A team of researchers doing investigative work in the Northern Marianas on the mystery surrounding famed American aviatrix Amelia Earhart's disappearance is reviving efforts to have a CNMI Cultural Center built on Saipan.
Capt. Paul H. Cooper, one of two guest speakers at the Rotary Club of Saipan meeting yesterday, said the center could accommodate not just the world-class Amelia Earhart exhibition the team is putting together but also the CNMI museum.
Cooper said he found the 2005 plan for the proposed $20-million center during discussions with Chuck Jordan, who served as director of the Office of Planning and Statistics for the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
“This program is something that Saipan needs,” said Cooper, a pilot for Southwest Airlines, adding that their team already created a committee to do due diligence to ensure that the project prospers.
According to Cooper, there are grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other funding sources that could subsidize the construction of the center.
“There's plenty [of] available grants to do this project. We just need the people of Saipan to get behind this. We're gathering our resources to bring this forward. I'm excited to be able to share this with you today because the center is what's best for Saipan,” he told Rotarians.
Cooper's team is doing research on Earhart, the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, who disappeared in 1937 aboard a Lockheed Electra Model 10 during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
“Our reason is to solve this aviation mystery that's been plaguing the world for the last 70 years,” said Cooper.
The team is composed of Cooper, film director, producer, screenwriter, and freelance journalist Richard Martini, and aircraft recovery lead investigator Michael Harris.
Harris, who also appeared before the Rotary Club of Saipan in January, said at the time that his visit is to make a documentary on the Naval Construction Battalions, popularly known as Seabees “because we didn't want the word to get out about the Amelia Earhart research that we're doing,” said Cooper.
“A lot of people out there don't want us to succeed,” he said.
Cooper said eyewitness accounts from a dozen U.S. Marines, plus over 200 from various Pacific territories attest that Earhart's plane was shot down and was taken to several islands before it was finally brought to Saipan.
“Her airplane was found here in 1944 by the U.S. Marines when they invaded Saipan. It was flown after they found the airplane then it was destroyed,” he said.
According to Cooper, some 20 eyewitnesses they interviewed on Saipan corroborate that Earhart indeed spent time on island during the Japanese occupation of the Northern Marianas.
Another group, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, is convinced that Earhart went down in Nikumaroro island, about 400 miles southeast of Earhart's intended destination, Howland Island.
“They don't have one piece of evidence. They don't have an eyewitness. Now, have I found a piece of the airplane? Not yet. But I'm close, I believe. The way the dominoes have fallen since I've been here, if my footsteps weren't guided by God, it would not have been possible for me to discover what I've discovered since I've been here. The whole team has just been totally blessed with this experience,” said Cooper.