Amelia Earhart vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to fly around the world by following the equator. Her fate has long been a mystery, but one that might now be a step closer to being solved thanks to new research.

Researchers at The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) are confident that a piece of aluminium aircraft debris discovered on the Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro in 1991 is in fact a piece of Earhart's missing plane. TIGHAR has detailed their findings on their official website. The aircraft fragment is a small aluminium sheet installed on Earhart's aircraft, a Lockheed Electra, during her eight-day stay in Miami. The patch replaced a navigational window and can be seen in a Miami Herald photo from 1937.

"Its dimensions, proportions, and pattern of rivets were dictated by the hole to be covered and the structure of the aircraft," the TIGHAR findings read. "The patch was as unique to her particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual. Research has now shown that a section of aircraft aluminum TIGHAR found on Nikumaroro in 1991 matches that fingerprint in many respects."

The fragment could be an important piece in the puzzle of confirming a theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan became stranded on Nikumaroro, rather than crashing and dying somewhere in the ocean. It is believed Earhart made an emergency landing on the island's shallow reef, eventually starving to death after becoming a castaway. The fragment is the first time an artifact found on the atoll can be directly linked to Earhart.

"The many fractures, tears, dents and gouges found on this battered sheet of aluminum may be important clues to the fate and resting place of the Electra," Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, said to Discovery News.

Archaeological expeditions to Nikumaroro support this theory, as researchers have uncovered a number of artifacts that point towards a castaway presence. She may have even sent distress signals from her crashed aircraft before it was washed into the ocean by rising tides.

With solid evidence now pointing them in the right direction, researchers plan to further explore the waters off Nikumaroro. Photographs and sonar imagery show what, according to TIGHAR, could be the Electra's landing gear and fuselage. The group is currently seeking funding for an expedition during June 2015.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

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