The Waitt Institute for Discovery, a non-profit research organization established by Ted Waitt, founder and former Chairman of Gateway, Inc., has launched its new Search for Amelia web site. Created to publish the full results from the Institute's 2009 search for Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra, the site is also a gateway for information on Earhart's life and legacy. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared without a trace near Howland Island in the Pacific during Amelia's 1937 attempt to fly around the world.
The Waitt Institute's recent expedition to find Earhart's plane, known as CATALYST 2, was a collaboration with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). The area surveyed was based on extensive research completed by a team of experienced air accident investigators. The initial search area was a 2,500-square-mile box - an area equivalent to the state of Delaware -- located off the western shores of Howland Island. The Research Report is available on the site. The search area was 1,100 miles, approximately four days travel for HBOI's Research Vessel Seward Johnson, north of our base of operations in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
The mission covered 7,000 linear miles of ocean floor, generating a 2,200-square-mile mosaic, at an average depth of 5,200 meters using a pair of cutting-edge REMUS 6000 Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). The most sophisticated deep-sea search vehicles available today, these AUVs are pre-programmed to operate independently once released from the support ship. When the vehicles reach their planned depth, about three miles beneath the surface, they begin flying over the ocean bottom at an average speed of 3.5 knots using side scan sonar to capture a swath of sonar imagery at least 1,200 meters. The vehicles feature a pencil-beam automatic sonar collision-avoidance system to allow them to operate in rugged underwater terrain. They also have an exceptional degree of navigational accuracy. Once a target is found in the sonar data, the vehicles are then re-programmed to return to the coordinates of the target, do a higher resolution sonar pass deeper and closer to the object, and then a conduct a high resolution photo shoot of the object. Nimble and highly efficient, the Waitt Institute's AUVs are truly revolutionary in the world of underwater search.
Waitt said: "Our AUVs were able to efficiently search a massive area and then re-acquire, re-image and clearly photograph very small targets including a pipe, a chain, a metal drum and even a six-inch-wide cable, well over three miles below the ocean's surface. We've mapped geology no one has ever seen, and we now know far more about what lies beneath the waves in the North Pacific today than we did yesterday. This work will hopefully not only benefit explorers, but also oceanographers, geologists, biologists and others in the science community."
Ted Waitt and the Waitt Institute have received positive comments from industry experts regarding SearchforAmelia.org, including...
Mike Williamson, founder and president of Williamson & Associates, a prominent geophysical consulting firm that has also worked in the region: "A very impressive survey... a definitive statement that AUVs have come of age - a nice piece of work conducted in an astonishingly short field program... It's heartening to know the REMUS 6000s are now assets to the U.S. research community... Well done!"
Elgen Long, author of Amelia Earhart: The Mystery Solved: "A new era in deep ocean search has arrived... the AUV can thoroughly and economically explore areas of the ocean bottom heretofore impractical to search because of tethered sensors... it can find objects in difficult terrain, maneuver itself to examine them and even take detailed photos... The Waitt Institute deserves high praise for this leading-edge scientific endeavor."
Dr. Robert D. Ballard, oceanographer and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence: "Ted Waitt is a trailblazer in ocean exploration and underwater technologies who embodies the spirit of explorers like Amelia Earhart. Waitt has put his high-tech Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to work in an enormous search area - some 2,000 square miles - and conducted one of the most credible searches for Earhart's plane to date. He is also to be commended for making the resulting data public. No doubt this data will inform future searches for evidence of this lost explorer."
Although unable to locate Earhart's plane, Waitt describes the expedition as a success: "The precision of our AUVs' search lanes generated incredibly high quality sonar data. We then meticulously analyzed that data to discover very small targets. This gives us a high degree of certainty that we know where the plane isn't. Put bluntly, if we could find a six-inch cable, we can be pretty certain we didn't miss an airplane. With all the data we're now making freely available, our results eliminate thousands of square miles from future search efforts. I hope this disclosure will lead to the eventual discovery of the lost aircraft, and I hope the demonstration of this technology will lead to other stunning discoveries of the many mysteries that lie at the bottom of the sea."
Waitt Institute Director of Operations Michael Dessner adds: "We are at least the fourth group to search this area for Amelia Earhart's plane, but believe we are the first to fully publish the research that led to our search grid, as well as our search coordinates and final results. This donation of information is unprecedented in the underwater search community, especially when a search is still active."
Going forward, Ted Waitt envisions SearchforAmelia.org as the ideal platform for constructive dialogue - a forum where the contributions and ideas of many can be presented for review and discussion. "Ultimately, I believe Amelia will be found through collaboration," said Waitt. "And in that spirit, we invite all individuals, researchers and organizations interested in solving the mystery of what happened to Amelia Earhart to join the conversation taking place now at SearchforAmelia.org