Oceanographer who discovered Titanic wreckage, now searching for missing Earhart plane

Legendary oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic wreckage, was in Atchison, speaking to students about his current expedition to track down the missing Amelia Earhart plane.

Posted: Sep 3, 2019 7:26 PM

(ATCHISON, Ks.) It was 34 years ago when Witchita, Kansas native and legendary oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard and his team first discovered the Titanic wreckage 12,500 ft. deep in the Atlantic Ocean. Now, the team set out on a new mission that hits closer to home.

Ballard, an explorer with National Geographic, said he is searching for the plane wreckage of Amelia Earhart's after she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, went missing somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in July 1937.

"Oh, [the plane] is there. I mean, we're not looking for the Loch Ness Monster," Ballard said. "I think it absolutely is going to get found - it's a question of when."

Ballard said there are several theories floating around about Earhart's disappearance, but he's basing his mission on two. The first is that Earhart, who was aiming for Howland Island when she vanished, actually landed the plane on an island a little farther south of Howland called Nikumaroro (used to be known as Gardner Island).

"We are focusing on the only two viable theories, and we're going after both of them at the same time," Ballard said. "We just spent a tremendous amount of time off of Gardner Island working."

The group found skeletal remains during their exploration of Gardner Island. Ballard said they have been sent to a lab in Miami, Florida for DNA tests. 

The second theory is that Earhart's Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft ran out of fuel, causing the plane to crash somewhere in the Pacific Ocean near Howland Island. On Tuesday, Ballard said his team was getting ready for a dive, exploring the ocean around that island.

"We'll be cycling back in 2021 to continue our exploration after they finish up off of Howland," Ballard said. "We'll be back off Howland for sure, and we'll be bringing newer technology."

A special two-hour long T.V. special covering Ballard and his team's exploration titled "Expedition Amelia" will air on National Geographic on October 20. 

"It begins in Atchison, Kansas at her birthplace," Ballard said. 

Ballard was in the area on Tuesday, speaking to students at Atchison High School about the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) career fields.

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