Amelia Earhart's disappearance may no longer be a mystery. A team of researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) have discovered an anomaly in sonar images off a remote island in the central Pacific.
This image from TIGHAR shows what could be a wing or fuselage of Earhart's Electra aircraft. Earhart and her navigator Fred Noon departed Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937 for Howard Island but they disappeared that day, never to be found again. TIGHAR took these scans off the coast of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, 800 miles southwest of Honolulu.
While TIGHAR acknowledges the anomaly could be a fishing boat or other man-made debris unrelated to Earhart, they are relatively confident that this might finally be the missing plane. "It looks unlike anything else in the sonar data, it's the right size, it's the right shape and it's in the right place," a statement on the TIGHAR website said this week.
The discovery was made by a member of TIGHAR's online community in March after the sonar images were posted to the site.
Richard Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, and his team went to Kiribati in 2012 to verify whether a photo of the Nikumaroro island in 1937 showed something sticking out of the water near the shore.
Gillespie's 2012 expedition was supported by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton but was not funded by the U.S. government. They took the sonar images during the expedition but also made some other curious discoveries.
According to Reuters, Gillespie's team found "a jar of a once-popular brand of anti-freckle cream from the 1930s, a clothing zipper from the same decade, a bone-handled pocket knife of the type Earhart carried, and piles of fish and bird bones indicative of a Westerner trying to survive."
The combination of these two pieces of evidence would suggest that Earhart and Noonan washed up on the shore of Nikumaroro after their plane had some kind of malfunction. Gillespie thinks the plane might have washed off the reef on to the underwater sea cliff the sonar images have been taken from. Meanwhile Earhart and maybe even Noonan could have lived out their last days as castaways trying to survive off the island.
The group needs to return to the island to conduct more definitive explorations and searches but it seems there is good circumstantial evidence that this might Earhart's plane. Of course there have been several other claims of her plane being found recently, including one in 2011 which claimed the plane was in Papua New Guinea and the wreck was being guarded by snake on board.
The group needs to finish paying off its 2012 $2.2 million expedition and raise money for another round. But for now, the evidence stacking up sounds "exciting ... frustrating ... maddening."