Amelia Earhart plane fragment found on Pacific island

A piece of aluminium has been strongly identified as a fragment of Amelia Earhart's plane, according to new research.

Earhart (1897-1937) was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

Earhart reportedly sent distress signals for at least five days before her aircraft was washed into the sea

The small sheet of metal almost certainly belonged to the female aviator's twin-engined Lockheed Electra, which was last seen over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937. It was discovered on Nikumaroro, a deserted atoll near Kiribati - between Hawaii and Australia.

The Internation Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) states that the fragment was installed on Earhart's plane following an eight-day stopover in Miami, the fourth on her pioneering flight around the world.

It was identified from a photograph published in the Miami Herald that showed Earhart leaving for Puerto Rico.

"The Miami Patch was an expedient field repair," executive director of TIGHAR, Ric Gillespie, told Discovery News.

"Its complex fingerprint of dimensions, proportions, materials and rivet patterns was as unique to Earhart's Electra as a fingerprint is to an individual."

While many may wish to be stranded on an island in the South Pacific, Nikumaroro is known for its oppressive heat, razor sharp coral reefs and aggressive crabs

Evidence found by the research team during 10 archaelogical expeditions to the tiny atoll suggests that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were forced to make an emergency landing on Nikumaroro's coral reef, dispelling the previous theory that they had crash landed in the Pacific Ocean.

Artifacts discovered on the island show that the pair had likely become castaways, with Earhart sending radio distress calls for at least five nights before her aircraft was washed into the sea.

The team will now investigate a photograph taken three months after Earhart's disappearance, which shows an unidentified object sticking out of the waters surrounding the island.

Forensics have suggested that the object could be the landing gear of the Lockheed Electra, while sonar imaging revealed what could be the aircraft's fuselage resting 600 feet below a cliff.

As a pioneering female aviator, Earhart is extremely popular with collectors. Her flying goggles sold for $17,755 in 2011, while a signed cover from one of her famous flights appeared with a $4,000-6,000 estimate earlier this year.

It's unlikly that any of the artefacts found on the island will appear at auction soon, but they will receive big bids if ever they do.

Paul Fraser Collectibles has a superb fragment of Charles Lindbergh's famous Spirit of St Louis - the largest we've ever seen and signed by the pioneering aviator himself.

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