March 20, 2012 -- An exuberant Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "thrilled" to welcome the group of scientists launching a new exhibition into the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart 75 years ago.
"Wow," Clinton said in Washington, D.C., today. "This an exciting day. We haven't had an event quite like this one before and that's what I love about it."
The privately funded half-million dollar effort is expected to begin in July.
The secretary spoke of how Earhart was one of her childhood heroes, introduced to her by her late mother. "Her legacy resonates today for anyone, boys and girls, who dream for the stars," Clinton said, comparing Earhart's journey during the Great Depression and cusp of World War II to today's unsettling time for America and the world
"She embodied the spirit of an America coming of age,"Clinton said. "So here we are to mark a time that's particularly rich in symbolism and opportunity, like Amelia Earhart."
Clinton also gave a special welcome to Tessie Lambourne, the foreign secretary of the island nation of Kiribati, where the exploration is to take place. Lambourne's presence not only symbolized the importance of the search for Earhart, Clinton said, but also the relationship the United States has with the Pacific islands.
As for Earhart, an analysis of a photo uncovered in 2010 of a plane wreck off the Kiribati islands has led specialists to believe there is a "possibility" that the wheel in the grainy photo could be from the airplane the Electra, the plane Earhart flew, a senior State Department official said late Monday night.
The official added that it was enough to warrant exploration but "a very healthy dose of skepticism must be in play."
"We're not making any bets," the official said, adding that Earhart's disappearance remains one of the world's greatest unsolved mysteries. "It's not what you find, but what you're searching for."
The actual picture is not expected to be unveiled until the event and presentation set to take place this morning, which will be attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, famed undersea explorer Dr. Robert Ballard and the foreign minister of Kirabati. All three are expected to speak at the event in Washington, D.C.
The "event will underscore America's spirit of adventure and courage, as embodied by Amelia Earhart, and our commitment to seizing new opportunities for cooperation with Pacific neighbors founded on the United States' long history of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region," the State Department said in a statement.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, also known as Tighar www.tighar.org, which works on the Kiribati islands, has launched a mission to try and search the area where the picture was taken, and use sophisticated Sonar capabilities to see what might be there.
The State Department and Tighar are also working with undersea explorer Ballard, of Titanic fame, on the project.
The search will focus on the remote Pacific atoll called Nikumaroro, which is approximately half way between Australia and Hawaii, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The deserted island of Nikumaroro, which lies 1,800 miles south of Hawaii, was in the line of Earhart's flight path as she flew from New Guinea to Howland Island in July of 1937, when she and navigator Fred Noonan might have gone down during an attempted around-the-world flight.
Tighar champions the theory that the Elektra ended up on the uninhabited Gardner Island, where Amelia landed safely on the island's fringing reef, but after a week of distress calls, rising tides and surf swept the Electra over the reef edge. The group believes that Earhart and Noonan lived for a time as castaways and that the aviator died in a makeshift campsite on the island.
Researchers at Tighar also uncovered a mirror from a woman's compact, buttons and a zipper from a flight jacket during their $500,000 expedition in 2007. All of the found items are American-made and from the 1930s, and all were part of Earhart's inventory.