ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. On July 2nd, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared while flying over the South Pacific. The mystery has gone unsolved for nearly 75 years.
Well, today, there was a high profile endorsement of a new effort to discover what happened. It came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
HILLARY CLINTON: Now, Amelia Earhart may have been an unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck, but she embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world.
BLOCK: Secretary Clinton spoke at the State Department to a crowd including members of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR. It's launching that new mission to solve the Earhart mystery this July.
Ric Gillespie is executive director and founder of the group. He joins me here in the studio. Welcome to the program.
RIC GILLESPIE: It's wonderful to be here, Melissa.
BLOCK: Seventy-five years after Amelia Earhart disappeared, why this new mission now? What are you basing this on?
GILLESPIE: We have a new piece of information. There was a photograph taken of the western shore of Nikumaroro.
BLOCK: This is an island in the South Pacific?
GILLESPIE: An island. Nikumaroro is a coral atoll in the republic of Kiribas, very remote, but it's on the line of navigation that Earhart said she was following in her last radio transmission in 1937. So, it turns out there was a photograph taken of the western shoreline of that island just three months after she disappeared. And, in that photograph, there's something that shouldn't be there. There's something sticking up out of the water on the edge of the reef.
We had our own forensic imaging people look at it and what came back was - well, it looks like Lockheed Electra landing gear components.
BLOCK: And the Lockheed Electra was the plane that Earhart was flying that day?
GILLESPIE: Yes, of course. Amelia was flying a Lockheed Electra. So here, we had a report that there may be a piece of her airplane in a photograph taken three months after she disappeared, on the shore of this island. So we asked the State Department to help us with forensic imaging analysis and the opinion of their photographic specialist was the same as ours. That was something of a breakthrough for us. If it is, indeed, a picture of one of her landing gears, it tells us where the airplane went over the edge of the reef and it's right where we thought it should be.
BLOCK: Or at least it was in 1937.
GILLESPIE: In 1937. Yeah.
BLOCK: So now, in 2012, what will you be doing to try to find it?
GILLESPIE: We will be searching the underwater reef slope where we think the wreckage of the airplane ended up. It's a craggy underwater mountainside and, of course, it's a very difficult environment. But if we're right, there should be wreckage there, so we're going with the technology it will take to find such wreckage.
BLOCK: And the funding for this project comes from what?
GILLESPIE: The funding for this project comes from contributions from the general public and from corporations. There is no taxpayer dollars being spent on this. We have the wonderful benefit of an endorsement from the secretary of state, but that's what it is. It's a go get 'em, tiger, and that's wonderful to have, but it's up to us to raise the money.
BLOCK: Mr. Gillespie, what if you come up empty? What if you do this search with all of this underwater technology and find nothing?
GILLESPIE: Oh, Melissa, we've found nothing so many times.
BLOCK: You're used to it by now.
GILLESPIE: And if we find nothing underwater, it doesn't invalidate all of the other things we've found that say, yeah, this is the right place. Sure, we'll be disappointed, but it doesn't change anything. It means we have more searching to do. You never give up.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Gillespie, best of luck. Thanks for coming in.
GILLESPIE: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Ric Gillespie. He's the founder of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR. We were talking about a renewed discovery effort to find out what happened to Amelia Earhart nearly 75 years ago.