Mid-South man searches for Amelia Earhart's plane - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Mid-South man searches for Amelia Earhart's plane

Amelia Earhart standing by a plane dressed in overalls. Photo courtesy Flickr user Nationaal Archief. Amelia Earhart standing by a plane dressed in overalls. Photo courtesy Flickr user Nationaal Archief.

(WMC-TV) – A Mid-South man is on a quest to unravel one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the world. He's part of a team scouring the seas searching for Amelia Earhart.

The aviation pioneer disappeared in the Pacific back in 1937 and this spring a Germantown man will board a ship and man the sonar to resume the search for America's most notable missing person.

"This is my passion," said Jon Thompson.

Thompson is an optimist and avid collector.

His two story garage in Germantown is a virtual museum packed with Amelia Earhart artifacts.

"What I'm trying to do is get everything ready for the exhibition of Amelia when we get her plane up," he said.

The plane disappeared almost 75 years ago during Earhart's attempt at being the first woman to fly solo around the world.

Thirty-two days into that mission, and just two DAYS shy of success, Earhart and her navigator reported their plane was running low on fuel as they searched for a landing strip at Howland Island, halfway between Hawaii and Australia.

They never made it, and to date, their plane's wreckage has never been found.

"All the researchers independently came up with an area six miles apart," said Thompson. "We're presently searching an area 18,000 feet below the surface of the ocean."

Thompson, a West Point grad and decorated Vietnam veteran, has now become a sonar operator aboard a ship of undersea explorers determined to find what's left of Amelia Earhart's plane.

And the group, launched by a company called Nauticos, has set its site on a specific area of the Pacific Ocean floor.

"We're going back out this spring with some new sonar that are autonomous, that will be able to operate and cover more territory quickly," he said.

It sounds like a long shot, but people once said the same thing about the Titanic.

As the box office smash became best picture of 1998, Thompson pulled off a Memphis miracle.

As director of Wonders, the Memphis international cultural series, Thompson helped finance the final dives to the sunken ocean liner.

He cut the deal that gave Memphis the Titanic exhibition's world debut.

And he's already designed a barge that would house a floating exhibition of Amelia artifacts when he brings her plane up from the ocean floor.

"I want to open that exhibition right here in Memphis, TN, at our new riverfront," he said. "We expect to find her leather jacket. We know what jewelry she was probably wearing."

Thompson, an aerospace engineer, believes Amelia's plane was front heavy and likely broke up on impact.

"The people who do the searching say that's easier to find because that's a debris field and not a single, rounded airplane," he said.

So the quest resumes this spring, with a man from Germantown at the forefront.

"We like to say that it's the greatest mystery of the last century; the greatest unsolved mystery of the last century," Thompson said.

Thompson earned a Masters degree in aerospace engineering before moving to Memphis and becoming a heavy equipment dealer. His bulldozers actually built the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

And his remarkable contacts helped the Wonders Series present blockbuster exhibitions including Napoleon in 1993, the Imperial Tombs of China in 1995 and Titanic - just as the movie came out.

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