You've certainly seen the news story -- "Piece of Amelia Earhart's Plane Conclusively Identified". That's actually incorrect. But it's a nifty trick that a research group called TIGHAR has pulled to make you believe so, aided by rather clueless news outlets that love to post sensational stories.
There is more to this tale. There is almost ALWAYS way more to the story than a press release or news feature will reveal. How is the reader to know? Engage some skepticism no matter how much you want to think it's true.
Let's examine the TIGHAR claim that they have a real piece of Earhart's plane.
Amelia Earhart Plane Fragment Identified:
A fragment of Amelia Earhart’s lost aircraft has been identified to a high degree of certainty for the first time ever since her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean on July 2, 1937, in a record attempt to fly around the world at the equator.
New research strongly suggests that a piece of aluminum aircraft debris recovered in 1991 from Nikumaroro, an uninhabited atoll in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati, does belong to Earhart’s twin-engined Lockheed Electra.
TIGHAR researchers went to Wichita Air Services in Newton, Kans., and compared the dimensions and features of the Artifact 2-2-V-1, as the metal sheet found on Nikumaroro was called, with the structural components of a Lockheed Electra being restored to airworthy condition.
The rivet pattern and other features on the 19-inch-wide by 23-inch-long Nikumaroro artifact matched the patch and lined up with the structural components of the Lockheed Electra. TIGHAR detailed the finding in a report on its website.
The evidence that TIGHAR or anyone else has to support this idea is poor. This result would have meant that Earhart and Noonan were very far off course from Howland, their scheduled island refueling stop to which they never arrived. Nikumaroro is five and one half degrees of latitude south of Howland - not a small error. It's likely that they would not have had the fuel to reach this location so off their anticipated course. TIGHAR is suggesting that Earhart and Noonan made a major navigational mistake and assumed they made it to the wrong island in some unknown fashion. [Dunning, B. "Finding Amelia Earhart." Skeptoid Podcast. 31 Jan 2012. Web. 30 Oct 2014].
TIGHAR has claimed several artifacts found on Nikumaroro including a wooden box, a human skeleton, and this piece of aluminum debris that washed onshore, are possibly connected to Earhart. Is that a reasonable assumption? The island was not deserted, many people have inhabited it and many fisherman visit. There is plenty of human debris left behind or dumped overboard as well as many plane- or ship-wrecks that have occurred in the vicinity. The odds that any stray debris washed up will belong to Earhart or Noonan are unlikely, especially considering the last point that they probably did not even crash there. TIGHAR is asking us to buy into their claim that all the interesting artifacts connect to the lost pilots.
TIGHAR has had this aluminum scrap since 1991. In 1992, the piece was examined by mechanics and metallurgists and determined NOT to be a piece of the Earhart plane. When TIGHAR's Executive Director Ric Gillespie held a press conference that year saying he'd solved the mystery of where the plane went down, he did not mention this negative conclusion. Essentially, this "new" finding is the same as the finding in 1992. It was disputed then and it remains disputed now.
In covering the Earhart story for several years now at Doubtful News, the TIGHAR trail is almost laughable. They seem determined to conclude that any hint of anything found around the island is connected to Earhart. Their continued claims and appeals for funds appear more like and endless cycle of money-making hype than real investigation. However, such expeditions don't come cheap.
Gillespie collects private donations to fund his expeditions. A lawsuit was filed against him alleging that TIGHAR misrepresented the status of its exploration to an investor in 2012 encouraging additional funding since it was possible the plane could still be found. This funding appears to have supported the Discovery Channel expedition noted above.
Ultimately, the TIGHAR quest resembles a hunt for anomalies that is intended to lead the public and potential investors to believe they are on the right track but never actual succeeds.
Is this latest conclusion about the aluminum piece good evidence of Earhart's Lockheed Electra craft? The detailed information not been published in a journal. It's not been open to scrutiny by other experts. Until there is a consensus that this piece of metal is what TIGHAR hopes it is AND other threads of evidence point to a similar conclusion, it is not reasonable to conclude that the TIGHAR hypothesis about Earhart and Noonan's demise has been confirmed.