Important Piece Of Evidence Ruled Out In Search For Amelia Earhart

The mystery continues to captivate people across the world, but new analysis rules out one piece of evidence while something new is added to the mix.

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Dr. Russell Moul

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology.

Science Writer

A black and white photo showing Amelia Earhart standing by her plane.

Emelia Earhart went missing in 1937. It has nearly been 90 years since her famous disappearance but researchers have just ruled out one important piece of evidence they hoped would shed light on her fate. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

What happened to Amelia Earhart? This question has mystified amateur and expert investigators alike ever since the famous pilot disappeared in July 1937. The facts are few and far between, but this has not stopped people from speculating on various possibilities – some more credible than others. However, new analysis has just ruled out one promising lead that excited Earhart hunters across the world – yet perhaps there is something else that has taken its place.

When Earhart disappeared nearly 90 years ago, various ideas for her ultimate fate have been proposed. From being stranded on various islands or being held captive by Japan, to even being eaten by giant crabs, there have been plenty of hypothesized outcomes offered by fascinated audiences. Then, last year, MailOnline reported efforts to assess a piece of aluminum paneling that had washed up on a remote island near to where Earhart is thought to have gone missing.


The metal debris was found on Nikumaroro Island in the western Pacific in 1991. For years, it was hoped to be part of a metal patch added to Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane during the round-the-world flight that eventually ended in her disappearance. During the initial forensic examination, the panel was found to have “D24”, “XRO” and possibly “335” or “385” etched onto it – these markings had previously been invisible to the naked eye.

At the time, they were assumed to be manufacturing codes, which, if they matched Earhart’s plane, could go a long way to helping establish what happened to her. However, subsequent analysis has found that the panel actually belonged to a Douglas C-47 plane that crashed in the Second World War, nearly a decade after Earhart was last heard from.

This result is likely a disappointment for some, but not all is lost, apparently. According to the International Group of Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a non-profit organization that effectively does what its name suggests, there is other evidence worth considering.

Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR’s executive director, has told the MailOnline that an underwater photo taken in 2009 is currently being examined as a new lead.


The photo shows some sort of large object on the ocean floor that has become overgrown with sea life, but Gillespie and colleagues believe the object could belong to a sunken plane.

"There is an object in the photo that appears to be a Lockheed Electra engine cowling," Gillespie said. 

"The similarity to an engine cowling and prop shaft was not noticed until years later and the exact location was not noted at the time, which meant attempts to re-locate the object were unsuccessful."

It is far from clear whether this is actually the case, and even if the results turn out to be plausible, they will not tell us what actually happened to the famous pilot or her navigator, Fred Noonan, who disappeared with her. Sure, it may lend weight to some ideas while ruling out others, but the overall mystery will likely remain for a long time to come, if not indefinitely.


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