The fate of pioneering pilot Amelia Earhart is a mystery that's baffled aviation experts for three-quarters of a century. But a Kiwi aviation buff's discovery of historic footage of a tiny Pacific atoll could change all that.
Matthew O'Sullivan of the Christchurch Air Force Museum recently came across a tin of film in the museum's archives bearing the description "unknown atoll".
"About a month ago I decided I'd try and figure out where this unknown atoll was and solve this question, and it turned out to be Gardner Island," he said on Firstline this morning.
Shot by the RNZAF, the footage is believed to date from 1938, only a year after Ms Earhart disappeared during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
She had taken off from Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937, intending to land on Howland Island to the north on her way to the United States. But after radioing that night to say they were running low on fuel, she was never heard from again.
Some researchers believe Ms Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan survived a crash near Gardner Island, an atoll now part of Kiribati. They swam to nearby Gardner Island, but without access to fresh water their prospects for survival - without rescue - were ultimately nil.
After realising the atoll in the footage was Gardner Island, Mr O'Sullivan contacted researcher Ric Gillespie.
"Ric Gillespie believes that this is where she crash-landed," says Mr O'Sullivan.
"He's still searching for that and looking for positive evidence, and given that this is an early survey of this particular island, or atoll rather, then he believes that there may be some evidence within the images that may help him with his search."
Mr Gillespie's team last year found what may be evidence of a plane wreck on the ocean floor near Gardner Island, and has in past found artefacts they believe can be linked to Ms Earhart, such as 1930s-era skin care products and a finger bone.
Mr O'Sullivan says if the film shows evidence of habitation, that would be a major discovery.
"There weren't any official inhabitants of the island at that time, so like I say, any evidence of habitation could possibly suggest that it might be Amelia," he says.
"It might be someone else, but Ric Gillespie certainly thinks it might be her."
Mr O'Sullivan says he's had a look at some of the footage and nothing seems out of place to him, but he's no expert.
"I don't have the trained eye that these searchers and researchers have. They know what they're looking for.
"They've looked at a great number of photographs from all over the world… ground photos and aerial photos, so I'm going to leave it up to them to see what they can find."
source: newshub archive