Earhart clues sought in Alaska wreckage

Lockheed Electra is same type of craft famed aviatrix disappeared in

Posted: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

KETCHIKAN - Researchers trying to solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart's disappearance searched for clues in the wreckage of a plane that crashed 61 years ago in Misty Fiords National Monument.

The researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, which has been investigating Earhart's disappearance for the past 15 years, went in July with archeologists from the U.S. Forest Service to find the site of the 1943 Alaska crash.

After a two-day hike in July through muskeg and steep, forested terrain, the team found the wreckage of the plane of Harold Gillam, a well-known Alaska aviator. Gillam and a passenger had died in the crash; four other passengers survived for 33 days in the winter wilderness before being rescued.

Gillam and Earhart had been flying the same type of plane - the Lockheed Electra. The researchers wanted to know if parts from the Alaska wreckage matched those they earlier found on a South Pacific island.

Earhart's disappearance at age 39 remains one of America's great mysteries and the subject of continuing searches of the Pacific.

She had set numerous flying records when she began her final flight May 20, 1937, from Oakland, Calif. She made it as far as New Guinea, where she took off on July 2 for tiny Howland Island on a 2,556-mile flight. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, never made it to the tiny atoll southwest of Hawaii.

On Nikumaroro Island in the Pacific, the historic aviation recovery group found dados - pieces of metal used to protect wiring in the passenger compartment - but were unable to confirm the type of plane that they came from.

The group needed to compare the parts they found to original dados from a Lockheed Electra to see if the wreckage could be from Earhart's plane.

Dados tend to get replaced whenever an aircraft is remodeled, said Ric Gillespie, the executive director of the historic aviation group. All the Lockheed Electras in museums have been refurbished, making their dados useless for comparison.

It turned out that the dados on the Gillam plane had been modified for Alaska Bush flight, though the expedition did provide clues of a link.

"We're seeing some of the same manufacturing techniques as parts from the island," Gillespie said.

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