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Finding Amelia Earhart: New Expedition Could Solve Mystery

The search for Amelia Earhart is on (again).

The search for Amelia Earhart is on (again).

An organized search party called "The Earhart Project," led by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, also known as TIGHAR (pronounced "tiger"), is in its second week of searching for clues surrounding the mysterious disappearance of legendary aviator Amelia Earhart.

The Earhart Project is testing the hypothesis that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, made an emergency landing, and eventually died, on Gardner Island, also called Nikumaroro, an uninhabited island in the Republic of Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean.

The current search expedition is named "Niku VIII" for its eighth trip in search of Earhart and Noonan. The first expedition, the Niku I, set sail in 1989.

Earhart and Noonan disappeared during an attempt to fly around the world. On July 2, 1937, Earhart and Noonan departed Lae, Papua New Guinea, for Howland Island, an uninhabited island just north of the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, about 1,700 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, on a flight that should have lasted 19 hours. Their arrival was never recorded, and little is known about their final moments. Earhart's disappearance is one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history.

Niku VIII is sailing on the MS Nai'a, a 120-foot research motorboat that departed June 8 from Figi, an island country in the South Pacific Ocean, on the 24-day expedition. The 14-person team is using a small, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to scour the ocean floor, scuba gear for shallow underwater searches and metal detectors to search for manmade items among the natural.

The ROV can descend more than 1,000 feet, and is equipped with powerful lights, thrusters and high-definition real-time video, among other features. The ROV team reported setting up the camera on June 14.

On the same day, the crew's five scuba divers saw many fish, but also reported seeing unhealthy, and sometimes dead, corals at depths of around 80 feet. In deeper waters, reaching around 140 feet, the reef looked healthy, "with lots of places for bits of airplane wreckage to hang up," the divers recorded in their daily report. The divers plan to focus on this area in the coming days.

The team's four onshore detectives are searching inland from the beach for remnants of a possible survival camp set up by Earhart and Noonan. The team studied a 1938 aerial photograph from which manmade objects — including a knife that was beaten apart to detach the blade, several broken, partially melted bottles in the remains of a cooking fire and other fire features — were identified. Although the land may have looked quite different more than 70 years ago, the crew hopes that the island's basic landscape has remained relatively unchanged, project officials said.

This is a condensed version of an article that appeared on Live Science. Read the original story here. Elizabeth Goldbaum is on Twitter. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+.