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.
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.
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 Reuters
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