The hunt for Amelia Earhart’s long-lost plane took a new turn after searchers reportedly identified a piece of the missing aircraft near an atoll in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. History buffs have long speculated that the tiny island, called Nikumaroro, was the final resting place of the famed aviator; however, this is the first time a piece of wreckage found there has been recognized as a fragment from Earhart’s plane, according to Discovery.
The aluminum piece measured just 19 inches by 23 inches and was actually recovered in 1991. It wasn’t until recently that researchers with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, who have spent 25 years making sense of Earhart’s mysterious disappearance in 1937, linked the fragment with a patch of metal that was installed on Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra during an eight-day stay in Miami, Florida. Only one photograph of the patch exists, likely indicating that the repair was never recorded.
If the rivet pattern from the repair in the photograph could be matched to a rivet pattern on the piece of wreckage, it would provide, with a high degree of certainty, evidence of Earhart’s crash site, Ric Gillespie, a longtime Earhart investigator and the executive director of TIGHAR, said in July. “The Miami patch was an expedient field repair," Gillespie recently told Discovery News. "Its complex fingerprint of dimensions, proportions, materials and rivet patterns was as unique to Earhart’s Electra as a fingerprint is to an individual." Gillespie and his team found that the pattern observed on the found fragment matched that of the metal patch affixed to Earhart’s plane 77 years ago, according to the TIGHAR report released Tuesday.
Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, left Miami, Florida, on June 1, 1937, in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. It was widely believed that the pair crash landed in the Pacific Ocean somewhere near their target destination of Howland Island. However, the new evidence strongly suggests that Earhart and her companion tried to make an emergency landing on Nikumaroro, 350 miles southeast of Howland Island, and died there.