Robotics Firm Confident Amelia Earhart’s Plane Found


A South Carolina marine robotics company seems pretty sure it’s found Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan’s Lockheed Electra in an area not previously searched west of their destination of Howland Island. Earhart and Noonan vanished in 1937 while trying to fly across the Pacific. Late Monday, Deep Sea Vision released side scan sonar images of an object on the ocean floor about the same size and shape of the aircraft. The company had been searching a 5,200-square-mile area for almost three months when the sonar returns were spotted. “We’re thrilled to have made this discovery at the tail end of our expedition, and we plan to bring closure to a great American story,” said company founder Tony Romeo.

The searchers applied a theory put forward 14 years ago that an exhausted Noonan forgot to consider crossing the International Date Line in his celestial navigation calculation and directed Earhart to fly a course 60 miles west of where he intended. Romeo and his team replicated the math, first worked out in 2010 by NASA employee and private pilot Liz Smith, and began their search late last year. It’s not clear what the next steps are, but the Smithsonian is hoping someone goes back for another look. “We are intrigued with DSV’s initial imagery and believe it merits another expedition in the continuing search for Amelia Earhart’s aircraft near Howland Island,” said National Air and Space Museum aeronautics curator Dorothy Cochrane.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Ever since I was a kid, I had great admiration for Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments in early aviation. Brave pioneering woman.

    It was always a hope the remainder of her story could be told in my lifetime. Fingers crossed.

  2. Interesting find. Would be nice to know the location and depth of the sonar imagery. If necessary, a deep submersible for a closer inspection in the hope of a final closure to this epic mystery….

  3. Finally! Tighar proven wrong. Earhart was nearly out of fuel near Howland but they believed that she flew 300 extra miles to Nickamuora.

    • Amen! or that she was captured by the Japanese or that she returned to New Guinea and crashed there or that she quietly returned to the States and lived a normal life.

      Nikumaroro Island but Gardner Island in her day

    • Yeah, not quite proven wrong. The sonar image clearly shows a swept wing thing that could be an aircraft. Doesn’t look at all like a straight wing Lockheed Electra. I’m also sceptical about the dateline theory simply because Noonan missing the date by one day, at the equator, doesn’t provide a 60 mile error. At the most it’s around 16 miles. Check for yourself, you can look up sunrise on July 2, 1937, and July 3, 1937. There’s no real difference. Maybe overcast prevented a celestial fix, and also disguised the precise sunrise. Maybe those on Howland Island simply should have lit a big oil fire.

  4. What a great story to follow in an election year. Nice distraction from the normal s**t show 24 hr news cycle. Can you imagine hauling Earhart’s airplane up from the depths, having it restored and displayed in the Air and Space Museum?

    • After nearly a century bathed in a saline solution, I suspect there is less structure left to the aluminum Electra than the steel Titanic. I doubt that there could be much done besides declare it an international marine sanctuary. Depending on the marine life at that depth, there may not be much to see besides a somewhat airplane-shaped coral reef.

      • Depends on the depth. Some of the images of aircraft on the USS Hornet and Wasp are quite remarkable. Extreme depth, very cold water (just above freezing, even in the tropics) and low oxygen levels have practically pickled them.

  5. I hope this story turns out to be true… maybe that will quell at least one area of conspiracy theories. I agree with Robert that this is a nice diversion from the crap on the so-called ‘news’ channels.

    • Me too. Although I don’t share your optimism about conspiracy theorists. They are never troubled by reality!

  6. Unfortunate timing. Too bad this was not discovered while Paul Allen was still alive and owned the RV Petrel. I loved reading about how his vessel searched for, and found, all sorts of lost WWII historic ships such as the USS Indianapolis, various Japanese battleships including the Yamashiro, Fuso, Hiei and Musashi, the USS Lexington, Ward, Hornet, Wasp, and of course the Japanese aircraft carriers Kaga and Akagi off the Midway Atoll. I am sure that this would have been right up their alley!

    • Let’s hope Rich. Amelia Earhart is a hero and a national treasure. Easy to imagine fund raising would be the easy part.

  7. Interesting that everybody is so quick to identify what looks like a swept-wing aircraft–F-86, maybe–as a Lockheed Electra.

    • Right. And there is a sonar blob below, and to the left, that looks like the missing nose to whatever aircraft that is. The engines on an Electra are a very prominent feature. You’d think there would be an echo of those if it was indeed an Electra.

