Amelia Earhart's lost plane has garnered international fame simply for being lost – but Robert Ballard thinks he can change that.
Ballard, who found the Titanic on the Atlantic Ocean floor in 1985, is pioneering a fresh search for Earhart's aircraft, a Lockheed Electra 10E. His resume includes quite a few famously lost seacraft, including the Nazi battleship Bismark and 18 shipwrecks in the Black Sea, according to the New York Times.
A Lifelong Dream Realized
The New York Times reported that Ballard has always wanted a crack at finding Earhart's aircraft, which disappeared in 1937, but he worried his search would dry up, as so many have before him. However, a group of explorers a few years ago uncovered clues to the airplane's hiding place, compelling Ballard to finally kick off his long-awaited search.
National Geographic is sponsoring the expedition, which Ballard plans to begin in Kiribati, a Pacific island nation.
What Happened to Amelia
Earhart's disappearance story began on July 2, 1937, when she and navigator Fred Noonan aimed to fly to Howland Island from Lae, New Guinea, according to National Geographic. This trip would have marked the third-to-last leg of Earhart's attempt to fly around the Earth, but she and Noonan vanished without a trace after taking off from Lae – and no one ever found them.
Theories illustrating the story behind their disappearance abound.
"Some of them are a little wild," Ballard told National Geographic. Some theories say Earhart and Noonan wound up in the Marshall Islands. Others say Saipan, or even New Jersey. Some people think the plane never landed, and instead crashed and sank into the ocean.
"We're going with the one that she actually landed," Ballard said.
Ballard's Search Plan
Ballard is basing his expedition on a theory investigated by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), according to People. This theory hinges on Earhart's final recognizable radio transmissions, which said her plane was flying northwest to southeast on a navigational line bisecting Howland Island.
Nikumaroro lies southeast of Howland Island, while there's nothing northwest of the island but open waters. TIGHAR has investigated Nikumaroro 13 times to find the aircraft, but Ballard plans to conduct the search again with more advanced technological tools.
Ballard's ship is equipped with "a multi-beam sonar on the hull, two [remotely operated vehicles (ROVs)] with high-definition cameras, an autonomous surface vehicle (ASV), and multiple drones," according to National Geographic. Ballard claims that everything he's ever found was found visually, with ROV pilots patrolling the seascape in four-hour shifts "looking for colors that aren't natural to the background."