Sonar Map Pinpoints Amelia Earhart’s Electra?

Michael Serapio gives a lesson on how to read sonar

03 Jun Sonar Map Pinpoints Amelia Earhart’s Electra?

Liesbeth Teerink is Amelia Earhart look-a-likeWhen we heard that Amelia Earhart’s airplane may have been discovered by sonar mapping off the Island of Nikumaroro in the South Pacific, the staff here at FishHunter became very excited because our Creative Director Liesbeth Teerink is the modern day embodiment of this legendary female aviator.  She has the same pioneering spirit and we think you will agree,  she even looks like Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Earhart was America’s ‘Queen of the Air’, primarily because she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Her first solo flight on May 20 1932 (she landed on May 21st in Londonderry) catapulted her to international fame.  The flight lasted fifteen hours which was five hours less than the last time she crossed, in the company of a man who did all they flying five years earlier in 1928.  Even still, after that flight she was recognized as being the first woman to cross the Atlantic in the air.

In 1932 she flew the plane herself, and four years after that in 1936, as one of the world’s foremost feminist  celebrities she announced her plans to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air.  It was while on this adventure on behalf of women everywhere that she went missing.  Earhart and her navigator vanished without a trace on 2 July 1937 after they took off from Papua New Guinea. They were more than halfway through the mission.

Sonar Mapping is a Search for Anomalies

sonar for studying ocean depths searches for Amelia Earhart

Nikumaroro is one of thousands of tiny desert islands between Australia and Hawaii, and is now gaining fame as the point where Amelia Earhart could quite possibly have crash landed and died seventy five years ago.

The sonar image, taken during an expedition on July 15, 2012 by a company contracted by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), depicts a narrow object, similar to the shape of an airplane wing, nearly 22 feet long lodged in the side of a steep underwater cliff off the coast of Nikumaroro Island. The island, in what is today the Republic of Kiribati which sounds like a cool place to visit and go fishing.

Sonar mapping is all about searching for anomalies. “When you are looking for man-made objects in a natural environment, it is important to look for things that are different, and this is different. It is an anomaly unlike anything else in that underwater environment,” says Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR.  Gillespie and his team uploaded the images taken from the July 2012 expedition onto their online forum in March 2013 for the public to see. “It was somebody online who noticed the object and directed our attention to it,” says Gillespie.  “The object makes for the best target to check out with an underwater vehicle,” he said.

TIGHAR cannot confirm that this is a piece of Earhart’s wreckage, but the sonar image fits with what  Gillespie believes happened to Earhart.

“She landed the plane safely on a reef off Nikumaroro Island,” says Gillespie. “The wreckage washed into the ocean with the high tide and broke up in the surf. There is archaeological evidence on that island that we believe indicates that Earhart was marooned there  until her death several days later.”

New clues have surfaced on a coral atoll called Nikumaroro

Amelia_Earhart_vintage_Electra_propellerThere were a variety of objects collected by archaeologists at a site on the uninhabited island. At one point it was reported that  may have originally been American beauty and skin care products, all dating to the 1930s, says a new summary of research by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery or TIGHAR.

TIGHAR researchers had already suggested that a small jar, found broken in five pieces, could have contained Dr.‭ C.H. Berry’s F‬reckle Ointment. Marketed in the early 20th century, the concoction promised to make freckles fade. “This broken bottle was found partially melted in the remains of a cooking fire,” Thomas King, TIGHAR’s senior archaeologist and author of the summary article. “It may have been used in an effort to boil or distill drinking water — there is no fresh surface water on Nikumaroro except what can be caught during sporadic rain squalls,” King said.

Dr Berry Freckle Cream for Amelial Earhart

“It’s well-documented Amelia had freckles and disliked having them,” Joe Cerniglia, the TIGHAR researcher who spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match is quoted as saying.  Cerniglia also identified two other bottles as containers of skin products. One green bottle was possibly St. Joseph’s Liniment, which had applications in first aid and as a mosquito repellent.

Other beauty products included a shattered bottle with the word “Mennen” embossed on its side in Art Deco lettering, apparently a 1930s lotion or cosmetic container of American origin, and small fragments of red material chemically identified as probable cosmetic rouge.

“Earhart is known to have carried a compact which, if it was like others of the period, would have contained rouge,” King said. “Chemical analysis on one of the metal pieces indicate the presence of carminic and alginic acids, often used in cosmetics,”

No beauty case is complete without a mirror, and indeed two small pieces of thin beveled glass that match the mirror of a known 1930s vintage American woman’s compact were found at the site.

Spectrographic analysis on another bottle revealed it likely contained Campana Italian Balm, a popular American hand lotion in the 1930s. “Traces of a substance found in the Nikumaroro fragment matched well with residue from an intact 1934 Campana Italian Balm bottle,” Cerniglia said.


In July 2012 TIGHAR fundraising allowed researchers to finally charter a specially equiped vessel from the University of Hawaii to scour the seabed around an uninhabited atoll where Earhart and her navigator may have crash-landed after losing their way. The expedition used sonar equipped robotic underwater vehicles to map the seabed but at first this initiative found no sign of any plane.

CBC_Michael_Serapio_Amelia_Earhart_sonar_mapEverything changed in March of 2013 when an online visitor noticed an object in a sonar picture that the expedition had just made public. It amounts to no more than a thin golden line on a grainy image taken in 180-metre-deep water, but this particular anomaly matches surviving parts of fuselage from other Electra accidents.  Richard Gillespie believes that Amelia Earhart crash-landed on the atoll and survived for a while as a castaway after the plane was swept into the ocean by rising tides. From the edge of the island the seabed drops off sharply, reaching a depth of 7,000m in parts.

“Our minds tend to make things out to be what we want them to be, we know that. Maybe it’s a fishing boat that nobody knew about. Maybe it’s an unusual coral reef. But it’s the right size, the right shape, and it’s in the right place to be part of the Electra,” Gillespie said.

TIGHAR’s next expedition to the island of Nikumaroro, and everything it uncovers there will be captured by a film crew from Discovery Channel and aired as a documentary in August.

At FishHunter, we’re watching this story develop alongside our own real life Amelia whom we all desperately hope she doesn’t decide to circumnavigate the globe and then crash in the Pacific and die on a hot sandy beach surrounded by a wide array of expensive cosmetics.  Post by on 31 May 2013