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Exploration team may have spotted Amelia Earhart's long-lost plane in the Pacific

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

With an update now on one of the greatest mysteries of the past century. A deep-sea exploration team believes it has captured images of Amelia Earhart's plane on the ocean floor. The company, Deep Sea Vision, surveyed thousands of square miles of the Pacific Ocean floor last year. Pictures from the expedition show a plane-shaped object about 100 miles from Howland Island. That's where Earhart and her copilot were supposed to refuel before they disappeared in 1937. Howland Island is about 1,700 nautical miles from Honolulu.

Deep Sea Vision CEO and former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer Tony Romeo joins us now. So what makes you think those are images of Amelia Earhart's plane?

TONY ROMEO: Yeah. So we've got, well, three main reasons. First, the twin vertical stabilizers in the back of the empennage, the tail section, are very distinctive of Amelia's aircraft. Two, the area that we found this was incredibly flat and smooth. So, you know, any natural formation protruding up from the bottom would be very unusual. And then, three, the size of the aircraft in the image is, you know, very much within the parameters of what we'd expect for her aircraft.

MARTÍNEZ: How deep is it down there? I mean, can you take something down there to take a closer look?

ROMEO: Yeah, absolutely. You can't dive down there. It's about 15,000 feet. But the next step is to get an ROV down there, take pictures and maybe take a look at what the condition the aircraft is in.

MARTÍNEZ: So what would you need to see, then? What would you need to see, Tony, to make sure that it's 100% Amelia Earhart's plane?

ROMEO: Sure. What we want to see is NR16020. Those are the numbers that were painted on the front and bottom side of the wings of her aircraft. And we expect, based on what we've seen from other World War II airplanes at similar depths in the ocean, that the paint and the plane will be still in really good condition.

MARTÍNEZ: What would it be like for you, Tony, if you actually get confirmation with your own eyes that that is her plane?

ROMEO: Oh, absolutely, it'd be surreal. You know, we had a bottle of 1937 Jameson Whiskey on board. And, yeah, we didn't - we decided not to crack it open 'cause nothing's official yet.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

ROMEO: But we'll be bringing that back with us for the next trip.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the drone that you used to capture these images, I mean, it's really cutting-edge, really expensive technology. And there are so many other mysteries on the ocean floor. Tony, why spend all this time and money on this particular one?

ROMEO: Well, this is the biggest one, I think. It's certainly, you know, the most endearing. Amelia was a - she was an aviation pioneer. She was a, you know, early advocate for women's rights, terrific author. I mean, it just - you know, her story was just so incredible, and it spawned so many different theories and conspiracies over the years that, you know, it'd be nice to finally bring closure to this one.

MARTÍNEZ: What do you think people should know about Amelia Earhart? You're a pilot. I'm sure that you read about her when you were a kid, and maybe she's been some kind of influence on your career as a pilot. What should people know about her?

ROMEO: Yeah, she's super inspirational. And, I mean, the name of the documentary that we're making is called "Why Not Us?" Why can't five, you know, relatively unknown guys go out and solve aviation's biggest mystery? You know, really, the inspiration comes from her. She was - you know, she grew up in very humble beginnings and ended up a worldwide celebrity. You know, that's the message that we're trying to put out in our documentary - is why can't anyone go out and do, you know, that thing you've always wanted to do but just haven't?

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

ROMEO: You're inspired, go do it. And one of my favorite quotes is actually from Amelia Earhart herself, who said - you know, they asked her right before she went on her around-the-world trip, you know, why are you doing this? This is really dangerous, really risky. She said, because I want to. And I just love that quote, and I love that spirit.

MARTÍNEZ: Tony, when you get confirmation, if you get confirmation, you make sure one of your first calls is to us, all right?

ROMEO: Great. Thanks for having me on.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Tony Romeo, CEO of Deep Sea Vision.

(SOUNDBITE OF INVISIBLE BEACH'S "APPLES AND BANANAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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