Pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart’s family express hopes after sonar discovery

The family of legendary pilot Amelia Earhart have offered their perspectives after an expedition discovered what researches believe could be the remains of the aviator's lost airplane.

Earhart disappeared in 1937 while trying to become the first woman to circumnavigate the world by air. Her plane is believed to have gone down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.

Deep Sea Vision, a South Carolina-based sea exploration company, conducted a massive sonar scan of the region and discovered an object deep beneath the surface that resembled the plane the famed pilot was flying at the time of her disappearance.

Bram Kleppner, 58, Earhart's great-nephew, said he and the rest of his family are hopeful that DSV's discovery will bring them new information about their lost loved one.

"It's in about the right place, it sure looks like a plane," he told the Times.

Mr Kleppner said that if DSV does discovery his great-aunt's airplane, he and his family want the remains donated to the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC.

If it is Earhart's plane, and DSV does dredge it up, it is unclear who would ultimately own the discovery.

Mr Kleppner believes that the plane may actually have belonged to one of his distant relatives by way of Earhart's marriage to George Putnam.

Undated picture taken in the 1930s of US aviator Amelia Earhart in front of her plane (AFP via Getty Images)
Undated picture taken in the 1930s of US aviator Amelia Earhart in front of her plane (AFP via Getty Images)

If the blurry objected spotted on DSV sonar images is the plane, its location may ultimately determine its ownership.

Dr Andrew Pietruszka, who teaches underwater archaeology at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, said if the plane was found in international waters that the finders — DSV — could likely legally claim it as salvage. He told the Times that he was sceptical that DSV discovered Earhart’s airplane.

While it’s unlikely that Earhart's remains will be found with the plane — assuming the object even is a plane — her family members have considered what they would do in that event.

Mr Kleppner said his 92-year-old mother, Amy Kleppner, expressed a desire to have Earhart's remains returned to the pilot's birthplace in Atchison, Kansas.

Ms Kleppner is one of the few people alive today who actually knew Earhart.

"It was where Amelia was born and where she spent a lot of her youth being cared for by her grandparents," Mr Kleppner said. "With luck, it will end up in a place where anyone who's interested can go and spend some time with it."

Unfortunately for Mr Kleppner and the broader public, there will be no answers right away. It will take months before the DSV can send a return expedition to the region, and then experts will need to examine whatever is under the water to determine if it is Earhart's plane.

Until then, Earhart's disappearance remains one of the greatest aviation mysteries of our time.