Washington: A new clue in one of the 20th century's most enduring mysteries could soon uncover the fate of American aviator Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago, investigators said on Tuesday.
Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken just months after Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft protruding from the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati, they said.
Armed with that analysis by the State Department, historians, scientists and salvagers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, are returning to the island in July in the hope of finding the wreckage of Earhart's plane and perhaps even the remains of the pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan.
Ric Gillespie, executive director of the group, acknowledged that the evidence was "circumstantial" but "strong" but stopped short of predicting success. The new search is scheduled to last for ten days in July and will use state-of-the-art underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment.
"The most important thing is not whether we find the ultimate answer or what we find, it is the way we look," he said. "We see this opportunity to explore ... the last great American mystery of the 20th century as a vehicle for demonstrating how to go about figuring out what is true."
Earhart and Noonan disappeared July 2, 1937, while flying from New Guinea to Howland Island as part of her attempt to become the first female pilot to circumnavigate the globe.
Extensive searches at the time uncovered nothing and many historians are convinced they crashed into the ocean. In addition, conspiracy theories, including claims that they were US government agents captured by the Japanese before the Second World War, still abound despite having been largely debunked.