On the morning of July 2, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off in a Lockheed 10 Electra from Lae, New Guinea, heading east, having completed three-fourths of their planned flight around the world. Their destination was Howland Island, a small U.S. territory 2,300 miles east of New Guinea. Because of the difficulty of finding such a small target in the middle of the featureless Pacific, the U.S. Coast Guard had stationed the cutter Itasca at the island. Its radio signals would help guide Earhart and Noonan in for what was to be a refueling stop before the next leg to Honolulu.
The following morning, as Earhart’s Electra approached Howland Island, the radiomen aboard the Itasca heard her calls for navigational help. But, except for one brief contact, it was clear she could not hear their replies. Unable to get a radio bearing, running low on fuel, and relying only on celestial navigation with outdated charts, Earhart and Noonan never arrived at Howland. Despite an intensive air and sea search led by the U.S. Navy and its aircraft carrier Lexington, no trace of the aircraft or its pilot and navigator were ever found. After 16 days, the Navy gave up the search and declared Earhart and Noonan lost at sea.
Many Americans could not accept the Navy’s conclusion.
In the years since 1937, hundreds of amateur investigators have researched the case in the hope of finding the “true” solution to the mystery. They have scoured her final radio transmission for clues, sought to unearth suspected government documents, investigated Earhart sightings and aircraft wrecks on islands throughout the Pacific, and written dozens of books advancing a profusion of theories, including the following:
• She was an American spy, captured and executed by the Japanese on the eve of World War II;
• She secretly returned to the U.S. and quietly lived out her life under an assumed name in Teaneck, New Jersey; and
• She landed on an uninhabited island and died there after being overlooked by the Navy.
These are just a few of the theories that have been proposed. Though none has ever been proven, they have served to keep the mystery alive. More than seven decades after she vanished, the question of Earhart’s fate continues to intrigue and fascinate people all over the world.
Despite these theories and legends the body of verifiable evidence shows that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed at sea after missing tiny Howland Island, where they were planning to refuel. The information and the technology exist to reconstruct Earhart’s final flight, search the ocean bottom in the area where we believe she came down, find the aircraft, and solve the mystery.
This is our quest.
In late February a team from Nauticos with stratospheric explorer Alan Eustace and aviation pioneer Elgen Long will depart Honolulu for the vicinity of Howland Island, 1,600 miles to the southwest, to complete the deep sea search for Amelia Earhart’s lost Lockheed Electra. Adding to the work conducted during prior expeditions in 2002 and 2006, the team plans to complete a sonar survey of about 1,800 square miles of seafloor, an area believed to contain the aircraft. The expedition will use autonomous underwater technology to image the ocean floor nearly 18,000 feet below.
The Eustace Earhart Discovery Expedition is an important step in human exploration, expanding the realm of human achievement, funded by an explorer who extends the range of human possibility and in honor of a great explorer lost in those causes. Alan Eustace, with a doctorate in computer science, has led developments in pocket computing and computer architecture, and most recently retired from Google as Director of Knowledge.
A pilot, skydiver, and adventurer, Alan made history in 2014 with a record breaking near-space dive from the stratosphere at 135,890 feet. Free-falling over 23 miles, he reached a speed of 821 mph (breaking the sound barrier at Mach 1.3) before slowing in the thickening atmosphere and parachuting safely to earth. His spacesuit and support equipment went on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on December 15, 2016.
Besides conducting our own search operations, our expedition will be working with NOAA to support its upcoming exploration of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as the research vessel Okeanos Explorer maps the deep seafloor near Howland Island in March. An education team on board our vessel will share the excitement of deep sea exploration and the fascination of robotic technology as we sail the central Pacific in our quest.
Stay tuned over the coming days and weeks as we share details of our team, technology, and adventures as we prepare to go to sea.