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Amelia Earhart: An intriguing photograph that could finally solve 75-year-old riddle

By Adrian Rutherford

It remains one of the most enduring mysteries of the 20th century.

In 1937 the world’s top female aviator, Amelia Earhart, vanished without trace while attempting to fly around the globe.

The darling of the US, her celebrity status ensured her disappearance has continued to intrigue and captivate historians.

Now, 75 years on, the mystery could finally be solved. A tiny dot on a photograph taken by a British military surveyor in 1937 shows what could be a strut and wheel of her crashed plane protruding from the water near Nikumaroro, an island which is part of the nation of Kiribati in the South Pacific.

Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who located the Titanic wreck in 1985, is hoping to help solve the riddle.

He believes the new evidence narrows the search area for the aircraft from tens of thousands of square miles to a manageable size.

“If you ever want a case of finding a needle in a haystack, this is at the top of the list,” he said.

Mr Ballard is assisting a US expedition team aiming to prove that Amelia survived the crash.

The team believes that, unable to summon help in an era before satellite technology, she died some weeks later, stranded with her navigator on Nikumaroro. Evidence of a castaway’s camp was found on the island, including a woman’s powder compact from the 1930s and parts of clothing which could have belonged to Amelia.

Then aged 39, Ms Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937, while travelling from Lae, in Papua New Guinea, to Howland Island during her bid to become the first woman to fly around the world.

The disappearance baffled aviation enthusiasts and sparked numerous conspiracy theories, including claims that Amelia was a US agent spying on Japan and had been captured and executed.

The most bizarre theory is that she survived and assumed a different identity.

Numerous attempts to find the wreckage in the years since her disappearance have failed.

Now, however, efforts to solve the mystery have been given fresh impetus after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new $500,000 hunt to find the wreckage.

Mrs Clinton said she became involved in the project because of her own admiration for Earhart, who inspired her to write to Nasa when she was 13.

“I asked what I needed to do to try to be an astronaut, but of course there weren’t any women astronauts,” she said.

“Nasa may have said I couldn’t go into space. But nobody was there to tell Amelia Earhart she couldn’t do what she chose to.”


Amelia Earhart became a global heroine after becoming the first woman to fly non-stop across the Atlantic solo in May 1932. She took off from Newfoundland, destination Paris, but landed off-course in an open field near Londonderry. Last month Derry City Council discussed plans to rename its airport in her honour.

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