A team investigating the disappearance of Amelia Earhart is reporting, with "increasing confidence," that it has managed to identify a piece of her plane that was retrieved in 1991. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, says the part in question is a metal patch that was used to replace a window when Earhart stopped in Miami; that patch is visible in a photo taken by the Miami Herald in 1937. "Its complex fingerprint of dimensions, proportions, materials, and rivet patterns was as unique to Earhart's Electra as a fingerprint is to an individual," says TIGHAR Director Ric Gillespie. The patch was found on an uninhabited atoll in the Pacific called Nikumaroro, where TIGHAR has long been focusing its search, and it may have big implications, Discovery reports.
According to a TIGHAR press release via NBC News, the find "has bolstered speculation that a sonar anomaly detected at a depth of 600 feet off the west end of the island is the lost aircraft." What's more, if it's authentic, Discovery notes, it "would prove" that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan didn't crash; rather, the two would have been forced to land and ended up as castaways on the atoll. Eventually, the plane would have been "washed into the ocean by rising tides and surf," explains Gillespie. TIGHAR has already found artifacts on the atoll that support such a story. The next step comes in June, when TIGHAR will use a Remotely Operated Vehicle to check out the "anomaly." Read more on TIGHAR's fascinating and contentious search. (Read more Amelia Earhart stories.)