The disappearance of pilot Amelia Earhart has been one of the greatest mysteries of modern history, and it turns out we likely found a piece of her plane on an island 23 years ago — but didn’t actually realize it until now.
Researchers have pretty much been trying to figure out what happened to Earhart ever since she went missing on July 2, 1937, in the Western Pacific. Many believe she might’ve crashed on the island of Nikumaroro, and in 1992 a search team found a piece of metal that seemed to be dated to the era when her Model 10 Electra plane was built.
The only problem? No one could figure out — exactly — where the 19x23-inch piece of metal would’ve fit on the plane. It was the right material, but it didn’t match up with any conceivable component from the plane. So, after years of trying to figure it out, the team finally decided they couldn’t actually prove it was from Earhart’s plane — another dead end.
But, as Wired notes, the answer finally came after taking another pass at photos of Earhart and her Electra before the infamous flight. What’d they find? A shiny metal patch covering up a specially made window specific to her plane. With that new piece of intel, the team was able to compare the recovered piece of metal to the flap on Earhart’s plane — and it was a perfect match.
Here’s how Richard Gillespie of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery described the significance of the find:
“It’s like a fingerprint. This is the first time we’ve ever found something we can link directly to Earhart’s aircraft. And we’re going to treat it as a piece of her aircraft.”
The team plans to return to the island in 2015 for additional searches and research. According to Gillespie, he believes Earhart may have made an emergency landing on the island and survived for a time — but after that, no one knows what happened. Of course, theories abound on Earhart’s fate, and this latest (apparent) find only adds more mystery and questions than it does answers.
What’s your theory on Earhart’s disappearance?