Robert Ballard’s expedition to Nikumaroro to search for evidence of Amelia Earhart’s final resting place has ended without locating the Lockheed Electra. The search isn’t heading back entirely empty-handed — a land-based search party is still working on the island, and National Geographic pointed to a silver sheet of metal with what appear to be rivet holes as potentially being an artifact connected to the lost Earhart aircraft — but no firm or final artifact was found to mark the spot where Earhart landed.
Ballard focused his search in the northwest corner of the island, near the lagoon. There were multiple reasons to focus on this location. The so-called Bevington Photo, taken by Cadet Officer Eric Bevington, while leaving Nikumaroro — then called Gardner Island — shows a strange object (inside the red circle) sticking up above the waves. The photo was initially discovered by TIGHAR, which has led searches for Earhart for decades.
An enlarged image of that object is shown below:
When we ran our deep dive on Amelia Earhart and the search for her aircraft, one of our readers — a senior mechanical engineer at a U.S. electronics manufacturer — contacted us with a bit of sleuthing they’d done on their own time. He used multiple AI programs to sharpen the enhanced version of that image, and writes:
The first program I used, Sharpen A.I., has three modes: Shapen, Focus, and Stabilize. I tried all three and found that using Stabilize worked best. The photo was oversampled given its limited resolution so there is more “blur” than “information.” However, there was still a very small amount of vertical motion in the camera when the photo shot, resulting in some vertical motion blur, which Focus A.I. can do amazingly good work with.
Then I used Gigapixel A.I. to double the pixel count. When you have genuine information to work with (sharp images limited by resolution), Gigapixel A.I. can sometimes give results that truly astonish. There’s so little real information in the Bevington Object photo that the improvement afforded by Gigapixel A.I. was pretty limited. But the improvement seemed to be there, so I kept it.
After doubling the pixel count with Gigapixel A.I., I then halved the resolution (restoring it to its original 343-pixel width) using the Preview app in MacOS. To me, frankly, the sharpened photo appears more like water breaking over a rock than anything else. The way people’s vision system recognizes objects is heavily influenceable by suggestion.
The sharpened version of the AI image is below:
In our larger write-up on the topic, we discuss why the Bevington Photo was considered to be such potentially powerful evidence that the Lockheed Electra had landed in this spot. Despite extensively surveying the target search zone and underwater canyons and “chutes” that descend from the coast of Nikumaroro, Ballard and his team found little of note.
There is, however, some cause for hope. National Geographic writes that the land search team may have found fragments of the skull found on Nikumaroro back in 1940. Once theorized to belong to Earhart, the skull and other bones were thought lost in WW2. The skull is being reconstructed and will be DNA-tested in the next few months. Nat Geo doesn’t provide any further information on the status of the land team, but the DNA analysis of those bone fragments might just answer this question once and for all. If we can’t find the wreckage of the Electra or any objects guaranteed to be associated with it, DNA evidence of either Earhart or her navigator, Fred Noonan would also confirm the story.
Ballard, meanwhile, is heading to Howland and Baker Islands — Howland was Earhart’s original destination — to map the undersea areas around both of them. He has no plans to return to the Earhart search but knows where he’d look if he did: the southern part of the island, where there are beaches and a potential campsite that may have been associated with the castaways.