The nearly 90-year search for famed aviator Amelia Earhart may soon be at its end – that is, according to The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). The organization says a 2009 photograph possibly shows the underwater remains of an aircraft that may be Earhart’s Lockheed Model 10-E Electra.
Earhart went missing while attempting to become the first female to complete a circumnavigation flight of the globe. It wouldn’t be the first accomplishment under the aviator’s belt, with her having previously been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for becoming the first woman to complete a non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic.
Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were last seen on July 2, 1937, leaving Lae, New Guinea. Their next stop was supposed to be Howland Island, an uninhabited piece of land in the central Pacific. The plan was for the pair to refuel their Electra there, before continuing on to California, where they’d complete their historic journey.
However, Earhart and Noonan never arrived, with their whereabouts becoming the center of a mystery that’s gripped much of the world for decades.
While the official US stance is that the Electra ran of out fuel and crashed into the Pacific, several theories state otherwise. Many believe Earhart and Noonan landed on the barrier reef surrounding Gardner Island, officially known as Nikumaroro, where they were possibly eaten by large crabs.
Those who support this theory cite distress calls that originated from the region, located some 350 nautical miles from Howland Island, as well as signs of habitation noted by US Navy aircraft from the USS Colorado (BB-45) and British colonizers following the Electra’s disappearance.
Among the evidence found were bones situated near what was once a campfire, plane parts and 1930s-era glass bottles.
In 1991, a piece of metal debris washed ashore on Gardner Island. While it was initially thought to have come from Earhart’s Electra, it was determined some 30 years later to have belonged to a World War II-era Douglas C-47 Skytrain.
The latest clue in the search for Earhart – and one that might prove the theory the aircraft wound up on or near Gardner Island – is a photograph taken in 2009, which may show the Electra’s engine cowl buried beneath the ocean’s surface. It’s this lead that has prompted a renewed search of the area by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery.
The organization, which runs The Earhart Project, believes rising tides and surf swept the aircraft over the edge of the barrier reef, causing it to sink beneath the water’s surface off the west end of Gardner Island.
Speaking with the Daily Mail, Ric Gillespie, the executive director of TIGHAR, said, “The similarity to an engine cowling and prop shaft was not noticed until years later and the exact location was not noted at the time, which meant attempts to relocate the object were unsuccessful.”
At present, the image is currently undergoing forensic analysis. While the results won’t immediately reveal what happened to Earhart and Noonan, they will help to either rule out or strengthen theories surrounding the pair’s unsolved disappearance.