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New Amelia Earhart search in works

Clinton, LaHood voice support for effort to find pilot

Amelia Earhart vanished on July 2, 1937.

WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had encouraging words Tuesday for a new investigation into one of the 20th century’s most enduring mysteries: the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago.

Clinton and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gave their support to historians, scientists, and salvagers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which is launching a new search for the wreckage of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane off the remote island of Nikumaroro.

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Earhart was an inspiration to Americans in difficult times as the nation struggled to emerge from the Great Depression, Clinton said, adding that her legacy can serve as a model for the country now.

“Amelia Earhart may have been a unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck, but she embodies the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world,’’ Clinton said at a State Department event to announce the new search. “She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder.’’

“After a long decade of war, terrorism, and recession, there are some who are asking whether we still have what it takes to lead, and like that earlier generation we too could use some of Amelia’s spirit,’’ she said.

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared July 2, 1937, while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island as part of her attempt to become the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe.

Extensive searches at the time uncovered nothing and many historians are convinced they crashed into the ocean.

But the aircraft recovery group believes Earhart and Noonan may have managed to land on a reef abutting the atoll and survived for a short time. They surmise that the plane was washed off the reef by high tides shortly after the landing and that the wreckage may be found in the deep waters nearby.

Their previous visits to the island have recovered artifacts that could have belonged to Earhart and Noonan and suggest they might have lived for days or weeks. Now, they are armed with new analysis of an October 1937 photo of the shoreline of the island. That analysis shows what government specialists believe may be a strut and wheel of a Lockheed Electra landing gear protruding from the water.

Renowned oceanographer Robert Ballard, who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic and is advising the Earhart expedition, said the new analysis of the photograph could be the equivalent of a “smoking gun’’ as it narrows the search area.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of the group, said the search is scheduled to last for 10 days in July and will use underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment. The Discovery Channel will film the expedition for a documentary, he said.

The Obama administration takes no position on any purported evidence. But Clinton, who noted that the State Department and other federal agencies had actively supported Earhart’s flight, cheered the searchers on.

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