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Expedition may have found pieces of Amelia Earhart's plane

August 20, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II | Los Angeles Times
  • A screen grab from an underwater video appears to show what may be wreckage from Amelia Earhart's plane, which was lost in 1937.
A screen grab from an underwater video appears to show what may be wreckage… (TIGHAR )

Examination of high-definition underwater video obtained from the Pacific island of Nikumaroro has revealed what appear to be pieces of aircraft wreckage that might have come from Amelia Earhart's plane, according to researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, commonly known as TIGHAR. Although the pieces may not be readily apparent to the naked eye in the images, forensic scientists say they could be a pulley, a fender and a wheel.

The location of the presumed wreckage coincides with what appears to be a plane's landing gear sticking up from the water in a controversial 1937 photograph taken by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington three months after Earhart was lost.

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting to fly around the world when their craft was lost after they departed from Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937. It is presumed that they ran out of gas and either crashed into the ocean or landed on a small island. Most speculation has centered on Nikumaroro -- formerly known as Gardiner Island -- in the Republic of Kiribati. Researchers from TIGHAR have made several trips to the island searching for evidence of Earhart's fate, but have found little other than 13 human bones, the remnants of what might be a jar that once held Dr. C.H. Berry's Freckle Ointment, a woman's shoe, an empty sextant box, a broken pocket knife and a piece of rouge. Earhart was known to hate her freckles.

A team from TIGHAR made their 10th visit to the island in July, a $2.2-million outing. They found nothing on the island itself, but conducted extensive underwater video and sonar imaging with an autonomous underwater vehicle and a remotely operated submersible. The video at first glance showed little, but analysis of about 30% of the images by forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman of Photek Inc. identified what appeared to be the pieces of wreckage. TIGHAR director Ric Gillespie said the team is now making plans to go back and collect the pieces.

The newest expedition was featured on "Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved," a documentary on the Discovery Channel.

LATimesScience@gmail.com

Twitter/@LATMaugh

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