  8. This would be a wonderful mystery to finally have solved, hope it happens soon. However, one competitive Oceanic Search company, The Nauticos Corporation, has cast some doubt, saying the sonar image provided shows the aircraft with delta wings and obviously the Electra did not have these.

    Hopefully we will find out.

  9. There is still a long way to go on this one. The Japanese occupied the Marshall Islands long before and during WWII. They flew similar sized and configured aircraft in scouting for and maintaining military bases. Many are unaccounted for. During the war U.S. and British forces also operated similar aircraft. Due to weather, navigation, mechanical failure, and combat many from all sides never returned. I wouldn’t call a side scan sonar image from 3 miles down in that area, “Earhart’s plane found just yet.”

  10. She serves as a monument to the self-promoting figures from the 30’s. Here stunt has cost people uncounted millions of dollars and man-hours over the last 80 years. Hope this finally puts an end to it. Hopefully everyone can now rest in peace after this.

    • I’ve always been bothered by Earhart’s modest preparation for this trip. As crummy as the navigation tools and skills available were back then, there were many Earhart didn’t bother to have. She was relying on the luck of “nothing could possibly go wrong.”
      It pains me to speak ill of the dead, but there was a lot of hubris and carelessness there.

  11. Six years ago I circumnavigated in my Mooney, following her route. Interestingly, every time I talk about my trip someone asks, “So, what happened to Amelia Earhart?” I try to explain that, just because I flew her route, I have no idea what happened to her. OTOH, I do point out that the ocean is big and the islands are small, making it statistically likely that she and Fred went down in the ocean.

    Of course, someone is going to have to go down and fetch irrefutable evidence that it is her plane. How many times have people “found” her on or near Nikumaroro Island, 350nm SSE of Howland Island where she was supposed to stop for fuel?

    And just maybe this will remain one of the great, unsolved mysteries of the 20th Century.

  12. “Six years ago I circumnavigated in my Mooney, following her route.”

    That’s REALLY cool. I bet that took a lot of time and money, and I bet the experience was worth it.

  13. So many objects and planes on the bottom of the Pacific why so much certainty this is her plane? I truly hope it is but I would give it about 1 in 10,000 odds.

  14. That’s does not look like the aircraft she was flying. Hope they can get a closer look and a positive identification.

  15. Amelia n Nonan stayed at my grandmothers hotel the night before they disappeared when they left from Lae New Guinea. Ma Stewart n my mother Ela Birrell daughter to Flora met them both at the Lae airport n took them back to Hotel Cecil.

  16. I feel terrible that I do not have – nor have I ever had – the same fascination with this that y’all appear to have. I can see this being a point of interest back in the thirties – and maybe even into the forties, but after a point I feel like its silly to waste thought on this.

    To me this article should be headlined ( with apologies to Saturday Night Live) “Earhart/Noonan Still Dead”. To me that’s the important and memorable thing about it. Two people lost their lives. Hubris, lack of prep, incompetence, human error – all of those are not the point. Knowing how, where , why are also inconsequential. The humanity involved is the worthwhile consideration.

    • I have always thought the commentator of the time, Walter Lippman, most eloquently explained the value of what Earhart attempted:

      “The best things of mankind are as useless as Amelia Earhart’s adventure. They are the things that are undertaken not for some definite, measurable result, but because someone, not counting the costs or calculating the consequences, is moved by curiosity, the love of excellence, a point of honor, the compulsion to invent or to make or to understand. In such persons mankind overcomes the inertia which would keep it earthbound forever in its habitual ways. They have in them the free and useless energy with which alone men surpass themselves.

      Such energy cannot be planned and managed and made purposeful, or weighed by the standards of utility or judged by its social consequences. It is wild and it is free. But all the heroes, the saints and the seers, the explorers and the creators partake of it. They do not know what they discover. They do not know where their impulse is taking them. They can give no account in advance of where they are going or explain completely where they have been. They have been possessed for a time with an extraordinary passion which is unintelligible in ordinary terms.

      No preconceived theory fits them. No material purpose actuates them. They do the useless, brave, noble, the divinely foolish and the very wisest things that are done by man. And what they prove to themselves and to others is that man is no mere creature of his habits, no mere automaton in his routine, no mere cog in the collective machine, but that in the dust of which he is made there is also fire, lighted now and then by great winds from the sky.”