Under the ocean & in the air

Too successful to fail: Jon Thompson won't stop with the Titanic discovery; Amelia Earhart next in his sights

Too successful to fail: Jon Thompson won't stop with the Titanic discovery; Amelia Earhart next in his sights

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Amelia Earhart's disappearance has remained a mystery for more than 70 years.  Purdue University
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A number of artifacts from the Titanic — some of which are currently on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science — were recovered during dives that Jon Thompson financed.  Painting by E.D. Walker
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Thompson has been out to sea to collect those Titanic artifacts, and has participated in two previous trips to recover Earhart's plane. The last one will take place later this year or early next.  Courtesy of Jon Thompson
News_Amelia Earhart_Lockheed Electra_airplane
News_Houston Museum of Natural Science_Titanic
Jon Thompson_Titanic expedition

Jon Thompson, a patient at the M.D. Anderson Proton Therapy Center, has led an interesting life, to say the least.

After graduating from West Point, he served as a ranger qualified Army reconnaissance combat pilot during the Vietnam War, where he received the Bronze Star and 16 Air Medals. He went on to pursue a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, before owning and operating a global construction equipment company. 

Thompson sold the company in 1987, and was then named Director of Cultural Affairs for Memphis, Tenn. He has spent the intervening years traveling the world, collecting artifacts for exhibitions. 

 Thompson met success with the Titanic venture, and he's confident that he will do the same in his next mission: Finding the long lost aircraft of Amelia Earhart. 

Some of those collecting trips have taken Thompson under the ocean. Once, he agreed to invest in a nautical company conducting dives to the Titanic's wreckage, in exchange for the rights to let him host an exhibit with the artifacts. 

(Some of his finds are featured in the exhibit, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, now on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.)

Thompson met success with the Titanic venture, and he's confident that he will do the same in his next mission: Finding the long lost aircraft of Amelia Earhart. 

So confident, in fact, that Thompson has already laid out the design of a three-story museum, which will rest atop a barge and house the findings the impending recovery. In addition to those soon-to-come deep-sea artifacts, there exhibition will boast an automobile (which has already been leased), Earhart's trophies and jewelry and a replica of her childhood home.

All that's missing is the plane, a Lockheed Model 10 Electra — and, Thompson hopes, Earhart's leather jacket. 

The search continues

"Passion, persistence and patience," Thompson says, are qualities required for cancer treatment as for searches on the ocean floor. He will serve as the sonar operator for the final Earhart remission, which is scheduled to take place this fall or the spring of 2013. 

Many theories have been posited about Earhart's mysterious disappearance over the years since 1937. Thompson says that the one supported by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), government-endorsed and scheduled for later this year, is completely misled. 

 "I've been too successful in my life to fail this time," Thompson tells CultureMap.

In an informal presentation at the M.D. Anderson Proton Therapy Center, Thompson outlined the proprietary details that give this expedition an advantage over TIGHAR's: Years of research by Elgen Long, pilot and avid collector of historical data on Earhart's last flight; engineering analysis of Earhart's radio transmissions; and navigational reconstruction by Nauticos' software-based process, RENAV. 

That combined technology narrowed the search field to a 1,600 square mile rectangle. Two previous four-month-long searches have covered 1,200 square miles of the search field. Though these have not yielded results, Thompson remains sure that the remaining 400 square miles will produce an answer.  

"I've been too successful in my life to fail this time," Thompson tells CultureMap. "And this stay at M.D. Anderson is one I'm counting as a success." 

After receiving his last proton therapy treatment on Thursday, Thompson traveled to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for the Titanic's 100th anniversary and the premiere of A Night to Remember. He will soon begin gearing up for the final Earhart expedition.