A deep-sea investigation of corals will accompany an upcoming expedition to search for pieces of Amelia Earhart’s plane, researchers who have long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by the legendary pilot 77 years ago announced on Tuesday.
The expedition by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is scheduled to take place in mid-September to mid-October in the waters off Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, where Earhart might have died as a castaway.
In 10 archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro, TIGHAR has uncovered a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.
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The group is testing the hypothesis that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing on the flat coral reef at the western end of Nikumaroro, some 350 miles southeast of their target destination. There, they might have survived as castaways for weeks.
Called Niku VIII, the new expedition will rely on two Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) manned submersibles, Pisces IV and Pisces V, each carrying a pilot, a TIGHAR observer and an ocean scientist. The subs will search for pieces of Earhart’s plane while gathering information crucial to understanding climate change.
“The scientists want to do exactly what we want to do — see what’s down there,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.
“We’re looking for airplane wreckage. They’re looking to see what kinds of coral are there and what condition they’re in. They also want to see what fish are living down there,” he added.
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According to Gillespie, the craggy underwater mountainside that may hold the wreckage of Earhart’s twin-engined Lockheed Electra “also holds the answers to questions far more important than what happened to Amelia.”
The atolls and waters around Nikumaroro are regarded by scientists as one of Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, with reefs representing what coral reefs might have looked like a thousand years ago.
The part of the Pacific where Earhart mysteriously vanished on July 2, 1937, during a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator, is also where El Niño events are born.