Eighty-six years after Amelia Earhart disappeared, and following countless searches over and in the Pacific Ocean, the founder of a deep-sea exploration company believes he has found her airplane.
The evidence: a few fuzzy images taken roughly 5,000 meters under the surface of the Pacific, showing what appears to be an object on the ocean floor. Shaped like a plane, the object is located where experts believe the famed pilot went down while attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world.
Tony Romeo, a pilot and former intelligence officer with the U.S. Air Force, is convinced that the image captured in December by his company, Deep Sea Vision, shows the remains of Earhart’s Lockheed 10-E Electra. The aviator and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished in July 1937 after leaving Lae, New Guinea, on their way to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Their disappearance gave rise to conspiracy theories that have endured for nearly a century. Deep Sea Vision’s sonar images may be the latest clue for those trying to unravel the mystery.
“You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that’s anything but an aircraft, for one, and two, that it’s not Amelia’s aircraft,” Romeo told the “Today” show.
In a statement, the South Carolina-based company states that the images were captured along Earhart’s projected flight path, in an area believed to be “untouched by known wrecks.”
Romeo, a commercial real-estate investor who sold his properties to finance his search for Earhart’s plane, told the Wall Street Journal he has spent $11 million on travel, gear and an underwater drone. He plans to return to the area to get better images of the object and, he hopes, prove his theory.
Romeo was not immediately available for comment.
On Sunday, Deep Sea Vision published to its Instagram account the underwater images. The object appears to have outstretched wings and a tail.
What became of Earhart has baffled historians and amateur enthusiasts, some of whom have spent millions of dollars searching for clues.
Some theorize that Earhart and Noonan didn’t crash into the ocean but were stranded on a deserted island where they were forced to land after running out of fuel.
More outlandish theories posit that Earhart was taken prisoner by Japanese forces, or that she was a spy recruited by the U.S. government for a secret surveillance mission. Others believe Earhart somehow used her disappearance to secretly return to the U.S. and live a quiet life away from the spotlight.
Most of the clues generated by searches have yielded false hope and dead ends.
One photo featured in a History Channel documentary, “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” suggested that she and Noonan crash-landed and were captured by the Japanese military. Then a history blogger found the same photograph published in a book from 1935, two years before Earhart disappeared, shattering the theory.
In 2018, researcher Richard Jantz wrote in Forensic Anthropology that bones found on the Pacific island Nikumaroro likely belonged to Earhart. Jantz wrote that he compared the bones to Earhart’s known measurements and concluded that they likely belonged to her. A forensic anthropologist at the University of South Florida used DNA testing in 2019 in an attempt to confirm the theory but would later tell the Tampa Bay Times: “It wasn’t her.”
Romeo, who told the Wall Street Journal he’s been searching for the plane since September, has scanned about 5,200 square miles of ocean floor. The image resembling Earhart’s plane was spotted by his team while reviewing hours of footage; the spot where it was taken is believed to be about 100 miles off Howland Island, where Earhart and Noonan were planning to refuel.
Deep Sea Vision searched the ocean floor using what searchers have called the “Date Line theory,” which holds that Noonan miscalculated his celestial navigation when the pair flew across the International Date Line, throwing off their route by about 60 miles, according to a statement from the company.
If the object in the image is indeed Earhart’s plane, it would appear to be relatively intact despite more than 80 years underwater.
“We always felt that [Earhart] would have made every attempt to land the aircraft gently on the water, and the aircraft signature that we see in the sonar image suggests that may be the case,” Romeo said in the statement.
Earhart’s round-the-world flight was supposed to finish in Oakland. After her disappearance, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard searched the area for 16 days to no avail.