Can an old newspaper photograph of a scrap of shiny, never-before-noticed aluminum solve one of aviation’s greatest mysteries – whatever happened to Amelia Earhart?
Ric Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), believes it can, and it will, The Miami Herald
On June 1, 1937, Earhart, accompanied by her navigator Fred Noonan, disappeared while attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world.
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Amelia Rose Earhart, 31, of Denver, no relation to her historic namesake, is attempting to replicate Earhart’s historic attempt in a 17-day odyssey of her own, Mashable.com reported.
In 1981, TIGHAR investigators discovered a hunk of Alcoa 24ST Alclad aluminum, commonly used in the Earhart era for the outside skin of airplanes, on tiny Gardner Island, near Earhart’s last known destination of Howland Island — a place she never reached.
However, the scrap’s rivet patterns were quite different from the rivet patterns seen on Earhart’s airplane.
Digging through its cache of photos of Earhart’s twin-engine Lockheed Electra 10E, Gillespie’s group discovered a single photo from the Miami Herald, showing a strange, gleaming square, which Gillespie now believes is a patch placed on the airplane after a hard landing by Earhart at Miami’s 34th Street Airport damaged a window Noonan had custom installed on the aircraft so he could more easily use sun and star sightings to navigate.
"We know there’s one piece on that plane that wasn’t built or installed by Lockheed – the replacement for that missing window," Gillespie told the Herald. "So maybe that’s the match.
"The replacement of that window had to be done in Miami at a Pan Am facility that was helping Earhart. If we can match that rivet pattern in the photo, I don’t see how anyone can argue against this anymore."
Because most photographers were trying to grab photos of Earhart at the controls, on the left side of the airplane, few photos of the right side of the airplane, where the patch was located, ever were taken. When the Herald photo was taken on June 1, 1937, the window was gone, replaced with a shining patch of aluminum.
The disappearance of Earhart spawned several theories – lost and out of fuel, they crashed in the ocean or, alternately, they were captured and executed by the Japanese and may even have been on a secret reconnaissance mission for the government.
Gillespie plans to use modern computer photographic enhancement techniques to determine if the rivet pattern on the patch matches the scrap of aluminum discovered on Gardner Island, according to the Herald. If so, he believes it would be unquestioned proof that Earhart crashed and died on Gardner Island.
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