The latest hunt for Amelia Earhart's vanished plane came up empty—but that doesn't mean Robert Ballard's expedition turned up no important information. Ballard, the ocean explorer who famously found the Titanic, was intrigued enough by the so-called "Bevington image" that he decided to take on the search for Earhart's Lockheed Electra, which went down in 1937 during a round-the-world flight. The image, a photo taken by a British sailor in 1940 at the remote South Pacific atoll now known as Nikumaroro, contains what appears to be landing gear from the plane; indeed, US intelligence analysts had concluded after enhancing the image that the object was consistent with such landing gear. But during the team's expedition to Nikumaroro, crew members found many beach rocks the same size and shape as the mysterious object in the photo. "Oh look," Dr. Ballard says he would joke, "another landing gear rock."
The two-week hunt, which cost millions and was carried out from land, sea, and air, will be featured on the National Geographic Channel's Expedition Amelia Sunday. Accompanying archaeologists from the National Geographic Society took soil samples from a bivouac shelter on the island where bones were found in 1940; they were lost after a doctor in Fiji determined they belonged to a European man, but the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (Tighar) has since determined they may very well have been Earhart's bones. The NatGeo team is awaiting DNA analysis of the soil to see whether Earhart's remains may have rested there. They are also testing skull fragments found in a museum on a nearby Pacific island; the skull was reconstructed and is believed to have belonged to a female, per Fox 13. And Ballard plans to continue searching: "This plane exists. It’s not the Loch Ness monster, and it’s going to be found." (Read more Amelia Earhart stories.)