For years, the resting place of American hero Amelia Earhart has been considered among aviation's greatest mysteries. But now, pictures of the island she may have lived on before her death could shed new light on her last flight.
Taken on Dec. 1, 1938, more than a year after Earhart's disappearance, the aerial photos of Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro Island) may provide evidence of Earhart's camp or crash site, according to Discovery News.
The photos surfaced earlier this month in a tin box in the New Zealand Air Force Museum, where they had apparently lain forgotten for decades, according to New Zealand news site Stuff.co.nz.
Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), said he and a team will be flying to New Zealand in July to examine the photos, which appear to include visible footprints that may have belonged to Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan, ABC reports.
Matthew O'Sullivan, keeper of photographs at the New Zealand Air Force Museum, emailed Gillespie with his discovery after correctly suspecting the set of 43 photos, including their negatives, might show Nikumaroro Island. The find is especially valuable because it includes the original photo negatives, according to the outlet.
"You lose something every time you duplicate a photograph," Gillespie told ABC. "Having the originals means we'll be able to see a lot of things we otherwise would have lost."
Researchers say they hope the images will bring them closer to drawing a definitive conclusion.
"For 25 years we have struggled to tease details from a handful of printed photos. Now we have an amazing array of detailed aerial images of every part of the atoll taken before the first colonists, or even the New Zealand Survey party, set foot on the island," Gillespie told Discovery News.
Earhart disappeared on July 2, 1937 on the Pacific Ocean leg of an around-the-world flight attempt. In the ensuing decades, theories about the pilot's final resting place have included capture and execution by the Japanese or a fatal crash into the waters of the Pacific.
However, TIGHAR researchers say they have amassed a good deal of evidence to suggest Earhart and her navigator were forced to make an emergency landing on the deserted island.
A contact sheet shows aerial images of Nikumaroro, the island where it's believed Amelia Earhart landed.
This photo reconstruction by TIGHAR shows Earhart's plane if it had landed on a reef on the island of Nikumaroro.
An image of Nikumaroro.
TIGHAR believes flood tides lifted the Electra over the reef edge, which left behind the landing gear, seen in this photo.
TIGHAR believes that Earhart and Noon explored the island.
Map of the island of Nikumaroro showing the Western Reef Slop and the Seven Site, where it's believed Earhart survived until her death.
A partial skeleton, believed to be female was found at the Seven Site in 1940.
Clam shells found on Nikumaroro suggest Earhart may have survived on them for weeks.
Researchers found several other artifacts on Nikumaroro.