The search for Amelia Earhart's long-lost aircraft will resume next year in the waters off Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati where the legendary pilot may have died as a castaway.
Starting about the middle of August 2014, the 30-day expedition will be carried out by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), which has long been investigating the last, fateful flight taken by Earhart 76 years ago.
Called Niku VIII, the new expedition is expected to cost as much as $3 million. It will rely on two Hawaiian Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) manned submersibles, Pisces IV and Pisces V, each carrying a pilot and two TIGHAR observers.
“The plan for Niku VIII is built on the hard data gathered and the hard lessons learned during the previous expeditions carried out in 2010 and 2012,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, said in a statement.
Equipped with high definition video, still cameras, mechanical arms and recovery baskets, the subs will search a mile-long underwater area down to a depth of more than 3000 feet.
“Live searching by three people aboard each sub looking at wide vistas illuminated by powerful lights is far superior to searching by looking remotely via the toilet-paper tube view provided by a video camera on an ROV,” Gillespie said.
The tall, slender, blond pilot mysteriously vanished while flying over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, during a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator.
The general consensus has been that Earhart's twin-engined Lockheed Electra had run out of fuel and crashed in the Pacific Ocean, somewhere near Howland Island.
But TIGHAR researchers believe Amelia suffered a different fate.
In nine archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro, Gillespie and his team uncovered a number of artifacts which, combined with archival research, provide strong circumstantial evidence for a castaway presence.
TIGHAR 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 survived as castaways "for a matter of weeks, possibly more," said Gillespie.
“She and her navigator Fred Noonan sent radio distress calls from the aircraft for the next five nights before the Electra was washed over the reef edge by rising tides and surf,” Gillespie said.
The best evidence for where the plane went into the water is a grainy photograph of the island's western shoreline taken by British Colonial Service officer Eric Bevington three months after Amelia's disappearance.
“The picture appears to show the wreckage of one of the aircraft’s main land gear assemblies on the reef edge,” Gillespie said.