State Department Joins Earhart Search

Support commemorates 75th anniversary of aviator’s disappearance.

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart
** Amelia Earhart in front of her Lockheed Electra**

The U.S. government gave up searching for the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra a little more than two weeks after the airplane disappeared in the Central Pacific near Howland Island on July 2, 1937. Now, 75 years later, the State Department is reopening the case.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took part in a ceremony at the State Department on Tuesday morning announcing a new joint public-private search for Earhart’s airplane. Financed completely with private funds, a search team in July will begin concentrating on the deep waters near the Pacific atoll Nikumaroro, the site of a 2010 search that focused on coral reefs and nearby shallow waters. The search organizing team, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, believes Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan ended up on or near the west coast of the atoll, formerly known as Gardner Island.

Earhart's twin-engine Lockheed vanished as she and Noonan flew from New Guinea toward Howland Island as part of an attempt to circle the globe. Several groups and individuals have launched private searches for the airplane, but this is the first time the U.S. government has thrown its support behind such a project.

But rather than being prompted by new evidence or a real hope that the Electra can be found, the State Department’s support of the search is intended more as a celebration of Earhart’s life 75 years after her disappearance. At the State Department ceremony, Clinton noted that she has always been a fan of the pioneering aviator, and also revealed that as a teenager she aspired to be the nation’s first female astronaut. “Even if you do not find what you seek,” Clinton said, “there is great honor and possibility in the search itself.”

New analysis of a photo of a portion of the island shows what some believe could be a strut and wheel of the airplane protruding from the water. The U.S. government, however, takes no official position on the purported evidence, acknowledging only that there is much debate on the subject. Most historians theorize Earhart’s Electra ran out of fuel after missing Howland Island, crashed in the ocean and sank.