The U.S. State Department is lending its name and good wishes to a private-sector attempt to discover what happened to famed American aviatrix Amelia Earhart 75 years after her disappearance. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement March 20, 2012.
The International Group for Historical Aircraft Recovery is heading the effort, with consultation from Dr. Robert Ballard, who has discovered the ocean-floor wreckage of the Titanic, Bismarck, and other vessels. The privately-funded expedition will center around the island of Nikumaroro in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati. Tessie Lambourne, secretary of foreign affairs and immigration for Kiribati, was present with Clinton for the announcement.
Earhart was second only to Charles Lindhberg in aviation fame when she and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937. Earhart was trying to circumnavigate the globe at its at its longest equatorial route. Earhart and Noonan were on a flight leg from New Guinea to Howland Island when they vanished.
A digitally enhanced version of a photograph taken in the initial search for Earhart and Noonan has triggered the new search. It appears to show what could be one of the landing gear from Earhart's Lockheed twin-engine Electra.
Why is the State Department getting involved? In part because Clinton was linking the effort to the department's celebration of Women's History Month; in part because the State Department helped the U.S Navy coordinate the 1937 search.
The announcement also comes as the Obama Administration is upping the U.S. presence in the Pacific. Finding one of its lost heroes from the depths of the Pacific would certainly signal renewed U.S. interest in the region.
But Clinton wanted to link the effort to something else, as well -- the ideas of hope and optimism.
"America in 1937 was still in the grips of the Great Depression; millions were out of work, millions more were struggling," said Clinton. "Around the world, authoritarianism was on the march. War loomed, people wondered openly about the future of our country. They asked if democracy, if free market capitalism, America itself could survive."
Clinton noted that, after "a long decade of war, terrorism, and recession" the nation could use "some of Amelia's spirit, that sense that anything is possible if we just roll up our sleeves and get to work together."