Robots join hunt for wreckage of Amelia Earhart's plane

Amelia Earhart was flying a Lockheed Electra airplane when she disappeared in 1937

By Jeremy Hsu - Today MSNBC

U.S. Navy warships and aircraft failed to find Amelia Earhart when the pioneering female aviator vanished in the South Pacific during her second attempt to fly around the world in 1937.

This summer, aviation archaeologists have enlisted the help of underwater robots to find the wreckage of Earhart's aircraft.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (or TIGHAR) suspects that Earhart's Lockheed Electra landed on a reef of the uninhabited coral atoll formerly known as Gardner Island and stayed there for several days before waves washed the aircraft over the reef's edge — perhaps enough time for the aviator and her navigator to have sent out radio distress calls.

The expedition plans to deploy ship sonar and two robot submersibles to search the slope of the underwater reef for any aircraft parts.

"We will not be recovering anything on this trip," said Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR. "The objective is to get imagery and photographs of what's there."

The expedition is scheduled to set out aboard the Hawaiian research vessel "Ka'Imikai-o-Kanaloa" from Honolulu on July 2 — the 75th anniversary of Earhart's disappearance.

Its underwater robots are capable of searching with sonar and taking black-and-white photos down to a depth of almost 5,000 feet (1,500 meters), as well as checking out sonar targets with high-definition video down to a depth of 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).

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Amelia Earhart Pacific atoll Nikumaroro Gardner Island International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery