A pilot and explorer who embarked on an $11 million expedition at sea believes he has solved one of the world’s greatest mysteries: the final resting place of Amelia Earhart’s plane that vanished in 1937.
Tony Romeo, a former Air Force intelligence officer and the CEO of Deep Sea Vision, sold commercial real estate to fund his deep-sea exploration of the Pacific Ocean last year, when he combed the ocean floor with sonar technology in the suspected area of Earhart’s crash.
His team reviewed sonar data in December caught by an underwater drone from his research voyage and found a startling image: a blurry, plane-like shape Romeo believes is Earhart’s twin engine Lockheed 10-E Electra.
The image was taken about 100 miles from Howland Island, halfway between Australia and Hawaii.
Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were expected to land there in July 1937 for a refueling stop in her bid to be the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe — but they never made it.
She was declared dead two years later, after the U.S. concluded she had crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, and her remains were never found.
While the image is blurry, Romeo believes it is Earhart’s aircraft, given its unique shape.
“Well, 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,” he told NBC’s “TODAY” show in an interview that aired Monday.
“There’s no other known crashes in the area, and certainly not of that era in that kind of design with the tail that you see clearly in the image,” he added.
While it’s too soon to determine whether it is indeed the long-lost aircraft, it’s an exciting prospect.
Romeo’s team plans to return to the site this year or early next year with a camera and a remotely operated vehicle to snap better images of the site.
“The next step is confirmation, and there’s a lot we need to know about it. And it looks like there’s some damage. I mean, it’s been sitting there for 87 years at this point,” he said.
And returning is no easy, or cheap, feat, as the voyage requires expensive high-tech gear. Romeo’s voyage used an underwater Hugin drone manufactured by the Norwegian company Kongsberg, The Wall Street Journal reported.
In his last voyage, the expedition used an uncrewed submersible to scan 5,200 square miles of ocean floor. The image of the suspected plane was found resting 5,000 meters underwater, the Journal reported.
“I think myself that it is the great mystery of all time,” Romeo said. “Certainly the most enduring aviation mystery of all time.”