August 19th, 2012
11:44 AM ET

75 years later, the mystery of Amelia Earhart solved?

Debris discovered in the depths of the South Pacific may be remnants of vanished aviator Amelia Earhart’s plane.

“A review of high-definition underwater video footage taken during the recently-completed Niku VII expedition has revealed a scattering of man-made objects on the reef slope off the west end of Nikumaroro,” The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery reported on its website.

The question researchers are now asking: Do these new images reveal parts of the same plane captured in a 1937 photo of Nikumaroro.

Discovery News reports that the 1937 photo of the island's western shoreline was taken three months after Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared. The shot by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington, “revealed an apparent man-made protruding object on the left side of the frame.” Forensic analysis of the image “found the mysterious object consistent with the shape and dimension of the upside-down landing gear of Earhart's plane.”

"The Bevington photo shows what appears to be four components of the plane: a strut, a wheel, a wom gear and a fender. In the debris field there appears to be the fender, possibly the wheel and possibly some portions of the strut," TIGHAR forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman told Discovery News.

TIGHAR launched the expedition last month, working on a theory that Earhart and Noonan became stranded and ultimately met their deaths on Nikumaroro Island after their Lockheed Electra plane was swept out to sea 75 years ago.

The group’s ninth expedition to the island kicked off with a chorus of excitement and criticism around the Internet. Researchers ultimately returned to the U.S. admitting they had found no obvious signs of the plane.

But new analysis of an underwater debris field may prove the researchers found exactly what they were looking for.

"Early media reports rushed to judgment in saying that the expedition didn't find anything," Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR executive director, told Discovery News. "We had, of course, hoped to see large pieces of aircraft wreckage but as soon as we saw the severe underwater environment at Nikumaroro we knew that we would be looking for debris from an airplane that had been torn to pieces 75 years ago."

Glickman told Discovery News the group has reviewed less than 30% of the high-definition underwater video taken on the recent expedition, which launched July 12 and concluded on July 24.

TIGHAR theorizes that Earhart and Noonan landed on Nikumaroro Island - then called Gardner’s Island - after failing to find a different South Pacific island where they were planning to land. The pair is believed to have landed safely and called for help using the Electra’s radio. And in a twist of fate, the plane was apparently swept out to sea, washing away Earhart and Noonan’s only source of communication. U.S. Navy search planes flew over the island, but not seeing the Electra, passed it by and continued the search elsewhere.

"What makes this the best expedition is the technology we've been able to assemble to search for the wreckage of that airplane," Gillespie told CNN last month. "We have an autonomous vehicle. We have multibeam sonar above the University of Hawaii ship we're on right now. We have a remote-operated vehicle to check out the targets (and a) high-definition camera. We're all set."

Gillespie told Discovery News that if further analysis of the Bevington photo continues to support TIGHAR's theory, the group will seek to recover the objects from the ocean’s depths.

Do clues to Amelia Earhart mystery lurk beneath the sea?

Finding Amelia Earhart: New clues revealed

Will mystery of Amelia Earhart be solved?

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Filed under: Aviation • History
soundoff (394 Responses)
  1. Marcia

    wom gear? fender? This is a retractible gear aircraft and has no fender. I have no idea what a "wom" gear is. The word gear is the aviation name for main landing wheel strut and wheel/brake assembly. What non-aviation person wrote this poor article?

    August 19, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  2. dazzle ©

    @bc(iah), now you've done it. Memories of a Marriage Encounter weekend, some 18 years ago. The heathens (yours truly was one) smuggled in beer, listened to one night of this nonsense) and had to climb out a window in the dead of night. They wanted to "save our marriage." It was crumbling back then and of course the church frowned on this. Now we are entering Checkpoint Charlie to get into Calif.for some beach time. Don't worry a flying saucer won't carry 3 ladies away. Have a good one my friend.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Old Flyer

    All – Don't forget WW-II came along after her disappearance. There was a military version of the Lockheed electra known as the AT-19. There may be a few of those in the waters of the pacific also.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. RightOn

    The man-made "debri" look like regular rocks to me.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ramble3144

    If it's true, Barack Obama will take credit for it.

    August 19, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Richard Herberger

    Really? That's a picture of the plane? I think I see the man on the grassy knoll as well! Wait! Is that Obama's birth certificate?

    August 19, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lawrence

    Its frightening how anti-science and exploration a lot of these people are, as is their lack of knowledge at how these explorations are funded and performed.

