waters around the island. Fredrik Hiebert, archeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, will lead a team of researchers hunting for signs of Earhart on the coral atoll that experts hope will lead to her bones.
"We have an incredible team in place of experts, scientists and explorers who are working diligently to map out this ambitious expedition,” said former U.S. Navy officer Ballard in a statement. “Using state-of-the-art technology and decades of evidence collected in regard to her disappearance, I would say we have a real shot at rewriting history by solving one of the greatest mysteries of our time.”
E/V Nautilus operations are often streamed live, although this expedition will operate as a “closed set,” until Aug. 25, according to the Nautilus Live website. The search will be featured in “Expedition Amelia,” a two-hour special to air on NationalGeographic on Oct. 20, 2019.
Fox News has reached out to National Geographic and the Ocean Exploration Trust with a request for comment on this story.
The special will also use research conducted over the last 30 years by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) and its director, Ric Gillespie. The group has visited Nikumaruro on a number of occasions in the search for clues and believes that Earhart died on the island.
“Prior to TIGHAR’s hi-tech search for the plane in 2012, Bob Ballard wished us ‘fair winds, following seas and a little luck,” Gillespie told Fox News, via email. “We wish him the same. He has technology that allows him to look deeper than we could. In our thirty years of scientific investigation, we consider the Earhart mystery solved but everybody wants a piece of the plane. I will be delighted if Bob Ballard proves us right.”
Gillespie, however, rates the likelihood of finding Earhart’s plane at less than 20 percent. “The reef slope at Nikumaroro is a steep, unstable mountainside strewn with boulders, cliffs and caves, and prone to underwater landslides,” he told Fox News. “There may be nothing left to find.”
Earlier this year TIGHAR acquired film footage that it says may shed new light on Earhart’s fate. The group spent 10 years in negotiations to acquire the 16 mm movie film, which shows Earhart’s Lockheed Electra taking off from Lae in Papua New Guinea on a short test flight on July 1, 1937, and the subsequent refueling operation.
The key detail in the film is an aluminum patch on the plane’s fuselage, which may correspond with an aluminum fragment discovered in 1991 by TIGHAR on Nikumaroro.
Last year, a scientific study also claimed to shed new light on the enduring mystery.
Richard Jantz, an emeritus anthropology professor at the University of Tennessee, argued that bones discovered on Nikumaroro in 1940 were likely Earhart’s remains. The research contradicts a forensic analysis of the remains in 1941 that described the bones as belonging to a male. The bones, which were subsequently lost, continue to be a source of debate.
However, there are a number of competing theories about what ultimately happened to Earhart.
While some are convinced that Nikumaroro is Earhart’s final resting place, another theory suggests that she met her end on Mili Atoll, in the Marshall Islands.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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