Oct 31, 2014 02:01 PM EDT
It's been an urban legend almost 80 years in the making, that famous female aviator Amelia Earhart was marooned on an island in the South Pacific. And new evidence, including a fragment of her aircraft found and a sonar anomaly 600-feet underwater, may just hold the clues to unlock this decades old mystery.
As the first female aviator to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean alone, Earhart was the first of her kind. But almost as famous as her early career, Earhart's mysterious disappearance has become one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. Why, how, and where the experienced aviator happened to go down? All questions left without a possible answer until now.
The mishap occurred as she attempted to circumnavigate the globe in 1937, flying a Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane, and Earhart disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean. Some researchers believe that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, lived as castaways on an island in the South Pacific after the plane went down, and new evidence may in fact support that urban legend. Researchers now believe that an aluminum fragment recovered in 1991 on the Nikumaroro island, 2,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, belonged to Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft and hope that further evidence may reveal more about the long-standing mystery.
"This is the first time an artifact found on Nikumaroro has been shown to have a direct link to Amelia Earhart" executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), the non-profit that identified the piece, Ric Gillespie says.
And the thin shard of metal may just be the answer TIGHAR researchers are looking for.
Several months after an expedition to Nikumaroro in 2012, a member of TIGHAR's online search community discovered a small anomaly in sonar imagery captured of Nikumaroro and its surrounding underwater topography.
"During the expedition the contractor's sonar technicians did not alert the TIGHAR team to the anomaly in the underwater topography, so TIGHAR had no opportunity to check it out" TIGHAR researchers said in a recent press release. "Seeking to learn more, TIGHAR commissioned an analysis of the anomaly by Ocean Imaging Consultants, Inc. of Honolulu - experts in post-processing sonar data. Their report revealed the anomaly to be the right size and shape to be the fuselage of Earhart's aircraft."
But the new evidence of the confirmed aluminum fragment of Earhart's Lockheed Electra aircraft point towards a more telling answer. Now that researchers have gathered sufficient data to confirm that Nikumaroro may in fact be the landing location for Earhart's lost plane, the non-profit will return to Nikumaroro in June 2015 to search out more answers that may be lost to the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
"The new research on [the metal] artifact may reinforce the possibility that the anomaly is the rest of the aircraft" TIGHAR researchers say. "In June 2015, TIGHAR will return to Nikumaroro to investigate the anomaly with Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) technology supported by Nai'a, the 120-foot Fiji-based vessel that has served five previous TIGHAR explorations."
"During the twenty-four day expedition, divers will search for other wreckage at shallower depths and an onshore search team will seek to identify objects detected in historical photographs that may be relics of an initial survival camp."
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