Hillary Clinton has jumped on the Amelia Earhart bandwagon, just in time for the 75th anniversary of the famed aviator’s disappearance in the South Pacific.
Earhart “embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world,” Clinton said in a press conference at the State Department Tuesday. “She gave people hope and she inspired them to dream bigger and bolder. When she took off on that historic journey, she carried the aspirations of our entire country with her.”
The Secretary of State headlined the event to publicize an expedition this summer by researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), who believe they’ll find Earhart’s plane in the ocean off a remote island in the Pacific nation of Kiribati.
How did Clinton get involved? She’s long been a fan of Earhart’s — as are so many women of her generation — and learned about this effort from staffers at the state department, who’ve worked with TIGHAR founder Ric Gillespie for more than 20 years. Gillespie told us those staffers reviewed his latest evidence and believe he’s on to something. “They got excited — and I have been astounded,” he said.
Gillespie thinks he’s solved the “last great American mystery of the 20th century” — one that has inspired more than its share of complicated theories and searches over the years. But the former aviation accident investigator is feeling pretty confident about this one. He’s made nine trips to what was then called Gardner Island — the uninhabited atoll where he believes Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing in July 1937 — and argues that they may have survived briefly as castaways, based on artifacts found at campsites.
The newest piece of the puzzle: An enhanced photo of the island’s shoreline taken by a British soldier in October 1937 that shows what appear to be parts of a plane sticking out of the water just off shore. Said Gillespie, “It has all the components of the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra” — the model Earhart piloted.
July’s privately funded expedition, filmed as a documentary by the Discovery Channel and advised by “Titanic” discoverer Bob Ballard, will use underwater submarines and equipment to look for the wreckage in a few square miles off the island’s reef. “I’m quite sure it’s there,” said Gillespie.
“Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself,” Clinton told the explorers Tuesday. “So, like our lost heroine, you will all carry our hopes.”
Read also: Amelia Earhart will be focus of year-long exhibition at Portrait Gallery, 3/20/12