After ten years of negotiations, TIGHAR has succeeded in acquiring imagery that may finally prove whether TIGHAR Artifact 2-2-V-1 is the aluminum patch installed on the Electra in Miami prior to Earhart's departure on her second and fatal world flight attempt. The artifact has been the subject of intense debate ever since we found it washed up on Nikumaroro in 1991. The key to a conclusive yea or nay is a comparison between the unique rivet pattern and deformation on the artifact and the unique rivet pattern and deformation visible in photos of the patch on the Electra. The problem has always been the poor resolution in the handful of historic photos that show the patch.
|The artifact as we found it in 1991.
||The photograph taken from the film.
In 2008, we were contacted by a woman who said she had photos and movie film of Earhart, Noonan and the Electra in Lae, New Guinea. A TIGHAR researcher visited her and made low-resolution scans of still photos taken on July 1, 1937 showing the aircraft being fueled for the flight to Howland Island the next day. One of the photos was especially interesting. It showed the right rear side of the Electra from a closer distance than any photo we had yet seen. The patch was clearly visible. TIGHAR’s forensic imaging expert, Jeff Glickman, felt that if he had access to the original photo he might be able to do a conclusive comparison. The TIGHAR researcher also watched a VHS dub of scenes from a reel of 16mm movie film showing the Electra taking off for the short test flight on the morning of July 1, 1937 and the subsequent fueling operation. The owner acquired the photos and film as part of a divorce settlement.
The photos and movies were said to have been taken by a relative of the owner's ex-husband who was in the mining business during the great New Guinea gold rush of the 1930s and happened to be in Lae on July 1st. A letter from the photographer dated July 2, 1937 documents the authenticity of the film:
...we met up with Amelia Putnam in Lae day before yesterday. Had lunch with her and her navigator and they have plenty of what it takes when they hop off from Lae for a little spot less than a mile in diameter right out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. If that navigator finds it he is going to be good. It is a 2800 mile hop from Lae. I got a movie of them yesterday morning taking off for a little test flight, then after they got back, I got a fairly close up of her and the Vacuum agent there. Of course she is using Vacuum oil and gas on the trip. She is a very common looking girl but I've got to hand it to her for nerve. I didn’t really mean common looking, I meant ordinary looking. There is nothing uppish about her at all but she is attending to business all the time.
The owner demanded a price for the material that was far beyond TIGHAR’s resources, and it took ten years of off-and-on negations to reach a deal. Once we had the photos and film in hand, we realized that the still photos are actually taken from frames in the 16mm movie film. That’s good news. The film was probably shot at twenty-four frames per second. If the camera lingered on the right rear of the aircraft for only one second we have not one but twenty-four photos of the patch. Jeff Glickman commented, “From a forensic imaging perspective, it’s like hitting the lottery.”
The next step is to get the brittle, nearly 82 year-old, acetate film scanned at high resolution, a delicate and expensive operation that must be done on special equipment. Once the imagery is safely rendered in digital format, Jeff can start the painstaking process of forensic analysis. The end product should be a seeing-is-believing comparison between the patch and the artifact that will prove – or disprove – that they are one and the same.
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