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Thursday, June 8, 2000

Earhart’s airplane
is sea hunt’s
next goal

An ocean exploration firm is
working with 'Nova' and others to
get funding for the south-
central Pacific search

By Helen Altonn


An ocean exploration company that has found wreckage of third century B.C. and World War II ships has a new goal: Amelia Earhart's airplane on the Pacific seafloor.

It is believed to be at about the same depth -- 17,000 feet -- that the company, Nauticos Corp., found the World War II Japanese submarine I-52 in 1995.

David W. Jourdan, president of Maryland-based Nauticos, discussed the company's deep sea investigations yesterday at the Pacific Congress on Marine Science and Technology at the Hawaiian Regent Hotel.

With organizations such as PACON bringing commercial, academic and government leaders together for ocean work, Jourdon said, "Maybe we can accomplish something as dramatic as the Voyager deep space explorations."

Nauticos and "Nova," the PBS science series, are working with Elgen and Marie Long, authors of "Amelia Earhart -- The Mystery Solved," to find funding and begin a search for Earhart's plane.

She disappeared off Howland Island in the south-central Pacific on July 2, 1937. Long, who made an around-the-world solo flight in 1971, and his wife believe Earhart simply ran out of gas.

Jourdon said the I-52 Japanese sub was sunk by allied forces while delivering raw materials and gold bullion to Germany in 1944.

The "treasure ship" was located through a government-commercial partnership after reconstructing its route.

"The focus was to find the gold, which by the way is still there and may never be raised," Jourdon said. Dramatic sonar images were captured, however, and a documentary was made.

Among other exploits, Nauticos discovered the Israeli submarine DAKAR last year at a 10,000-foot depth in the Mediterranean Sea.

The company was hired in a U.S.-Israeli Navy program to find the World War II, British-built boat, which was en route to Haifa via Gibraltar on its maiden voyage when communications ceased.

"It was a pure cultural mission," Jourdon said, explaining that the Israeli policy is "never to leave a soldier on the field, dead or alive."

They had been looking for the DAKAR for 31 years because it sank with 69 sailors, and it's still not known why, he said.

The expedition resulted in some scientific developments and an archaeological find: Wreckage of a ship believed to be about 2,300 years old.

Archaeologists believe the ship had been transporting wine, Jourdon said.

He showed pictures of the wreckage and intact artifacts, noting the opportunities for historical, cultural and archaeological studies.

Nauticos also participated in explorations of the World War II Battle of Midway site last year with the Naval Oceanographic Office.

"Nobody paid us anything," he said. "We got to use some neat equipment and the rights to produce a documentary."

Using University of Hawaii sea-floor mapping technology, the ocean hunters found wreckage from at least one of four Japanese aircraft carriers sunk in the battle in June 1942.

Jourdon said his company would be interested in explorations with the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory.

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