In recent years, there have been a number of bombshell claims made about the disappearance of famed aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing somewhere over the Pacific during a record-setting attempt at circling the globe by plane on July 2, 1937. Some reports indicated she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, may have been captured by Japanese forces, though they were promptly debunked. Further reports suggested previously-dismissed human remains found on a remote Pacific island may actually have belonged to Earhart, but because the bones have been missing for decades, the trail seemed to go cold from there.
Now however, new footage may help to tie those long-missing bones to Earhart more conclusively, though in a somewhat indirect manner. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has recently secured the rights to 16mm footage of Earhart and Noonan’s Lockheed Electra aircraft taken just one day prior to their disappearance in Papua New Guinea. The footage shows Earhart’s Electra taking off for a short test flight and subsequent refueling, neither of which necessarily provide any new details regarding her disappearance, except for what clearly looks to be an aluminum patch on the Electra’s fuselage near the tail.
That patch is the focus of TIGHAR’s continued study, as it bares a striking resemblance to an aluminum fragment found on Nikumaroro, the very same remote island where the bones were discovered. Those bones were first found in 1940, and based on the island’s location and Earhart’s flight path, it was believed that she may have survived a water landing and lived out her remaining days stranded on the atoll. Analysis of the bones at the time, however, seemed to dash those hopes. A physician named D.W. Hoodless studied the bones in 1940 and claimed with high certainty that they belonged to a man, not the famed female aviator. The bones would go missing the following year.
However, a study of measurements taken of those bone fragments conducted just last year by researchers at the University of Tennessee came to a very different conclusion:
“This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample,” the study noted. “This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.”
Now, TIGHAR hopes to conduct a high-resolution analysis of the footage of Earhart’s aircraft in hopes of discerning the specific rivet pattern on the aluminum patch. They can then compare that rivet pattern to a piece of aluminum debris found on Nikumaroro that looks like it could be the same approximate size and shape, to determine if they’re a match.
“The key to a conclusive yea or nay is a comparison between the unique rivet pattern and deformation on the artifact and the unique rivet pattern and deformation visible in photos of the patch on the Electra,” explained TIGHAR on its website. “The problem has always been the poor resolution in the handful of historic photos that show the patch.”
But the 16mm footage promises to help, as it captures images at 24 frames per second. That means if the patch appears on camera for only one second, the team at TIGHAR will have at least 24 potential images to analyze.
“Once the imagery is safely rendered in digital format, (we) can start the painstaking process of forensic analysis,” TIGHAR said in a statement.
If they find a match, it won’t conclusively prove that Earhart died on Nikumaroro, but it will offer sufficient evidence to suggest it’s likely. Without finding the bones or other evidence that directly ties Earhart to the remote island, we can truly only deal in likelihood, after all. Still, when it comes to one of the most longstanding aviation mysteries in the world, a “high likelihood” is pretty significant progress.