An aluminium patch found on a remote Pacific atoll in 1991 has been identified by researchers as a piece of Amelia Earhart’s lost aircraft, and could help solve the mystery of what happened to the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Researchers at The International Group of Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believe the patch was fitted onto Earhart’s plane during her eight-day stay in Miami, 1937, her fourth stop during her attempt to circumnavigate the Earth at the equator.
“We don’t understand how the patch got busted out of [the plane] and ended up on the island where we found it, but we have the patch, we have a piece of Earhart’s aircraft,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, said.
TIGHAR has spent millions of dollars searching for Earhart’s missing Lockheed Electra in a project that has involved hundreds of people, and next year it will begin a fresh search for the aviator’s plane based the patch.
Amelia Earhart: Life in pictures
Amelia Earhart: Life in pictures
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Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean
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Amelia Earhart received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her famous solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean
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Pilot Amelia Earhart standing by her plane
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US aviator Amelia Earhart looking through the cockpit window of an aircraft in Essonne, France
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US aviator Amelia Earhart looking through the cockpit window of an aircraft in Essonne, France, 1930's
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Amelia Earhart set many records, she wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences and was instrumental in the formation of The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. Earhart joined the faculty of the Purdue University aviation department in 1935 as a visiting faculty member to counsel women on careers and help inspire others with her love for aviation. She was also a member of the National Woman's Party, and an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment
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Amelia Earhart sits at the controls of an experimental glider before a flight at the Scripps estate 'Wildwood Farms,' Lake Orion, Michigan, 1929
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Amelia Earhart stands on 14 June 1928 in front of her bi-plane called 'Friendship' in Newfoundland
The patch, measuring about 19 inches by 23 inches, was discovered by researchers in a 1991 voyage to the island of Nikumaroro, in the Republic of Kiribati, situated between Fiji and Hawaii.
It has been described as being “as unique to [Earhart’s] particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual,” by TIGHAR, due to the size and the pattern of rivets that directly relate to a window on the Lockheed Electra that the patch replaced during Earhart’s stay in Miami.
TIGHAR states that the identification of the patch has “bolstered” speculation that a sonar anomaly, which has been detected at a depth of 600 ft off the west end of the Nikumaroro island, is in fact Earhart’s missing plane.
The organisation is planning on returning to the area next year with its Remote Operated Vehicle on a 24 day expedition, while divers will search for other wreckage at shallower depths.
But the news of the patch has been met with scepticism by some aviation experts. Dick Knapinsky, spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association, said: “How do you establish that a piece of aluminium belonged to a certain Lockheed Electra unless there’s a serial number or something on it?”
Additional reporting by ReutersReuse content