By Staff Reporter, Jun 25, 2013 04:54 PM EDT
(PHOTO CREDIT: TIGHAR)
There may be new photographic evidence of Amelia Earhart's last days in aerial photographs of the remote island where she may have spent her time as a castaway. A New Zealand museum archive, found by Matthew O'Sullivan, keeper of photographs at the New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch, was discovered in an unlabeled tin box.
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The box contains five sheets of contact prints, which will have 45 photographs, and the accompanying set of negatives with the a slip of paper reading "Gardner Island."
The uninhabited tropical island, currently called Nikumaroro, is located in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes this is where Amelia Earhart spent her last days.
For a quick recap: Amelia Earhart disappeared on July 2, 1937 while flying over the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to set a record for flying around the world's equator. TIGHAR has retrieved many artifacts that suggest that Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not crash into the ocean but instead, landed somewhere near Howland Island. The organization's running theory is that the Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan became castaways.
"For 25 years we have struggled to tease details from a handful of printed photos. Now we have an amazing array of detailed aerial images of every part of the atoll taken before the first colonists, or even the New Zealand Survey party, set foot on the island," Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.
The images recently found were taken on Dec. 1, 1938 by a Supermarine Walrus from the New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey a few months before the island was officially habited and a 15 months after Earhart disappeared. Gillespie reveals that the photographs provide an excellent view and as such, could assist in putting together the pieces in the Amelia Earhart story.
"What do you expect to find in an unopened treasure chest? We can only imagine. We could find photographic evidence of the aircraft debris on the reef or beach, or spot signs of human activity on the beach and in other parts of the island," Gillespie said.
TIGHAR has revealed that sonar imagery of Nikumaroro shows an "anomaly" that could be Amelia Earhart's aircraft but more importantly, it could also reveal evidence of the castaways presence on the island.
Remains of Amelia Earhart were found in 1940 and recovered by British Colonial Service Officer Gerald Gallagher. The partial remains consisted of 13 bones that were described to be "more likely female than male" and "more likely white than Polynesian." The only caveat: The human remains have been lost.
"We're currently working out the logistics of a trip to Christchurch to examine the negatives with our forensic imaging specialist, Jeff Glickman," Gillespie said. "We will be working not from a third generation print but from the original large-format, fine-grained negatives. In our fondest dreams we couldn't have wished for something like this."