Friday, May 31, 2013

'Sonar Image Could Be Amelia Earhart's Plane,' says TIGHAR

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Sonar Image of Amelia Earhart's Plane (Edt 400 px)


      It’s exciting. It’s frustrating. It’s maddening. There is a sonar image in the data collected during last summer’s Niku VII expedition that could be the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. It looks unlike anything else in the sonar data, it’s the right size, it’s the right shape, and it’s in the right place.

So How Did We Miss It?

The purpose of the expedition was to test the hypothesis that the Earhart aircraft, after landing on the reef at Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro), was subsequently washed over the reef edge, broke up in the surf, and sank near the point where the Bevington Object appears in a 1937 photograph. (For a full discussion of the Bevington Object see The Object Formerly Known as Nessie.) If the hypothesis is correct there should be aircraft wreckage somewhere on the reef slope.

The search contractor, using an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), acquired side-scan sonar data along roughly 1.3 nautical miles of shoreline off the west end of Nikumaroro. The reef slope was surveyed from depths of about 100 meters (328 feet) down to 1200 meters (3,937 feet). We considered the primary search area to be the reef slope between the Bevington Object and the wreck of SS Norwich City.

After analyzing the sonar returns, the contractor gave us targets to investigate using video cameras mounted on the Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). When we weren’t trying to find and video selected targets, or rescue the AUV from underwater hang-ups, we “mowed the lawn” running up and down the reef slope. We also explored along the bases of underwater cliffs – known as “catchment” areas – where sinking objects might logically come to rest. . . .

. . . It wasn’t until March 7, 2013 that Richard Conroy, a member of TIGHAR’s on-line Amelia Earhart Search Forum, spotted the anomaly in a sonar map that was included in the Niku VII report in TIGHAR Tracks. Richie has no training in interpreting sonar images but that was probably his biggest advantage. Once you know what to look for, the anomaly is painfully obvious. It gives the impression of being an object that struck the slope at the base of the second cliff at a depth of 187 meters (613 feet), then skidded in a southerly direction for about 40 meters (131 feet) before coming to rest. . . .

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