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Ex-US Air Force officer’s huge breakthrough in Amelia Earhart mystery was nearly missed in $11 million search
Featured Image Credit: Getty stock / 6abc Philadelphia

Ex-US Air Force officer’s huge breakthrough in Amelia Earhart mystery was nearly missed in $11 million search

The potentially groundbreaking expedition almost ended in disaster

A potential breakthrough, which could finally reveal what happened to missing adventurer Amelia Earhart 87 years after she vanished, was almost missed.

While mystery still surrounds the events that led to pioneering aviator Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan's disappearance, we may be closer than ever to discovering what really happened on July 2, 1937.

Just last week, images were released depicting a plane-shaped mass at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, following an extensive $11 million expedition, which Deep Sea Vision CEO Tony Romeo and his brother Lloyd believe could be Earhart's fallen aircraft.

Romeo, a pilot and former US Air Force intelligence officer who funded the search by selling off his commercial real estate properties, is said to be convinced the sonar images show Earhart's Lockheed 10-E Electra plane.

He and his brother are now planning a second expedition, expected to take place later this year or in 2025, to get a better look at the wreckage and hopefully determine whether it is, in fact, Earhart's aircraft.

But while this could prove to be groundbreaking evidence uncovering what actually happened to the trailblazing aviator all those years ago, it turns out the expedition almost ended in disaster.

Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937.
Bettmann/Getty Images

A team of 16 people, including Romeo and his brother, boarded a research vessel from Tarawa, Kribati, a port near Howland Island, back in September, equipped with an underwater drone to scan the floor of the ocean.

Altogether, the team scanned approximately 5,200 square miles of ocean floor, with each outing lasting around 36 hours each.

However, disaster struck when it appeared the hard drive storing the data had been corrupted, and was almost completely wiped, until the Deep Sea Vision COO stepped in and discovered the data could still be retrieved.

The near-disaster quickly turned into a triumph, when they accessed the data and made the potentially groundbreaking discovery.

Romeo told the Daily Mail: "We realized that we had something there — an area that’s very sandy and flat, this immediately stuck out as something that was very likely an aircraft."

The plane-shaped object was within 100 miles of Howland Island.

The sonar image shows an object shaped like a plane.
6abc Philadelphia

The images had been captured at around 30 days into the trip, however the team didn't make the discovery until around 90 days, which meant they were unable to turn back to investigate further.

Experts are now saying a second trip, to look at the wreckage in more detail, will be necessary before any assumptions can be made.

The expedition's search was based around the Date Line theory, which was put forward by former NASA employee and amateur pilot Liz Smith in 2010, as a potential explanation for the disappearance of Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan.

Smith suggested that when the pair crossed the international dateline, Noonan forgot to turn back his calendar by a day, which would've resulted in their aircraft being sent off course by around 60 miles.

While Romeo, felt it was unlikely a pilot with Noonan's experience would make such a mistake, extreme fatigue could've been a huge factor.

Amelia Earhart is at the centre of an 87-year-old mystery.
Bettmann/Getty Images

He explained: "As we looked at it as pilots, you do get exhausted when you’re flying."

Putting the theory to the test, the team were led to coordinates approximately three miles below the surface of the ocean, which is where they picked up the images.

Although there's a chance they may not end up being Earhart's plane, this is the closest anyone has ever come to uncovering the mystery in 87 years.

Topics: NASA