Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia Commons

Researchers have stumbled upon fresh clues concerning the mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator who vanished in July 1937 over the central Pacific while on a round-the-world flight.

Researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) have found fragments of a plane off Nikumaroro Island in the South-western Pacific republic of Kiribiti, near where Earhart's plane is thought to have crashed.

The pieces were discovered while analysing data retrieved from an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) and a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV).

The AUV collected multi-beam and side-scan data, while the ROV, capable of reaching depths of 3,300 feet, produced hours of high-definition video, according to a Discovery News report.

While sifting through the data, researchers came across a strange object on the sea floor. They believe that it could be part of the landing gear from Earhart's plane. A plane wheel was also discovered. The objects are reminiscent of those visible in the corner of a photograph taken in late 1937 by a British Colonial Service officer, Eric R Bevington.

"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," 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," Gillespie added.

Previously, TIGHAR researchers had found a bottle near Nikumaroro Island. The bottle contained residues of mercury, which they believed was used in facial cream. Researchers believed that Earhart may have landed on the island and eventually perished there.

"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.

Researchers are planning to retrieve the debris from the ocean floor for in-depth analysis. "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.