Amelia Earhart: 75 Years of Mystery — and Now an Answer?

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Amelia Earhart stands in front of her bi-plane called "Friendship" in Newfoundland on June 14, 1928.

The world is once again talking about Amelia Earhart. Some 75 years after the famed aviator first disappeared, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has presented fresh evidence of a debris field found in the waters off Nikumaroro Island, where many believe Earhart crash-landed.

The fog of mystery surrounding what happened to Earhart has remained a point of global fascination since she first disappeared from radio contact in July of 1937.

(PHOTOS: Amelia Earhart, Before Her Mysterious Disappearance)

In the decades that followed, scientists and historians have continued to dig through archives, scan underwater wreckage, and even test saliva, in the hope of finding conclusive proof of just what happened to the woman who attempted to circumnavigate the planet.

The most recent discoveries lend credence to the theory that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crashed off the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro, then known as Gardner Island, where they eventually died after living as castaways.

(MORE: The world’s top 10 famous disappearances)

The first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, Earhart embraced the challenge of flying around the Earth with the aid of only one navigator. On July 2, 1937, the duo was reported missing during the most difficult leg of the journey. They were heading from Lae, New Guinea, to Howland Island — a tiny, uninhabited atoll in the middle of the Pacific more than 2,000 nautical miles away.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Itasca, commissioned to assist with the risky journey, had received messages indicating that Earhart was both lost over the ocean and running low on fuel. But communication was shaky, and the ship’s officers were unable to pinpoint the location of Earhart’s Lockheed aircraft.

(MORE: Amelia Earhart secrets — in her saliva?)

When all communications ceased, both a Coast Guard search team and Navy officers combed the surrounding area of ocean, but found no evidence of Earhart, Noonan or their plane. But of course, many were left unsatisfied with this excruciatingly vague conclusion, and a succession of search efforts soon commenced.

Three months after the disappearance, for example, scientists discovered what appeared to be remnants of the doomed aircraft in the background of a photo taken off the western shore of Nikumaroro. Forensic analysis later indicated that the photo, taken by British Colonial Service officer Eric R. Bevington, indeed captured key components of the Lockheed plane. This discovery prompted many scientists to shift their focus to Nikumaroro, located a few hundred nautical miles from Earhart’s original destination of Howland Island.

The most recent expedition, headed by TIGHAR, which has made at least eight previous trips to the region, returned once again to Nikumaroro — and the objects the team discovered appear to be the same objects that were first displayed in that grainy 1937 photo.

The latest findings follow earlier discoveries: In a previous mission, TIGHAR researchers discovered other intriguing clues near Nikumaroro, like an anti-freckle ointment container that appeared to belong to Earhart. “It is well documented that Amelia had freckles and disliked having them,” Joe Cerniglia, one of the group’s researchers, told Discovery News

Analysts have reviewed less than 30% of the data from the most recent mission, which cost $2.2 million to orchestrate.

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