Researchers may have come one step closer toward solving the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance after announcing the discovery of what could be remnants of the famed aviator’s plane. The debris located off Nikumaroro island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati was spotted following a preliminary review of high-definition video taken last month at the uninhabited coral atoll believed to be Earhart's final resting place.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) got the underwater search under way on July 12 in hopes of determining what exactly happened to Earhart on her last fateful flight 75 years ago. From the outset, the expedition has faced a number of technical problems coupled by the atoll’s difficult environment. When the search failed to turn up dramatic and conclusive evidence proving that Earhart perished on the island, some media outlets were quick to declare the $2.2million mission a failure.
‘Early media reports rushed to judgement in saying that the expedition didn't find anything,’ Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. ‘We had, of course, hoped to see large pieces of aircraft wreckage but as soon as we saw the severe underwater environment at Nikumaroro we knew that we would be looking for debris from an airplane that had been torn to pieces 75 years ago,’ Gillespie said. As they returned from the data collection trip at the end of July, TIGHAR researchers begun poring over the new material recovered from the site thanks to a torpedo-shaped Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV).
‘I have thus far made a cursory review of less than 30 per cent of the expedition's video and have identified what appears to be an interesting debris field,’ TIGHAR forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman told Discovery. Located distinctly apart from the debris field of the SS Norwich City, a British steamer which went aground on the island's reef in 1929, the newly discovered site contains multiple objects. Several of them appear consistent with the interpretation made by Glickmann of a grainy photograph of Nikumaroro's western shoreline.
Shot by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington in October of 1937, just three months after Earhart went missing on July 2, 1937, while attempting to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, the photo revealed an apparent man-made protruding object on the left side of the frame. The blurry image was enough to secure the go-ahead from the U.S. State Department blessing, and led to the Kiribati government to sign a contract with TIGHAR to work together if anything is found, Gillespie said at the start of the voyage.
Forensic imaging analyses of the picture found the mysterious object consistent with the shape and dimension of the upside-down landing gear of Earhart's plane. The Bevington photo shows what appears to be four components of the plane: a strut, a wheel, a wom gear and a fender. In the debris field there appears to be the fender, possibly the wheel and possibly some portions of the strut,’ Glickman said. Now, TIGHAR scientists are preparing to possibly recover the objects from the ocean floor for a closer look.
Meanwhile, TIGHAR has continued its probe into a small jar recovered on Nikumaroro in a previous expedition which might provide further evidence to support the theory that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing on the island and living out their days there as castaways. ‘Scientists have found traces of mercury on the interior surface of the little jar that we suspect once contained Dr. Berry's Freckle Cream,’ Gillespie said. The new round of testing on the glass container was prompted by Greg George, a chemist who read Discovery News story on the cosmetic jar.
The purpose of mercury in ointments was for bleaching the skin, and Dr. C. H Berry's Freckle Ointment was marketed in the early 20th century as a concoction guaranteed to make freckles fade. ‘It is well documented that Amelia had freckles and disliked having them,’ Joe Cerniglia, the TIGHAR researcher who first spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match, told Discovery News. ‘The only product sold in the ointment jar that we know contained mercury was Dr. C. H. Berry's Freckle Ointment. Documentation I collected shows this product historically contained anywhere from 9.8 to 12 per cent ammoniated mercury, depending on the year it was produced,’ Cerniglia said.
TIGHAR, however, conceded that it is not possible to link the ointment pot directly to Earhart.The jar was found broken in five pieces and one of the fragments was collected far from the others amongst some turtle bones. The state of that shard suggests that it was used as a cutting tool, thus possibly connecting it to a castaway living on the island.‘The question, therefore, would seem to be whether the castaway who had a jar of American women's freckle cream was someone other than Amelia Earhart. We don't know who that would be,’ Gillespie said.
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