New analysis of a photo taken in 1937 has led investigators to think it might show a piece of the landing gear from aviator Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane, which disappeared in June that year somewhere in the South Pacific.
And at the State Department today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other officials gathered to announce that a privately funded search effort led by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) will be going to the Pacific island nation of Kiribati in July to see if they can find any evidence of the aircraft, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan.
Amelia Earhart. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Amelia Earhart. She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. AP
"Amelia Earhart may have been an unlikely heroine for a nation down on its luck," Clinton said, "but she embodied the spirit of an America coming of age and increasingly confident, ready to lead in a quite uncertain and dangerous world."
"I'm thrilled to invite to this room today scientists and engineers, our aviators and our salvagers and everyone who still knows how important it is to dream and to seek," Clinton added, according to a State Department transcript, "because even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself."
Ric Gillespie, executive director and founder of TIGHAR, told All Things Considered co-host Melissa Block earlier today that "this latest piece of information .... gives us the information we need to do the search we've long wanted to do ... an underwater search for the wreckage of Amelia's plane."
In the photo, he said, "there's something that shouldn't be there... sticking up out of the edge of the water" and it looks to some experts like it might be a piece of her Lockheed Electra. It was taken just months after Earhart disappeared, off a tiny island called Nikumaroro. That's the island where some other evidence — including bone fragments — has been found that leads Gillespie and his colleagues to think they might have the right place.
The search, Gillespie added, will focus on an underwater reef slope.
We'll add the broadcast conversation Melissa had with Gillespie to the top of this post later. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams All Things Considered.
The mysterious object. AP
Update at 12:15 p.m. ET, March 21: The Associated Press has now moved copies of the image that has intrigued investigators. We're adding it here, as well as a crop focusing on the object in question. We've also tweaked the post above just a bit, because earlier information indicated the photo had been taken from above the island. Instead, as you can see, it was taken from the water off the island.
This image was provided by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. Taken in late 1937 off the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro, it interests investigators because of the object on the left side of the photo. Something is sticking out of the water. Enhanced analysis indicates that could be part of Amelia Earhart's plane, investigators say.
This image was provided by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery. Taken in late 1937 off the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro, it interests investigators because of the object on the left side of the photo. Something is sticking out of the water. Enhanced analysis indicates that could be part of Amelia Earhart's plane, investigators say. AP