Amelia mannequin

Amelia Earhart lives on today in numerous statues, images and public tributes in her hometown of Atchison and throughout the region.

Two years ago, a researcher unearthed a photograph that suggested Amelia Earhart survived a crash landing and was in the custody of the Japanese after her plane disappeared.

A documentary television program examined this theory and raised quite a stir, until an amateur blogger found that the sepia-toned photograph appeared in a book that was published two years before the famed pilot disappeared.

The truth is, we have no idea what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan. They vanished somewhere in the Pacific Ocean in July 1937, fueling decades of speculation. Theories range from a fatal crash to an island castaway fate to capture by the Japanese in the years leading up to World War II, which began in earnest in 1939 before the U.S. entered in 1941.

Now, a researcher with a proven record and the backing of National Geographic is the latest to seek an answer. Deep sea explorer Robert Ballard, a retired U.S. Navy officer who located the sunken RMS Titanic wreckage in 1985, is leading a new push to find out just what happened to Earhart.

Ballard and a National Geographic expedition are searching for Earhart’s plane near a Pacific Ocean atoll that’s part of the Phoenix Islands. For the search, they use remotely operated underwater vehicles, while an archaeological team investigates a potential Earhart campsite with search dogs and DNA sampling.

On Tuesday, Sept. 3, Ballard is expected to appear in Atchison, either in person or via video conference, to present information on his findings. National Geographic will broadcast a program on the search in October. A student assembly involving kids from Atchison Public Schools USD 409 and Maur Hill-Mount Academy, among others, is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. on that day at AHS.

Ballard’s work is of no small concern in Atchison, where Earhart was born and her legacy lives on in a community that honors her memory through several museums, historic locations, services and venues named in her honor. Her story, a combination of pioneering spirit and bitter tragedy, drives interest from seasoned explorers like Ballard and the rest of us who just like an enduring mystery.

In contemplating this story, and its possible final chapter, it might be worth considering a person who is the polar opposite a heroic figure like Earhart.

The death of Jeffrey Epstein, a man accused of appalling crimes, led to speculation that he was killed behind bars in order to silence him and protect powerful accomplices. A medical examiner’s finding of suicide will do little to quell the conspiracy talk in some circles.

Who knows? Everyone loves a conspiracy, but the Internet can give rise to voices that trade in wild speculation instead of fact or, short of that, a reasonable hypothesis.

Sometimes, rich and privileged individuals refuse to pay the price for terrible crimes. Sometimes, secret government installations test human inventions and not alien craft. Sometimes, planes simply run out of fuel and those on board die in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

The most simple explanation is often, in the end, the most credible.

— News-Press NOW

Missouri Voices is a series of previously published editorials from newspapers across the river, obtained via an Associated Press newspaper exchange, designed to reflect a diverse array of Show Me State viewpoints. These publications don’t reflect the editorial views of Atchison Globe. Provide feedback by emailing globe@npgco.com

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