CHICAGO—American pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared 75 years ago this summer while attempting to fly around the world. Since then, other adventurers have been trying to solve the mystery of what happened to her and her navigator. Among them is Ric Gillespie who heads TIGHAR; a non-profit international group that attempts to recover historic aircraft. Gillespie has been looking for Amelia Earhart's plane near a tiny island in the south Pacific since 1989. And on his latest quest, he took along Chicago still photographer Laurie Rubin.
“I was gonna get on this boat with 30 people I have never met before and then once you’re on it, there’s no getting off. It’s like a blind date. It was 10 days getting there, 10 days there, and 10 days getting back. It wasn’t like a cruise. It’s a scientific vessel. There were 30 of us all together-32 – 14 seamen, professional sailors, and then the rest were all scientific crews. So you were all coming together with the same goal and each person has a different role. It’s a real different culture- looking for things under water and working underwater. Once you see how big and barren it is out there and how hot and how hard it is to survive, you kind of want an answer. Amelia Earhart was a hero from when I was really young. She was the first true media star that was not a movie star. Did they crash? Did Fred and Amelia survive on the island for any point of time? Did they die immediately. We’re setting out to look for conclusive evidence. Any aluminum from an airplane, any artifacts. You’re in very tight quarters and it’s rocking a lot the whole time. So we’re all walking down the halls like drunks. There’s no telephone, no email, no mail. There’s absolutely no contact with the outside world, other than what you could get on a satellite phone. These are my letters home to my husband. My biggest challenge so far is the lens on my camera is steaming up when I move from inside the ship’s labs to the outside. Nikumaroro is right on the equator. It’s part of the Phoenix island chain. It’s really tiny- where is it? It’s in the middle of no place. Ric thinks it’s plausible that she, Amelia would have or could have survived for a week if not a month as a castaway on that island. The area hadn’t been mapped since 1942 so nobody really knew what it looked like underwater. It’s basically a big coral reef and you drive the dinghy up and then you get up and have to walk on the coral reef ‘til you get to the island. And animals are not afraid or don’t leave when you walk up, they’re not used to seeing people; a million different species of crabs. Close to the island he brings in a giant yellow fin tuna. So we had sushi that night it was fantastic. We’re here, 75 years and nine days after Amelia was here. We imagine she would have seen the same sky. It becomes apparent to me for the first time this is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I’m still finding it hard to believe how lucky I am to be here.. the days are going by really fast. We will start to head for home tonight at midnight. It’s worth looking for the answers. It is totally worth looking for the answers whether you find ‘em or not. It’s the journey. It was really worth it.”
So, no smoking gun was found. But they did find offshore debris they want to explore on their next trip. You can learn more about their journey on the Discovery Channel program, "Finding Amelia." And you can meet Ric Gillespie and Laurie Rubin in Chicago on Saturday, September 15th. You'll find full details by clicking these links.