On May 21, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan boarded their Lockheed Electra and took off from Oakland, California, on their second attempt to fly around the world. This time, they flew to the east.
Earhart was supposed to have landed on Howland Island, a coral island some 1,700 miles from Honolulu for refueling, but she never arrived. The United States Navy searched for 17 days, but no trace of Earhart was found — and people still haven’t stopped looking.
Dana Timmer, who led the first deep water search for Earhart near Howland Island in 1999, is now raising money for Expedition Amelia, a new attempt to find the ill-fated aviatrix and conclusively put to rest the question “what happened to Amelia Earhart?”
Based on sonar data found in 1999, Timmer believes the Electra went down in the vicinity of Howland Island. He’s working with Williamson & Associates, a hydrographic surveying company based in Seattle, to narrow down the search area.
According to Timmer, since 1999 there have been several searches near Howland Island.
“Through the post processing of all the sonar data to date, Williamson & Associates has found a target that is in our high probability area that was overlooked for higher resolution verification runs,” he said.
Finding the Electra — or what is left of it — in 18,000 feet of water will not be quick, easy or inexpensive.
“It is very time consuming to get a sonar over a small target in the deep ocean,” he said.
Over the decades, several theories about what happened have been suggested, ranging from a crash in the ocean to Earhart being captured by the Japanese and forced to become a propaganda radio announcer known as Tokyo Rose during World War II.
Another popular theory is that the Electra was hundreds of miles off course and came down in an area of the Phoenix Islands on what was then known as Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro Island.
Officials with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) maintain that Earhart landed on Nikumaroro and made several expeditions to the remote site. They recovered pieces of sheet metal, the sole of a woman’s shoe, and pieces of small medicine bottles that they say may have come from the Earhart expedition.
Recently a photograph of the Electra, taken by the Miami Herald in 1937 during the early days of the last around the world flight, was found. It shows a rectangular patch on the fuselage of the airplane with rivet holes that match a scrap of metal found on Nikumaroro by the TIGHAR group.
However, Timmer suggests that TIGHAR’s hypothesis is wrong, and Earhart never made it to land.
“I believe I have used Occam’s Razor more concisely than other researchers,” he said, referring to the theory that among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. “There are some very capable aerial navigators that have done a very through analysis, however I believe they all come with what I call the ‘navigators bias.’ They detail how Fred Noonan should have approached Howland, but not how Fred and Amelia actually approached Howland. I believe I have interpreted the last radio messages that Amelia made to the Itasca better than other researchers and these radio messages hold the key to the mystery.”
Earhart’s last message received by the Coast Guard vessel Itasca stationed off Howland Island stated, “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. We are on the line 157/337. We will repeat this message. We will repeat this on 6210 kilocycles. Wait.”
According to TIGHAR, the numbers 157 and 337 refer to compass headings — 157° and 337° — and describe a navigation line that passed not only Howland Island, but also Gardner/Nikumaroro Island.
But Timmer is convinced Earhart and Noonan ditched in the ocean when they ran out of fuel.
There is no timeline as to when the latest expedition will begin, said Timmer, noting it is a matter of getting the funding.
“There are three primary components to the search — sonars, a ship and money,” he said. “I have commitments for the first two and am in discussions for the the financial side, however we are open to anyone that might like to contribute on the financial side and we may be doing another Kickstarter project for a smaller funding level.”
Timmer says they need to raise about $3.5 million to launch the expedition.
“This will give us the assets and time to both verify a number of targets and enough additional sonar search time to make this the definitive Expedition to solve the Earhart mystery,” he said.