(LIN) - Could we be just weeks, maybe months, away from closing the books on the mystery surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart? The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or, TIGHAR, hopes to make progress toward answering some of the many questions surrounding Earhart's July 2, 1937 disappearance.
Earhart ascended into the international spotlight in 1932 when, at the age of 34, she became the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight. The feat earned her the Distinguished Flying Cross from the U.S. Congress.
Her experiences in the growing aviation industry landed her a spot on the faculty of Purdue University in 1935. In 1936, the university agreed to help finance her latest aspiration, to circumnavigate the globe by air.
The next year, she set out with navigator Fred Noonan and a brand new Lockheed Electra 10E to accomplish the feat.
On the day of her disappearance, Earhart and Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea, with only 7,000 miles left in her attempt to complete the historic trip. What happened later that day remains up for debate.
Two prevalent hypotheses exist among the thousands of theories or suggestions as to what happened to Earhart and Noonan; they either ran out of fuel and crashed into the Pacific Ocean or managed to land the plane and survive as castaways on an atoll until the duo perished.
Retired Navy aviator Elgen Long, the principle of the "Crash and Sink" theory , contends Earhart was simply running low on fuel and unable to find Howland Island where she was scheduled to stop for fuel. She never made it and ditched into the Pacific. Long hypothesizes her plane then filled with water and sank to the bottom of the ocean.
The second theory, touted by TIGHAR, involves Earhart and Noonan realizing they would not make their intended destination with the remaining fuel onboard their aircraft. The theory has the duo landing their Lockheed Electra on then Gardner Island (now called Nikumaroro) and surviving there as castaways until they eventually perished.
Central to the TIGHAR theory is the idea Earhart was still able to broadcast distress signals. These transmissions would explain some of the 120 radio signals reported in the days following the disappearance. In a June 2, 2012 presentation, TIGHAR reported its new analysis of the reported signals — 57 of which were found to be credible.
In order for signals to be transmitted from Earhart's plane, it would have needed to be relatively undamaged. At the very least, the radio, antenna and battery would have had to be removed from any potential wreckage. However, the battery would have quickly run out of power before the last of the multiple transmissions were received. Thus, the TIGHAR theorists believe Earhart used the plane's engines to power a generator to recharge the battery — a process that would have required the plane to be mostly intact.
So, what happened to the Lockheed Electra? According to TIGHAR, the Pacific's surf battered the plane until it was washed from the shoreline. Eventually, the surf would tear apart the fuselage and distribute the wreckage wherever the currents carried it. This part of the TIGHAR theory is the basis of a new expedition to Nikuaroro that begins on this, the 75th anniversary of Earhart's disappearance.
Known as Niku 7 , the expedition will set sail on July 2, 2012. According to the expedition's official website, "The objective of the expedition is to locate, identify, and photograph any and all surviving aircraft wreckage."
The Niku 7 team will use a sonar-quipped ship and an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to scan the ocean floor in hopes of finding the wreckage. Once the search area has been mapped by both the ship and the AUV, a video-enabled Remote Operated Vehicle will be sent to explore potential wreckage.
According to the project's website , a Discovery Channel crew will be a part of the expedition in hopes of filming the work for a television special scheduled to air later this year.
If successful in its mission, TIGHAR will help to close one of the remaining chapters in the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
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