Search to solve mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance won't diminish legendon July 4, 2012 @ 9:50 am (Updated: 9:01 pm - 7/4/12 )
FILE - In a March 10, 1937 file photo American aviatrix Amelia Earhart waves from the Electra before taking off from Los Angeles, Ca., on March 10, 1937. Earhart is flying to Oakland, Ca., where she and her crew will begin their round-the-world flight to Howland Island on March 18. (AP Photo, file)
For 75 years, we've been left wondering what actually happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.
Now, one man appears to be very close to finding out, but he doesn't think that solving the mystery will diminish the her legend.
"If there was a final chapter where she was trying to survive, heroically, on an uninhabited desert island - that should be known," said Ric Gillespie, the founder and executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, the group leading the search.
Gillespie spoke with 97.3 KIRO FM's Ross and Burbank Show from Hawaii, where he would soon depart to search for the remains of Earhart's plane - believed to be lost near a remote island in the Pacific nation of Kiribati.
While the intention of the search is to find Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane, he doesn't expect to find her remains. Gillespie believes the remains of Earhart were found in 1940.
Three years after the 1937 disappearance of Earhart, a partial skeleton of a castaway and a castaway's campsite were found on an island by a British Colonial service officer. He found parts of a man's shoe, parts of a woman's shoe and a box that had once contained a sexton.
That man then notified the British authorities in Fiji, a thousand miles away. They asked the officer to send the remains and the artifacts to them, and to "keep your mouth shut," according to Gillespie.
That's what the officer did. In the spring of 1941, the bones and artifacts arrived in Fiji. The bones were measured by a British Colonial service doctor who applied the formulas available at that time, and he decided that the bones were probably those of a short, stocky, European male.
With that diagnosis, the British decided not inform the Americans about what had been found, and eventually both the bones and the artifacts were lost.
Until 1997. That's when Gillespie and his crew discovered the paperwork, and realized that "stocky European male" was probably Amelia Earhart.
"We determined that we could find the site where the bones were discovered and we could examine the site archeologically and possibly find artifacts that were missed in 1940," said Gillespie. That sort of evidence could confirm or deny who the castaway was.
"We're finding artifacts that speak - broken bottles of American products, travel sized."
Now they're looking for the plane.
Gillespie's group believes Earhart and Noonan landed on a reef near the Kiribati atoll of Nikumaroro, then survived a short time.
"Everything has pointed to the airplane having gone over the edge of that reef in a particular spot, and the wreckage ought to be right down there," said Gillespie.
"We're going to search where it 'should be,'" he said. "And maybe it's there, maybe it's not. And there's no way to know unless you go and look."
It's a $2.2 million expedition. Gillespie's group raised enough funds to embark on the nearly monthlong voyage through individual and corporate donors, including funds from Discovery, which plans to document the trip and air it on cable TV in August, and $250,000 worth of free shipping from FedEx of the underwater science gear.
The group is still short on funds, and worries they may have to turn back before completing their mission unless they are able to to raise more.
The trip is planned to last roughly 26 days, including 10 days of searching and 16 days traveling between Honolulu and the atoll.
Said Gillespie, "I'd like to think that what we hope what we're about to do is bring closure to one of the great mysteries of the 20th and now 21st centuries."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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