Researchers on the trail of missing 1930s aviator Amelia Earhart say they are increasingly convinced that debris found on a South Pacific beach came from her lost plane and that she lived there as a castaway.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) said the debris bolsters the possibility that a sonar blip off Nikumaroro atoll in Kiribati is the fuselage of her ill-starred Lockheed Electra.
Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo, was attempting to circumnavigate the world in 1937, flying close to the equator, when she and navigator Fred Noonan vanished without a trace. Her transatlantic solo success saw her land in Derry. She set off from Newfoundland on 20 May 1932, aiming her plane for Paris, and instead hit a field in Derry.
What happened to the duo and their twin-engine aircraft during the round-the-world bid has remained one of aviation’s enduring mysteries.
In a statement, TIGHAR said the chunk of aluminium, found in 1991, strongly resembles a 48 x 58cm patch installed in place of a window on the Electra during a stopover in Florida earlier during the flight.
“The strong possibility that Artifact 2-2-V-1 is the ‘Miami Patch’ means that the many fractures, tears, dents and gouges evident on the metal may be important clues to the fate - and resting place - of the aircraft itself,” the statement said.
“Rising tides and surf would have then washed the aircraft into the sea, leaving the two aviators stranded, waiting for a rescue that never arrived.”
Pennsylvania-based TIGHAR said it plans to return to Nikumaroro in June 2015 with a Fiji-based research vessel for a sixth expedition that will send a remote-operated underwater vehicle to investigate the unexplained sonar anomaly.
According to TIGHAR’s website, having failed to find Howland Island, Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan continued on the navigational line Amelia said they were following.
“That line led them to uninhabited Gardner Island where Amelia landed the Electra safely on the island’s fringing reef. For the next several nights they used the aircraft’s radio to send distress calls.
“Radio bearings taken on the signals crossed in the vicinity of Gardner Island. One week after the flight disappeared, three U.S. Navy search planes flew over Gardner Island. By then, the distress calls had stopped. Rising tides and surf had swept the Electra over the reef edge.
“The Navy fliers saw no airplane but they did see ‘signs of recent habitation’. They thought that all the islands in the area were inhabited so they moved on. In fact, no one had lived on Gardner since 1892.
“Earhart (and possibly Noonan) lived for a time as castaways on the waterless atoll, relying on rain squalls for drinking water. They caught and cooked small fish, seabirds, turtles and clams. Amelia died at a makeshift campsite on the island’s southeast end. Noonan’s fate is unknown.
“Whatever remains of the Electra lies in deep water off the island’s west end,” says the TIGHAR website.