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Chunk of Amelia Earhart's lost plane identified

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Posted at 7:12 PM, Oct 29, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-29 21:02:45-04

A piece of Amelia Earhart’s doomed airplane may have been identified.

Researchers said Wednesday that a sheet of aluminum recovered on the island of Nikumaroro was likely a patch bolted on to Earhart’s plane to cover a broken window.

“The solution to the mystery of her disappearance appears to be within reach,” said Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery.

The patch was bolted onto the plane during the Miami stopover of Earhart’s 1937 trek around the world. Gillespie said he found it on Nikumaroro in 1991.

Recently, researchers compared the rivet pattern of the sheet to the structure of a restored Lockheed Electra airplane, the same type Earhart was flying when she disappeared. Photographs in Miami also show the patch.

“I don’t talk about smoking guns, those are in the eye of the beholder,” Gillespie said. “We feel confident that it is that patch.”

If the metal sheet is from the plane, it supports a theory that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan ditched their plane near the Pacific island and died there, rather than crashing into the ocean.

TIGHAR is raising money for another expedition to Nikumaroro to examine a sonar blip off the coast. Gillespie said that may be the airplane's fuselage.

Find out more about Earhart's flight by watching this Newsy video:

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on twitter at @GavinStern or email him at gavin.stern@scripps.com.