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Chch man finds clue in Earhart mystery

Monday 24 Jun 2013 2:27 p.m.

This photo, of Gardner Island, was uncovered by MAtthew O'Sullivan (supplied)

This photo, of Gardner Island, was uncovered by MAtthew O'Sullivan (supplied)

A Christchurch man may have discovered a clue in the decades-old mystery of pilot Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in the South Pacific.

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were last seen taking off from Papua New Guinea on July 2, 1937. She later contacted officials to say she was running out of fuel, before radio contact with her twin-engine Lockheed Electra was lost.

Her death has remained a mystery ever since and some historians argue she may have survived the crash-landing and become stranded on Gardner Island.

Air Force Museum keeper of photographs Matthew O'Sullivan has international newspapers and historians buzzing after stumbling across what may be the earliest photos of the island – believed to be Earhart's last resting place.

Records of a shoe matching the style and size worn by Earhart and human remains were discovered on the island in 1991.

Mr O'Sullivan says the photos have been sitting in his Christchurch archive for at least 20 years, and came from the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

"I've had a reference in my registers which just say 'unknown atoll', it's something that I never went into because I had a million other things to do," he told 3 News.

"The museum took over care for the RNZAF's official negative collections around 20 years ago and this was one of the tins that came with that."

The photos are suspected to have been taken by the RNZAF in late 1938 – only a year after Earhart's disappearance - in support of a New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey.
Sick of the question mark over the unknown negatives, Mr O'Sullivan did some research and realised he may have found something special.

"The photos were of sufficient clarity and sufficient detail for me to have pretty much confirmed that what I had was Gardner Island," he says.

"I thought, 'I might know a researcher that might be interested in this'."

Contacting the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), who have long been researching Earhart's disappearance, Mr O'Sullivan's hunch was confirmed.

"[They] believe that this island is where Amelia crashed," he says.

The organisation is now planning to send representatives to Christchurch to further examine the negatives, with the potential hope that they will come across photographic proof of life.

"They'll be looking for evidence of wreckage or evidence of habitation, because they believe her and her navigators survived the crashed and lived on the atoll for a period of time before they died," Mr O'Sullivan says.

The group is expected to visit as early as next month, with the hope of solving a mystery that has remained out of reach for 75 years.

3 News


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