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Earhart team says possible plane debris sighted

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan set out to fly round the world in 1937, but their plane was lost over the Pacific (© 2009 AFP)

Researchers trying to unravel the mystery surrounding the 1937 disappearance of US aviator Amelia Earhart in the Pacific have said they spotted debris under water that may have come from her plane.

High-definition video taken by a Project Earhart team and analyzed in a laboratory show “man-made objects” scattered west of Kiribati’s Nikumaroro Island, said The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).

The expedition — the 10th in 23 years — in July filmed the seabed near the island, where they think Earhart may have made an emergency landing and lived for a short time during a bid to circumnavigate the globe along the equator.

“We see elements in the underwater photos that are consistent with pieces of landing gear,” TIGHAR director Richard Gillespie told AFP, noting his team spotted something that could have been a tire.

“This is a promising development,” Gillespie said.

“We need to do much more analysis… We haven’t claimed to solve the mystery with this. It’s the next step in the investigation.”

The location of the debris is promising, Gillespie said, as it is consistent with previous findings.

“It’s in the right place. Whether it’s the right stuff, the right material, we don’t yet know,” he said, adding: “If it’s airplane debris, it’s almost certainly related to Amelia. There is no other aircraft missing out there.”

On July 2, 1937, Earhart, 39, accompanied by navigator Fred Noonan, embarked on the final stretch of her world tour in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra, heading for California from Papua New Guinea.

Earhart planned to land on Howland Island to refuel, but a few hours after takeoff, she announced in a final radio message that she could not locate the island, and that her fuel was dwindling.

Despite numerous searches, no trace of her aircraft has been found to date.

A new Earhart expedition may take place in the next two years, if further analysis is promising, Gillespie said.

Signature : WASHINGTON (AFP)

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