On July 2, 1937, American aviation pioneer and author Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan took off from Lae, New Guinea in a heavily loaded Lockheed Model 10 Electra. They were never seen again. Earhart was the first woman to receive the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross awarded for becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Many theories emerged after the disappearance of Earhart and Noonan, principal among them being that the Electra ran out of fuel and Earhart and Noonan ditched at sea. The other being that the pair landed and survived for a short time on Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro) and ultimately perished.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) have initiated their project to investigate the Earhart/Noonan disappearance and since then has sent six expeditions to the island. TIGHAR's research has produced a range of documented archaeological and anecdotal evidence supporting this hypothesis. For example, in 1940, a British colonial officer and licensed pilot, radioed his superiors to inform them that he had found a skeleton... possibly that of a woman, along with an old-fashioned sextant box, under a tree on the island's southeast corner. Artifacts discovered by TIGHAR on Nikumaroro have included improvised tools, an aluminum panel (possibly from an Electra), an oddly cut piece of clear Plexiglas the same thickness and curvature of an Electra window and a size 9 Cat's Paw heel dating from the 1930s which resembles Earhart's footwear in world flight photos.
The evidence remains circumstantial, however this latest expedition aims to clear up the mystery once and for all by using an autonomous underwater vehicle, or AUV, that could play a vital role in the mission. Designed and built by Bluefin Robotics, the 16-foot-long, torpedo-shaped AUV is capable of diving to depths approaching 15,000 feet and will take sonar scannings of the atolls coral reef. These scannings could yield evidence of plane fragments. The project will also use a TRV 005 Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) to investigate and photograph targets identified by the AUV.