CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The fedora, the bomber jacket and the consuming quest invite comparisons to Indiana Jones. Blaine Gibson, though, hasn’t matched the film hero’s triumph in finding the legendary chest containing the stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments.
Not that he didn’t try. “The Ark of the Covenant, I did not find it. However, I do believe that it’s in Ethiopia somewhere,” Gibson told AP recently.[restrict]
The amateur sleuth has had far greater success finding clues from a modern mystery: the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
He is the first person searching for the plane who’s actually found any trace of it and says he won’t quit gathering clues until the mystery is solved.
“Travel is what I do, but I always love travel with a purpose, and solving the mystery of Malaysia 370 is a purpose … until I or someone else finds out what happened to the plane and those on board,” he said while in the Australian capital of Canberra to visit the headquarters for the official plane search.
The Boeing 777 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members is thought to have plunged into the southern Indian Ocean after inexplicably flying far off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, on March 8, 2014.
The first reports that Gibson had found a possible part of the plane met with skepticism. Other pieces of suspected debris have been stumbled upon by chance. But how could one private citizen succeed in finding a piece of the plane where a multi-government, multimillion-dollar search had failed? Answer: There is no official search being conducted, beyond that of the 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of seabed southwest of Australia calculated to be the crash site.
But the triangular panel stenciled “no step” that Gibson found on Feb. 27 has been confirmed as almost certainly a horizontal stabilizer from a Flight 370 wing.
Gibson said he found himself in Mozambique partly because oceanographers had told him that debris might wash up on its beaches and partly because he had never visited the country. (The 58-year-old born in California has been to 177 countries in a quest to visit them all).
Getting to know relatives of the missing has ended any chance of him conceding defeat in his search.
“It was good management, but it was also a lot of luck,” Gibson said. “What you don’t see before that were the number of beaches that I combed in Reunion, in Mauritius in other parts of the world and found nothing.”
Gibson has since recovered another 13 pieces of potential debris in Madagascar, with the help of locals he has befriended who now search for him. He and victims’ relatives have been frustrated by Malaysia’s hesitance to collect the debris and potential personal effects and analyze them for clues.
Gibson hand-delivered five pieces of debris on Sept. 12 when he and relatives of Flight 370 victims met in Canberra with officials of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is conducting the deep-sea sonar search on Malaysia’s behalf.
Warren Truss, a former deputy prime minister who oversaw the search until retiring from politics in February, expects more of Gibson’s finds will be confirmed. “He has certainly made a constructive contribution to the search,” said Truss.
Australian oceanographer David Griffin, one of two Gibson credits with pointing him the right direction, found the American to be frustrated that search responsibilities fell between cracks of coordinating agencies. [/restrict]