[NOTE: This story was first published in Marianas Variety - print edition last Feb. 18. It was inadvertently left out in the online edition.]
Experts to hold Earhart exhibition on Saipan
By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Variety News Staff
LONGTIME researchers looking to resolve Amelia Earhart’s mystery are back on Saipan — this time, focusing the search on her plane and the proposed exhibition to be staged here.
Veteran filmmakers and researchers D. Michael Harris and Richard Martini along with their on-site coordinator Southwest Airlines pilot Capt. Paul H. Cooper are on Saipan conducting research on Earhart.
“We are planning to open up an exhibition here,” said Martini.
Harris, who is also involved in the worldwide Titanic exhibition, said, “We want to have an exhibit here on Saipan that tells the whole story for everybody and hopefully it will increase tourism.”
Noting the work he started with the Titanic exhibitions, Harris told Variety, “We want to do the same thing on Amelia Earhart.”
Harris said they are looking to start work on it “as soon as possible.”
Capt. Paul Cooper said they have “drawings that are in progress” on the building where they plan to hold the exhibition.
Harris also added that the exhibition not only tells the story of Amelia Earhart, but it will also include the story of the Chamorro and Carolinian people, the U.S. Marines and the Japanese during the war and how it all culminates in the story called “Saipan.”
Harris first came to Saipan in 1983 and met Tan Holdings executive David Sablan Sr.
In that year, Harris led the digging under a breadfruit tree where they found a blindfold that Josephine Blas claimed she saw Earhart was wearing.
Asked if the blindfold still exists, Harris said, “It’s in Houston. We’ll bring it back to Saipan.”
As to whether a DNA test was conducted on the blindfold, “We did a DNA test but couldn’t prove that it belonged to Amelia.”
In coming to Saipan, Martini told Variety that theirs is a “two-pronged” approach in doing the research”: (1) looking for a piece of her plane and (2) trying to get permits to dig.
Martini said, “We are not looking for Amelia’s body; we are looking for an airplane that was destroyed here in 1944.”
According to the award-winning documentary filmmaker, Earhart’s plane Lockheed Model 10 Electra was “uniquely made of an alloy that isn’t found in other planes.”
“It’s almost pure aluminum,” he said.
He said the Japanese zeroes, in contrast, were made of lesser alloys.
In order for them to continue their search, the team of Cooper, Martini and Harris applied for permits so they can dig up at Naftan Point and two sites at the former As Lito airfield, near what is now the location of the Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting facility.
Cooper told Variety they put in the application for permits over two weeks ago.
Martini assured, however, whatever they will find in their diggings, “We are not interested in taking anything on Saipan.
We just want to find it, catalogue it, put it on film and put it on exhibition here.”
Even without the diggings bearing results yet, the team is confident that they can begin the exhibition on account of the eyewitnesses alone.
Martini noted that they found over 200 eyewitnesses accounts telling that Earhart was on Saipan.
He said these accounts that have been telling “relatively the same thing” have been ignored” as evidence.
He said that in this latest trip to Saipan alone, they have interviewed more than 12 people including Juan Blanco, whose sister Josephine Blanco-Akiyama saw Earhart on Saipan, David Sablan, Jerry Kramer, Jerry Facey, Scott Russell, Sam McPhetres, Robert Blanco, Juan Diaz, Thomas Camacho, Juan Diaz and Governor Fitial.
Martini said, “We have new people that have never been recorded before in the history of the search for Amelia Earhart telling us stories.”
It was three to four months ago when the latest team of researchers solidified their plan to come back to Saipan and conduct further research.
Harris arrived on Jan. 12; Cooper, Jan. 18; and Martini, Feb. 5.
Cooper acknowledged the hospitality of the people and how receptive they were to the project.
Martini said that dominoes come falling into place since they got to Saipan.
He said they have been getting the help from the community.
While they continue to probe into the Earhart mystery, the team is posting the progress of their stay on Saipan at www.earhartonsaipan.com.
They said they are not leaving without securing the permits from the agencies.
Although Martini and Harris will be leaving in a week to attend to other commitments, Cooper is staying behind to continue the work until Harris and Martini return.
Those interested to share their World War II stories and sightings of Earhart or her navigator Fred Noonan or their plane Lockheed Electra, may email Captain Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org, Harris at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
They can also reach Martini at 789-4873.