TIGHAR Video Shows Evidence Of Manmade Debris, Possibly Amelia Earhart Plane
August 19, 2012

TIGHAR Video Shows Evidence Of Manmade Debris, Possibly Amelia Earhart Plane

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Researchers, who have spent years investigating the final resting place of Amelia Earhart and her Lockheed Electra Model 10, may have gotten a big break this week when sifting through video footage from their latest expedition revealed interesting clues to the whereabouts of the famed aviator´s plane.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), said on Friday that video footage from their Niku VII expedition to the Phoenix Island group turned up some revealing video footage. The footage, collected in July, along the coastal reef waters of Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati, purportedly shows a manmade debris trail, possibly that of a plane -- more notably, Earhart´s Lockheed Electra plane.

If the evidence does prove to be that of Earhart´s lost wreckage, it could be the greatest discovery since the final resting place of the ill-fated Titanic was discovered more than 25 years ago. The fate of Earhart and her plane have long been debated and numerous theories abound.

Among the theories, only a few stand out as very real possibilities.

TIGHAR´s theory puts Earhart on a direct course to Nikumaroro, where she landed on a reef abutting the small atoll and lived out her last days along with navigator Fred Noonan as a castaway, succumbing to the elements. The strong ocean currents pounding against the reef would have eventually pulled the plane off the reef and swept it into the ocean depths, possibly tearing the metal beast to shreds along the steep mountainous underwater terrain.

The other most notable theory, is explained in the book “The Hunt For Amelia Earhart,” authored by Douglas Westfall of the Paragon Agency. In that theory, Earhart was too far away from Nikumaroro to have possibly made a landing there. Westfall told redOrbit in July that he believed Earhart splashed down in the Pacific somewhere near the Marshall Islands and most likely sank in the deep waters of the Pacific.

In fact, a wealth of evidence suggests this was most likely the case.

However, TIGHAR has also  found much evidence on the island of Nikumaroro -- evidence that suggests Americans had been on the island sometime in the 1930s. Gillespie and researchers with TIGHAR have found Americanized beauty products that were synonymous with Earhart on the island, including a freckle cream jar like one she would have had.

Gillespie´s evidence is substantial enough that one cannot discount it as inconclusive. Among the substantial evidence would be the new findings of manmade debris in the ocean waters.

The TIGHAR Niku VII expedition, which set sail a day after the 75th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, had planned to spend up to a month hunting for the remains of Earhart´s Lockheed Electra in the waters off Nikumaroro Island (originally named Gardiner Island). But a host of technical issues and difficult search terrain forced the team to abort the missions early and return home to Honolulu with somewhat less information than they had hoped to collect.

Still, there was a substantial amount of data to pore over, and early estimates have proven fruitful, according to TIGHAR. The data had been collected by two underwater search vehicles -- the Bluefin 21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). Both vehicles had difficulties searching in the treacherous waters and on more than one occasion, teams had to make hair-raising rescue attempts.

MSNBC reports that the AUV collected a wealth of multi-beam and side-scan data, while the ROV collected hours of high-definition video.

“Early media reports rushed to judgment in saying that the expedition didn't find anything,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News. “We had, of course, hoped to see large pieces of aircraft wreckage but as soon as we saw the severe underwater environment at Nikumaroro we knew that we would be looking for debris from an airplane that had been torn to pieces 75 years ago.”

RedOrbit speculatively reported on July 20 that the plane´s final resting place would remain a mystery for now, barring any information gleaned from TIGHAR´s mission.

Jeff Glickman, forensic imaging specialist for TIGHAR, told Discovery News that he has so far made “a cursory review of less than 30 percent of the expedition's video and have identified what appears to be an interesting debris field.”

Some skepticism could still hold water. The SS Norwich City, a British steamer which ran aground on the island´s reef in 1929, could account for some debris. Yet, Glickman noted that the location of the Norwich City debris field is distinctly apart from that of the new findings.

An image shot in October 1937 by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington, three months after Earhart went missing, revealed an apparent man-made protruding object on the left side of the frame. Analysis of an image shows what Glickman said is consistent with the shape and dimension of the upside-down landing gear of Earhart´s plane.

“The Bevington photo shows what appears to be four components of the plane: a strut, a wheel, a worm gear and a fender. In the debris field there appears to be the fender, possibly the wheel and possibly some portions of the strut,” Glickman said.

The next goal would be to recover the debris.

“If further analysis continues to support the hypothesis that we have found the object that appears in the 1937 Bevington Photo, we'll certainly want to recover it,” Gillespie said.

The announcement of the findings came two days before the Discovery Channel´s scheduled broadcast of “Finding Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved?” which airs Sunday August 19 at 10 PM.

“We were rushing to get at least some video reviewed so we could show something (on Discovery),” Gillespie said. But, he noted, the team does not want to oversell the evidence. “It is where it should be, and that is encouraging.”

Hans Van Tilburg, coordinator of the maritime heritage program for the Pacific region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said making a discovery of a decades-old object in the Pacific Ocean is very difficult.

“The Pacific Ocean is a high-energy environment and the aircraft they are looking for is quite fragile,” he told Reuters. “Therefore finding something and making identification is very difficult. You are looking for broken pieces.”

Besides the hunt for Earhart´s plane, investigations continue on the other evidence found on the small uninhabited island.

The freckle cream jar found on the island provides strong evidence that Earhart and Noonan made an emergency landing on the island of Nikumaroro and died there as castaways.

“Scientists have found traces of mercury on the interior surface of the little jar that we suspect once contained Dr. Berry´s Freckle Cream,” Gillespie said.

Evidence of mercury makes the find that more intriguing, as Dr. Berry´s Freckle Cream was marketed in the early 20th century as a concoction guaranteed to make freckles fade. And it has been noted in the past that Earhart did not like her freckles.

“It is well documented that Amelia had freckles and disliked having them,” Joe Cerniglia, the TIGHAR researcher who first spotted the freckle ointment as a possible match, told Discovery News. “The only product sold in the ointment jar that we know contained mercury was Dr. C.H. Berry's Freckle Ointment. Documentation I collected shows this product historically contained anywhere from 9.8 to 12 percent ammoniated mercury, depending on the year it was produced”

Testing of the jar was done by Greg George, a chemist who read the Discovery News story on the cosmetic jar. He confirmed that the jar contained trace amounts of mercury.

TIGHAR acknowledged that it is impossible to directly link the ointment jar to Amelia Earhart.

“We can not exclude the possibility that someone brought a jar of American women's freckle cream to a British-administered island where nobody had freckles – but it doesn't seem very likely,” said Gillespie.

The jar was found broken into five pieces, and one shard was collected farther away from the others near some turtle bones. The investigators assume it may have been used as a cutting tool, suggesting it may have been associated with a castaway who died on the island.

“The question, therefore, would seem to be whether the castaway who had a jar of American women's freckle cream was someone other than Amelia Earhart. We don't know who that would be,” he added.