Amelia Earhart's Plane? Experts Say Not So Fast

87-year-old debate continues over where the lost aviator may have ended up
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 31, 2024 10:16 AM CST
Amelia Earhart's Plane? Experts Aren't So Sure
American aviatrix Amelia Earhart poses for photos as she arrives in Southampton, England, after her transatlantic flight on the "Friendship" from Burry Point, Wales, June 26, 1928.   (AP Photo/File)

Tony Romeo, chief executive of Deep Sea Vision, believes he's found Amelia Earhart's airplane during a search of 5,200 square miles of ocean floor. Other experts who've viewed the sonar image showing what Romeo is certain is a Lockheed 10-E Electra with two distinctive fin stabilizers beneath the ocean within 100 miles of Howland Island—Earhart's destination on her last flight from Papua New Guinea—aren't so sure. "There's no way you could definitively say that's even an aircraft," Dr. Andrew Pietruszka, an underwater archaeologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who's searched for lost planes, tells the New York Times, noting the image could reflect a geological feature or sonar "noise."

Dr. Megan Lickliter-Mundon, an underwater archaeologist specializing in sunken aircraft, notes the unlikelihood of Earhart's plane retaining its original shape after 87 years beneath the waves. She notes that confirming the item pictured is a plane will require sonar images from different angles, while confirming it's Earhart's plane will require deployment of a remotely operated vehicle that can identify markings. The Nauticos Corporation, which previously searched 1,860 square nautical miles near Howland Island, argues "all airplane 'like' targets" in the area "should be positively identified." But it's pretty sure this target isn't Earhart's plane. It claims the discovery lies "significantly west" of Howland where Earhart is unlikely to have found herself after running out of fuel, per the Messenger.

"Nauticos historic radio testing and analysis has determined that she was just outside visual range of the Coast Guard cutter Itasca anchored at Howland Island" at 8am on July 2, 1937, 43 minutes before her last transmission, "when she stated that she was flying north and south (157°/337°)," it says. It adds the sonar target is "not consistent with a Lockheed Electra 10E," partly due to its "swept wings." The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery notes the wings of an Electra couldn't "fold rearward as shown" given the plane's "immensely strong center section," per Live Science. However, Romeo claims "sonar data will appear more and more stretched the further the target is from the sonar" and straightening out the shape solves that issue. (More Amelia Earhart stories.)

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