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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Earhart mystery takes 3 to Saipan

From left, film director and producer Richard Martini, aircraft recovery lead investigator Michael Harris, CNMI Century Insurance's David Sablan Sr. and aircraft recovery specialist Capt. Paul H. Cooper pose for a group photo on Friday afternoon. (Haidee V. Eugenio) Could a journey back to Saipan lead a group of experts to finally lay to rest the 76-year mystery of the disappearance of legendary aviatrix Amelia Earhart? That is what U.S.-based film director, producer, screenwriter, and freelance journalist Richard Martini, famed aircraft recovery lead investigator Michael Harris, and aircraft recovery specialist Capt. Paul H. Cooper are trying to answer in their ongoing research on Saipan.

The three are here to examine evidence whether Earhart, her co-pilot Fred Noonan, and their Lockheed Electra were on Saipan after they disappeared during their round-the-world flight in 1937.

Martini said there’s over 200 islanders who claimed Earhart was here after 1937, and about a dozen U.S. Marines who claimed they found her plane on this U.S. island.

“Doesn’t it make sense to follow the research to see if maybe she was here as opposed to where they have been looking in, in Nikumaroro, where there was no single eyewitness, where she was never in that direction?” Martini told Saipan Tribune in an interview on Friday afternoon.

Another group of experts is searching the Nikumaroro island, a tiny coral atoll some 300 miles southeast of Earhart’s target destination, Howland Island.

Martini said their mission on Saipan is two-fold.

“One is we’re looking for the plane. But we’re also talking to natives and people from here or anyone who has a story of what it was like during the war on Saipan and/or if they have any information that they heard secondhand or from anyone regarding Amelia Earhart’s presence here or a European woman or someone they thought was American and we found at least a dozen people here who are giving us new testimony that’s never been recorded before,” Martini said.

The group regularly uploads updates about their Saipan expedition on their website, earhartonsaipan.com.

For the group, or at least for Harris who found the first sonar in the Titanic, the Earhart project has been a 30-year journey and counting.

The public is encouraged to help in this project by providing information about Earhart’s supposed presence on Saipan in 1937 and onwards.

During this trip, they said they have received help from multi-awarded businessman David Sablan Sr., Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, and other residents, including those who provided testimony to them claiming they saw Earhart.

The story about Saipan as Earhart’s final resting place has been in circulation for decades. In 1966, for example, CBS correspondent Fred Goerner published a book claiming Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed when their aircraft crashed on Saipan while it was still under Japanese occupation.

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