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Search for Amelia Earhart: 'We're looking for hard evidence'

"She was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and she was about to become the first woman to pilot a plane all the way around the world," said Rick Pettigrew with the Archaeological Legacy Institute. "That was huge news back in those days." (U.S. Library of Congress/MGN)

EUGENE, Ore. - In the summer of 1937, Americans were following the exploits of Amelia Earhart, the famed aviatrix from Atchison, Kansas.

"That was the moon-shot of the time," Rick Pettigrew said, "and here was a woman flying an airplane."

Earhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane.

Eighty years ago, she set out to try to fly around the world.

"She was world news," said Pettigrew, president of the Archaelogical Legacy Institute in Eugene. "This was only 10 years after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic."

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The feat was not to be.

Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan went down somewhere in the South Pacific, unable to find their next refueling point.

They've never been found.

But some experts believe the evidence points to a speck of an island named Nikumaroro.

"It would have been easy for Amelia Earhart to see it, as opposed to Howland Island, which was her target," Pettigrew said.

Pettigrew is headed for Nikumaroro this month to chronicle an expedition by The International Group for Aircraft Recovery, also known as TIGHAR.

The group's researchers say objects have been found on the island that suggest Earhart was there, including a sextant box, bottled cosmetics from the 1930s, and pieces of clothing.

"We're looking for hard evidence of something that happened 80 years ago," Pettigrew said.

While teams are working the island, two manned submersible vehicles will look underwater, looking for pieces of Earhart's airplane.

Pettigrew said a large fragment of metal was found off the island's reef 2 years ago.

Was it Earhart's plane?

And what would Earhart think of the expedition?

"I think Amelia would be proud," Pettigrew said, "that she had brought so much attention to women in aviation. She was very much dedicated to that."

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