Search for Earhart plane on remote Marshalls atoll

US aviator Amelia Earhart pictured in front of her plane in the 1930s (AFP Photo/) (AFP/File)

A search is under way on a remote atoll in the Marshall Islands aimed at solving the mysterious disappearance of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. A group of researchers travelled Sunday to Mili Atoll where a small aluminium cover plate and part of a landing-gear wheel assembly, believed to be from Earhart's plane, were found last year. "We brought more sophisticated equipment to find other parts," said Jon Jeffery, director of technology and business development at United States-based Parker Aerospace, which is sponsoring the search. Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo, disappeared in 1937 with navigator Fred Noonan when attempting to circumnavigate the world in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra aircraft. Marshall Islanders have long claimed Earhart crashed on an atoll and a group known as Amelia Research, Inc. found the aircraft parts last year. "Generations of Marshallese people have known since 1937 that the famous fliers didn't just disappear in the ocean," Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak said. The aircraft landed "on a small atoll in the Marshall Islands and (Earhart and Noonan) survived", he added. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery has dismissed the Marshalls theory. It believes Earhart went down at Nikumaroro Atoll in the central Pacific nation of Kiribati near the Marshall Islands. A new line of investigation in the search for Earhart evidence in the Marshall Islands involves Jaluit Atoll near Mili. It was the headquarters for Japan's administration of the Marshall Islands from World War I to the end of World War II. "There is an underground hospital built by the Japanese on Jaluit," Jeffery said. "Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were in this hospital after they crashed," he said. "There might be some evidence there." Marshall Islanders have claimed they saw Earhart's plane go down on a small island in Mili Atoll, and others reported seeing her in Jaluit.