Aluminum Debris from Amelia Earhart's Plane Found

52 Aluminum Debris from Amelia Earhart's Plane Found
Amelia Earhart and Lockheed Electra 10E NR 16020, c. 1937 via Wikimedia

New evidence (the strongest yet) suggests that a piece of aluminum debris found on a remote island in the South Pacific called Nikumaroro back in 1991 came from Amelia Earhart’s aircraft, according to a statement from TIGHAR, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. The new work bolsters speculation that a sonar anomaly detected off the uninhabited island’s west end is Earhart’s lost aircraft.

During a week’s stay in Miami at the beginning of Earhart’s second global circumnavigation attempt, a special custom window on her Lockheed Electra was removed and replaced with an aluminum patch on the starboard side. The dimensions, proportions, and rivet patterns of this so-called “Miami Patch” were specific to the hole that it covered as well as to the rest of the aircraft’s structure—although why the change was made is still a mystery. The shiny patch can be seen in this Miami Herald photo from June 1937.


According to TIGHAR, multiple pieces of evidence suggest that Earhart landed safely on the Nikumaroro reef shortly thereafter. She then sent radio distress calls for at least five nights before the rising tides and waves washed her aircraft into the ocean, leaving Earhart and her crew member, Fred Noonan, stranded on the uninhabited atoll. Previous hypotheses suggested that Earhart and Noonan crashed in the Pacific after running out of fuel before reaching their target of Howland Island. (Nikumaroro is some 560 kilometers southeast of Howland Island.)

In 1991, an aluminum fragment washed up on the shore of Nikumaroro. Called Artifact 2-2-V-1, it appears to match the Miami Patch. “The patch was as unique to her particular aircraft as a fingerprint is to an individual,” TIGHAR’s Ric Gillespie writes

Together with forensic imaging specialists, TIGHAR researchers visited a restored Lockheed c/n 1091 in Kansas earlier this month to better understand the purpose of that special window (with dimensions of roughly 61 cm x 47 cm) and the Miami Patch it was replaced with, and how it all fits together. They found dozens of matches between the material and dimensional requirements of the aluminum patch on the Lockheed aircraft and the aluminum debris.

“This is the first time an artifact found on Nikumaroro has been shown to have a direct link to Amelia Earhart,” Gillespie tells Discovery. If Artifact 2-2-V-1 is the Miami Patch, then its tears and dents would be important clues to the fate of Earhart’s aircraft. You can see a cool gallery Earhart’s Electra, the special window and patch, and restored Lockheed models in this week’s Earhart Project Researcher Bulletin


Furthermore, a sonar anomaly spotted in 2012 near Nikumaroro could turn out to be the wreckage of Earhart’s aircraft. The unusual feature was detected in sonar imagery of Nikumaroro’s underwater reef slope at a depth of nearly 200 meters. The feature is resting at the base of a cliff (where some believe the plane washed into the ocean), and it appears to be the right size and shape of the main body of Earhart’s plane. 

The new work with Artifact 2-2-V-1 certainly reinforces that possibility, and TIGHAR will be returning to Nikumaroro next year to investigate the anomaly with a remotely operated vehicle. 

Images: Wikimedia Users Bzuk and Alaniaris (top), TIGHAR (middle)


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