One of the world's greatest undersea explorers is gearing up to tackle one of the world's most enduring mysteries. Robert Ballard, the University of Rhode Island professor of oceanography best known for finding the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, is planning to search for signs of Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, who disappeared on July 2, 1937, during Earhart's attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. Ballard and his team will depart Aug. 7 for Nikumaroro, the uninhabited Pacific island identified by previous expeditions as where Earhart and Noonan could have landed, reports National Geographic, which will air a documentary on Ballard's search Oct. 20. The island is 350 nautical miles south of Howland Island, which Earhart and Noonan were trying to locate when they disappeared.
Ballard, who has found numerous other wrecks, including John F. Kennedy's PT-109, will use remotely operated underwater vehicles in the search for Earhart's plane, a Lockheed Electra 10E, the AP reports. An archaeological team will also investigate a campsite on the island, where Earhart and Noonan may have died after ending up as castaways. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery—TIGHAR—has already sent 13 expeditions to Nikumaroro, which is part of the nation of Kiribati. "I fervently hope the expedition is successful," TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie tells National Geographic. There is already evidence that shows Earhart and Noonan ended up on Nikumaroro, he says, but "the public wants a piece of plane." (Ballard, a former Navy commander, found the Titanic during a top-secret mission.)