- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Marine explorer David Jourdan wants to solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries — the fate of famed pilot Amelia Earhart.

Mr. Jourdan and his Maine-based company, Nauticos, plan to begin an expedition in the spring using sonar to sweep a 1,000-square-mile swath of ocean bottom west of tiny Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean, roughly midway between Australia and Hawaii.

It is the latest in a string of missions to learn what happened to Earhart when she and navigator Fred Noonan and their Lockheed Electra plane vanished July 2, 1937, on a flight around the world.

“Things tend to last a time” in the deep ocean, Mr. Jourdan said. “Our expectation is the plane will be largely, if not completely, intact.” That is, if the plane is in the ocean.

At 17,000 feet beneath the surface, the temperature of ocean water is just above freezing, oxygen is sparse and currents are relatively calm, which are ideal conditions for preserving an airplane that might have crashed into the depths nearly 70 years ago.

One of those going along on the Nauticos mission is Elgen Long, a former commercial pilot who has spent 30 years researching the mystery.

Mr. Long, 77, of Reno, Nev., thinks the answer to Earhart and Noonan’s fate lies in their radio communications with a U.S. Coast Guard cutter that was tracking their course near Howland Island. Using Coast Guard radio operators’ logs, Mr. Long concluded that Earhart had been perilously low on gas because of a head wind much stronger than she had expected. One of her last radio calls said she had only a half-hour of fuel left and couldn’t see land.

“We can follow her all the way across the Pacific,” he said of the radio records. “She ran out of gas just when she said she was going to.”

This is Mr. Jourdan’s second search of the area west of Howland; a 2002 mission was aborted because of technical problems. The same general area was searched in 1999 by another mission that found nothing conclusive, but Mr. Jourdan said his new expedition, costing about $1.5 million, will use better sonar technology and more accurate information on where the plane could have crashed.

The shortage of oxygen and the fairly still water means a metal airplane likely would not have completely corroded, he said. Any human remains would have long vanished, but Mr. Jourdan hopes to find clues such as Earhart’s jewelry in the pilot’s seat, or perhaps even her leather jacket.

“That would be eerie,” he said.

If Mr. Jourdan finds it, Nauticos would plan another mission to raise the plane, which would become the centerpiece of a traveling exhibit on Earhart’s life, he said.

Earhart’s stepson, George Putnam, was 16 years old when her plane disappeared. Mr. Putnam, now 83 and living in Florida, said he supports the mission partly because it could end the wild speculation about what had happened to her. He doesn’t mind if Nauticos salvages the plane.

“Let’s see what happens,” he said.

To Mr. Long, it could be his last chance to solve one of the 20th century’s biggest mysteries.

“We need the true story of what happened,” he said. “The history we read needs to be correct.”

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