On March 20, 2012, Hillary Clinton announced to the State Department that The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a non-profit organization which searches for and salvages crashed planes, will embark on a two-million-dollar expedition in July in search of the site where Amelia Earhart’s infamous crash occurred. Their hope is to recover her lost craft and end the mystery of her disappearance.
Amelia Earhart was famous for being the first woman to fly a plane across the Atlantic, both accompanied and solo. She challenged prejudice and the societal roles of women, and her actions did a lot to further women’s rights. On July 19, 1937, 49 days after embarking on a flight around the world, she was declared missing. There is no indication that she was ever seen or heard from again. This disappearance sparked much intrigue, and has blossomed into one of America’s most well-known historical mysteries.
For decades there have been people and organizations coming forward, all claiming to know what really happened to Earhart, but none of the claims have been fruitful. TIGHAR’s expedition was sparked by the discovery of a photo taken four years after Earhart’s disappearance. The photo was found in the collection of Erik Bevington, a cadet of the British Colonial Service who was sent to assess the island of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati for possible colonization. In 2010, members of TIGHAR noticed something off about the photo and after extensive study and analyses by experts, it was decided that an odd protrusion on one of the reefs off the coast of the island looked like landing gear from the same model of plane as Earhart’s. Once that was established, TIGHAR began looking for funding for the expedition to verify their findings. This led them to Hillary Clinton and the State Department, which after analyzing the photo themselves, agreed with the organization’s findings.
Many are excited about the possibility of Earhart’s craft having finally been found.
“I hope they have truly have found it,” said Ian Kaplan, a Business Marketing major at Florida State University. “It would be nice to have closure.”
As a non-profit, TIGHAR needs to look to donations as a way to fund their projects. While the cost is high, they are fairly confident that the amount of interest in the project will ensure enough funding is donated.
“There are a great many people who are interested and curious about the mystery,” said Rick Gillespie, the Executive Director of TIGHAR. “This could end the theories and speculation. Real, conclusive evidence would solve the mystery and give us the opportunity to recover, conserve and display the wreckage.”
There are several implications that the findings could have if the project is successful. Once the mystery has been solved, when there is no longer any intrigue associated with it, people could become less interested in learning about both the incident and Earhart.
“People will no longer be able to come up with wild conspiracy theories about what happened to her,” said Kimberly Strickland, a Psychology major at Florida State University. “I saw a documentary once talking about how she became a spy in France and then retired to become a housewife after the war. So, after they find her, people will be unable to come up with plausible [or implausible] theories about what happened.”
This could also affect a sense of national identity for Americans. People in this country – as in all countries – pride themselves on their myths and legends. Earhart and her missing plane have acted as a great American mystery for so long that finding her plane would likely create a void that would be difficult to fill.
There is also the possibility of this expedition being a dead end. There have been numerous false leads in the past, so while people should feel hopeful, they must also be realistic about the chances of the crash actually being found.
The results will speak for themselves come July.