Seventy-six years after aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared during a flight around the world, another pilot is calling on the Internet to help find Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra and solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
Four-time America’s Cup sailor and pilot Dana Trimmer led a $1 million deep-sea expedition to find the plane in 1999 to no avail. Now, 15 years later, Trimmer finally has a new lead based on a surprising belief — the plane has already been found, and no one realized it. The pilot has since launched a nearly $2 million Kickstarter campaign to confirm his find.
One of the most dangerous legs of Earhart’s expedition included a 2,556-mile flight from New Guinea to Howland Island in the Pacific, about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. According to Earhart’s last transmission to the U.S. Coast Guard ship Itasca, which was waiting to refuel them, the two were close to the island but running out of fuel.
Trimmer, along with about half of the most plausible theorists, believe Earhart crashed close to Howland Island. Others speculate they crashed near the larger Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro) 400 miles south and just a few hours away by flight.
After digging through sonar data from previous searches of the area, Trimmer discovered four anomalous symmetrical shapes made up of pixels on the ocean floor. Now he wants to go back to the area with advanced sonar and photographic equipment to confirm one of the anomalies is Earhart’s Electra.
If Trimmer’s campaign reaches its $1,960,000 goal, Williamson and Associates, which has a record for making historic shipwreck finds while conducting deep-sea surveys for clients including the U.S. Navy and Discovery Channel, will take a team of researchers and documenters to investigate and report their progress.
The team will depart from Samoa aboard a ship capable of staying at sea for 40 days and make daily reports to Kickstarter backers, alongside a live video stream, all of which will eventually be used to compile a documentary film about the expedition.
“You’ll get a rare and inside close-up look at what it takes to search for objects below in up to 18,000 feet of water; with interviews of the project team and crew members, as well as opportunities to have your questions answered,” Trimmer said on the campaign website.
Trimmer claims the Earhart family has given him the rights to the plane should it be found. If it is, the pilot plans to document it thoroughly and come back with a newly funded retrieval team. If they manage to extract what should be well-preserved plane remnants from the ocean floor (no small feat given the plane’s aluminum construction, which will immediately begin to corrode when it comes in contact with oxygen), Trimmer hopes to donate it to the Smithsonian.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, proponents of the Gardner Island theory, claim to have found artifacts from the plane on the larger southern island already and are fundraising their own $3 million expedition in September.
According to Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum senior curator, Tom Crouch, neither could be right, as subsequent evidence has shown Earhart’s maps to be inaccurate, and that she was likely dealing with foggy conditions and wind.
“If somebody holds a gun to my head and says, ‘Where do you think they are, Amelia and Fred,’ I would say I think they’re 18,000 feet down in the bottom of the Pacific, not all that far from Howland Island,” Crouch told The Verge.
Trimmer’s campaign has raised just over $12,000 with 32 days to go as of Monday.