    This is a huge piece of aviation history, American history, and world history. It is also one of the greatest, most intriguing mysteries of all time. There have been lots of discoveries over the past few years that have pointed to Amelia spending her final months on this island, but of course they are going to want to do more research before they finally wrap it up as solved. This research looks to be the last thing from being a farce, and with the amount of technology they are taking with them on their journeys, there is no way they are pulling wool over anyone's eyes.

    It is important, even in this time of economic turmoil, to continue funding exploration and discovery. When you stop doing said things, you stop progressing as a nation. You harm the children of today and tomorrow that won't get to grow up hearing about such discoveries. Landing on the moon might have cost a lot of money, but the true investment was in the hearts and minds of the children that followed the example of the brave astronauts and their excellent mission command crew, as well as the engineers and scientists that made it all possible. Those children went on to create some of the most amazing technology we use in our day to day lives.

    Missions like this, as well as NASA's Curiosity rover, are doing the same thing today, inspiring the youth to form goals greater than that of working a typical 9-5 job. These missions inspire and motivate our children to take the next step, and continue on from where the earlier generation left off.

    Thank you to, anyone who took the time to read this.


    August 19, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      Lawrence, I read your sentiments and I wholeheartedly agree with them.

      Thank goodness there is still someone (you) out there full of historical gravitas and curiosity about the world.

      August 20, 2012 at 8:51 am | Report abuse |
  8. 22X Richer

    There were those who blamed the Coast Guard, those who blamed the Navy and those who blamed the navigator, Fred Noonan. Not one person has ever blamed Amelia Earhart for her role in this extremely risky adventure. Considering the rudimentary navigation equipment at the time this flight never should have left New Guinea.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Richard Herberger

    Why is anyone still wasting time looking for her plane? There is little to no chance that any evidence will ever be found of the remnants of the plane after70+ years. I might also add that even her contemporaries thought she was a bad pilot and a publicity hound!

    August 19, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • dsavio

      So if it turns out this wreckage is really her plane then what will you have to say?

      August 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin H

      The women who were from that era – the Pancho Barnes and the Amelia Earhart's of the world were jealous of one another. There was a rivalry just as there was with the men. I think it's unfair to say she was a bad pilot. I think she was probably a decent pilot. So are you saying Fred Noonan was bad as well? I think she was as good as any of her contemporaries. Perhaps she was overly ambitious – that is a fair charge. She was a publicity seeker – but then without it she would have had no basis for the money required to do the things she did. Her husband wasn't that rich – and it was expensive to build an maintain these almost experimental – or at the least very new aircraft. Yes the engines and some of the parts of the planes were tried and true – but putting them together not so much. And she was flying greater distances without refueling than had been tried before – that was the whole idea. At least be fair to her – she was blazing trails.

      August 19, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  10. unowhoitsme

    Amelia's story changes all the time...lots of solid evidence. Everyone wants "the" story.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Maude

    Amelia Earhart flew a lot of airplanes, except for that one time when she didn't come back.

    August 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Emigdio Alvarez

      and then there's Maude

      August 19, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. JPMinNC

    OMG, the rock in the middle of the picture looks exactly like Jesus! Can't you see it?

    August 19, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Robert

      That isn't Jesus. It's Ted Nugent!

      August 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • justmeanddog

      You know I think you are right, and if you look real close you can see a tiny church on that rock.

      August 19, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anne

      Stop spreading false information; can't you see that it's really Elvis?

      August 20, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Buddy Edgewood

    With the evidence available, there's no doubt the downing of Amelia Earhart's plane is the fault of Obama!

    August 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • south4evr

      And Obama is blaming George W. Bush!!

      August 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • HenryB

      Republicans would spin it that way if they could. But even they are not that looney! Or are they?

      August 19, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Dizzyd

    Well put, Lawrence. I pity the ppl on here who think that discovery and exploration are a 'waste of money' and time. These things encourage and inspire imagination and innovation. If it were up to these ppl, man would still be living in trees and looking for monsters in the dark. We need exploration – it's how we learn, how we advance.

    August 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • curt

      Well said. Its because of exploration that we know more about the poles, space, the oceans ...and ourselves. People with no sense of curiosity or wonder are probably the same people who have no imagination, little drive, lack any determination and most likely have the personality of a saltine.

      August 19, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • south4evr

      "I pity the fools!"......Mr. T

      August 19, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JWEST

    Wait! They went all the way there and all they did was shoot video? They didnt actually dive and actually pull up an artifact to verify???

    They just got some fuzzy video? What kinda half baked expidition was this?

    August 19, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
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