In 1991, a group of researchers investigating the disappearance of Amelia Earhart found a sheet of aluminum on the island of Nikumaroro in the Western Pacific. Earhart’s plane, a Model 10 Electra, mysteriously vanished near the island on July 2, 1937. This piece of metal, a sheet 19 inches by 23 inches and made of the same material as Earhart’s plane, looked like it could be the first piece of the aircraft ever found.
Then the team noticed that in pictures taken of the Electra as it took off from Miami on June 1, 1937, the plane had a shiny patch near its tail, covering what had been a specially made window. This patch, Gillespie explained, was an improvised repair, and so was completely unique to Earhart’s plane. Could the sheet be this patch? “My first reaction was: This is a Hail Mary pass,” he said.
The team further analyzed the old photo and turned to a restored Electra to see how such a piece of metal would have been attached. After closer examination, they realized that the sheet perfectly matched in size, shape, and patterns of rivet holes. Even tears along the edges of the sheet aligned with where rivets would’ve been. “It’s like a fingerprint,” Gillespie said. The team reported their findings here.
“This is the first time we’ve ever found something we can link directly to Earhart’s aircraft,” he said. “And we’re going to treat it as a piece of her aircraft.”