An array of detailed aerial photos of the remote island where Amelia Earhart may have survived for a time as a castaway, has resurfaced in a New Zealand museum archive, raising hopes for new photographic evidence about the fate of the legendary aviator.
Found by Matthew O'Sullivan, keeper of photographs at the New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch, the images lay forgotten in an unlabeled tin box in the museum's archives.
The box contained five sheets of contact prints -- for a total of 45 photos, complete with negatives -- and a slip of paper with the words "Gardner Island."
Now called Nikumaroro, the uninhabited tropical atoll in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati is believed to be Earhart final resting place by researchers of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).
The legendary aviator disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937 in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator.
A number of artifacts recovered by TIGHAR during 10 expeditions have suggested that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, did not crash in the Pacific Ocean, running out of fuel somewhere near their target destination Howland Island.
Instead, they made a forced landing on the island's smooth, flat coral reef. The two became castaways and eventually died on the atoll, which is some 350 miles southeast of Howland Island.
"For 25 years we have struggled to tease details from a handful of printed photos. Now we have an amazing array of detailed aerial images of every part of the atoll taken before the first colonists, or even the New Zealand Survey party, set foot on the island," Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR, told Discovery News.
The images represent a complete set of aerial obliques taken on Dec. 1, 1938 by a Supermarine Walrus launched from HMS Leander in support of the New Zealand Pacific Aviation Survey. They were taken just 15 months after the Earhart disappearance and just before the first official habitation of the island in late December 1938.