It is one of the greatest enduring mysteries in aviation history: the disappearance of Amelia Earhart after taking off from Lae, New Guinea, in a Lockheed 10-E Electra on July 2, 1937.
Earhart was trying to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world.
She and a boater, Fred Noonan, were headed to refuel at Howland Island, a tiny coral atoll in the southwest Pacific.
But they were never seen again.
For years, many have tried to find the remains of his plane, without success.
Now, the director of a company marine robotics He believes he has achieved it, although some experts are very skeptical.
Tony Romeo, director general de Deep Sea Visionsays that a sonar image his company captured during an expedition last year appears to show a plane resting about 5 kilometers deep at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, somewhere within a 100-mile radius of Howland Island.
aTony Romeo, CEO of Deep Sea Vision, in Manhattan on January 30, 2024. A robotics company captured a sonar image that its CEO believes shows Earhart's long-lost plane at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean . Archaeologists say it's too early to tell. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)
He doesn't want to give the exact location.
He says he believes it is Earhart's plane because the image appears to show the two distinctive fin stabilizers at the rear of his plane and the dimensions are “very similar” to those of his elegant twin-engine Lockheed.
On the last day of the expedition, his 16 crew members found the image among the data they had scanned throughout 8,000 square kilometers of the ocean floor between New Guinea and Howland Island.
“We hadn't found anything for 100 days,” Romeo said in an interview this week.
“We were up to our necks in water. And there it is. It appears on the screen. At that moment we realized that we were the first to see Amelia's plane in 86 years. “It was an incredible moment.”
Archaeologists who have used similar technology to search for underwater wrecks said they were not at all convinced that the image was actually a plane, much less Earhart's.
“The image is really exciting in the fact that it obviously shows a plane or what looks like a plane,” said Megan Lickliter-Mundon, an underwater archaeologist who has searched for sunken planes.
But to confirm that it is really a plane, he said, researchers would have to take more sonar images from different angles.
Then they would have to use a remote controlled vehicle with a video camera to see if the plane has serial numbers or markings that identify it as Earhart's.
After more than 80 years in the ocean, it would be surprising if the plane was so intact as it appears in the sonar image, Lickliter-Mundon said.
“But who knows? Nothing is definitive until you have more information and a picture.”
A model of Amelia Earhart's Lockheed 10-E Electra is held by Tony Romeo, CEO of Deep Sea Vision, in Manhattan on Jan. 30, 2024. A robotics company captured a sonar image that its CEO believes shows the Earhart's long-lost plane at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Archaeologists say it's too early to tell. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)
Andrew Pietruszka, an underwater archaeologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, said the image, which The Wall Street Journal reported, could be “noise” in the sonar system or a geological feature on the ocean floor.
“You can't say definitively that this is a plane,” said Pietruszka, who has searched for World War II aircraft.
“To me, at most, you could say that you have a promising goal that it could be a plane, and it could be Amelia Earhart's plane, at most.”
Piotr Bojakowski, associate professor of nautical archeology at Texas A&M University, showed “quite skeptical” that it was Earhart's long-lost Lockheed. He said it could be the remains of a World War II plane.
Sonar image shown by Deep Sea Vision CEO Tony Romeo. (Emon Hassan/The New York Times)
“There are a lot of plane crashes on all those islands,” Bojakowski said. “Could it be American? Could it be Japanese? Could it be something else? Right now, all we know is that it looks like an airplane.”
Romeo said he planned to mount another expedition at some point in the future to take underwater video of the site, which he believes will confirm that it is Earhart's plane, hopefully with its registration number, NR16020, still visible on the wing.
“I want the world to see it,” he said.
Romeo, 43, a former Air Force intelligence officer whose father was an airline pilot, says Earhart's story has fascinated him since childhood.
Earhart, a pioneering aviator, was the first woman to make a non-stop solo flight across the United States in 1932.
She was also the first woman to complete a non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, also in 1932.
She was a writer, lecturer and fashion designer.
To launch Deep Sea Vision in 2022, Romeo said, he sold his real estate investments and bought an underwater drone from 9 million dollars capable of scanning the ocean floor.
He said the company, based in Charleston, South Carolina, will pursue other wrecks under private contract.
Earhart's disappearance has inspired similar expeditions over the years, as well as extravagant theories according to which she was captured by Japanese agents or returned to the United States and lived under another name.
Susan Butler, Earhart's biographer, believes Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean off Howland Island.
“The only question is where the plane crashed,” he said.
Although the search is not over yet, James Delgado, an underwater archaeologist based in Washington, DC, praised Romeo for undertaking the expedition.
“I will always support anyone who goes out to find answers,” he said.
“Right now, it's early days. But if it were me, curiosity being what it is, I'd want to go back and see what it's all about with cameras.”
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