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Earhart expedition finds likely debris

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About 2,100 miles southwest of Honolulu, an undersea debris field of man-made objects appears in high-resolution video taken by a group looking for clues to the disappearance of famed aviator Amelia Earhart.

The debris is off the island of Niku­ma­­roro in the Republic of Kiri­bati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, said Ric Gillespie of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, based in Dover, Del.

Gillespie said Monday the debris field is in the same area where a 1937 photograph shows an object that the group says could be landing gear sticking out of the water. That photo was taken shortly after Earhart and Fred Noonan disappeared on an around-the-world flight in July of that year.

Gillespie says analysis of the video is continuing.

The U.S. State Department had encouraged the privately funded voyage, which launched in July from Hono­­lulu using 30,000 pounds in specialized equipment and a University of Hawaii ship normally used for ocean research.

PAT Thrasher, Gillespie’s wife and president of the group, said plans are already in the works for a land-based expedition to the atoll next year.

The voyagers did not notice anything initially as video came in from a tethered underwater vehicle rigged with cameras and lights. But since then the explorers have been able to more closely examine hours of high-definition video and sonar data.

"It’s unbelievably difficult as an environment, and your eyeballs fall out after a while" watching the video, Thrasher said last month. "The only way you can be sure you know what you found is to go back through the data very carefully."

The group’s thesis is based on the idea that Earhart and Noonan landed on a reef near Niku­­ma­­roro, then survived a short time. Previous visits to the island have recovered artifacts that could have belonged to Earhart and Noonan, including a map case and the heel of a shoe, and experts said the October 1937 photo of the shoreline of the island could include a blurry image of the strut and wheel of a Lockheed Electra’s landing gear.

Earhart, the first to fly solo from Hono­lulu to California in 1935, was en route from New Guinea to Hono­lulu via Howland Island, 420 miles north-northwest of Niku­ma­roro, when her aircraft disappeared.

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