• Body of the downed plane was discovered in 2002 by fishermen
  • Divers claims there is gold bullion on board coral-covered wreck
  • But they have been unable to get it because of 20ft poisonous sea snake
  • Tests on bones believed to be Earhart's found on island 'inconclusive'
A diving team is being put together in Papua New Guinea to swim down to the wreckage of a rust-and-coral-covered plane in the hope of solving one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries - the 74-year-old disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

The 40-year-old American and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while attempting to fly around the world in 1937 in a Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane and most theories say they crashed near Howland Island in the central Pacific.

She and her navigator had completed 22,000 miles of the journey when they arrived at Lae in New Guinea, as the country was then known, and just 7,000 miles across the Pacific remained before they were due to land back in the U.S.
© CorbisEarhart posing by her plane in Long Beach California in 1930

© Unknown

They took off on July 2, 1937, heading for Howland Island, 2,500 miles away but ran into trouble near the island, if radio reports purporting to be theirs can be believed.

Miss Earhart radioed to a U.S. ship in the area, the Itasca: 'We must be on you but cannot see you - but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.'

The transmissions were the last anyone heard from the flyer and it was assumed the plane had crashed near Howland Island.

Numerous attempts to find the wreckage have failed - but now divers in Bougainville, in Papua New Guinea, some 400 miles from Lae, where the aircraft had taken off from, are convinced they have found the wreckage.

The mystery plane that lies 250ft under the sea, on a reef near Buka island, 800 miles west of the main island of Papua New Guinea, is said to resemble Miss Earhart's Electra.

What has made local people more excited is the knowledge that the crash site is in direct alignment with Miss Earhart's flight path from Lae in a straight north east direction to Howland Island.
© UnknownFamous: In her day she was popular and would pull a crowd. Her mysterious death has kept that fame alive more than 70 year after her death

© Associated PressThere have been many theories behind what happened to Earhart and Noonan. The most popular being that they ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea
The wreckage was found in 2002 when fishermen were diving for a local delicacy, a sea slug known as beche de mer. Putting a state-of-the-art diving team together so a detailed search of the aircraft can be made, however, has proved impossible until now.

But divers who have been down to the wreck recently claim that there is gold bullion on board - its extraction almost impossible, they say, because the plane is being guarded by a 20ft poisonous sea snake.

Numerous theories have been put forward to explain Miss Earhart's disappearance, including that she and her navigator died when the plane crashed into the Pacific.

Other theories suggests they came down on a remote island where they managed to survive for a while before they succumbed to thirst, hunger and injuries.

Another theory suggested that Miss Earhart had crashed onto an island and had become a prisoner of the Japanese who were widening their second world war net through the Pacific.

However Ric Gillespie, an expert on Miss Earhart's disappearance and who has made several trips to islands in the Pacific, said the Papua New Guinea claims of her plane lying in waters in the region were 'silly beyond description.'

He insisted there was 'simply no way' that the Electra could be anywhere near Papua New Guinea.

'Radio transmissions and other evidence indicate she landed on an atoll in the central Pacific and perished from a lack of food and water' he said.

Meanwhile, tests to determine if bone fragments recovered from a remote South Pacific island have proved inconclusive.
© ReutersNikumaroro Island where finger bones were found last year that were thought to belong to Amelia Earhart

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma attempted to detect human DNA from three bone fragments recovered last year by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, a group of aviation enthusiasts in Delaware that found the pieces of bone while on an expedition to Nikumaroro Island, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

© UnknownForensic tests on bone fragments discovered on Nikumaroro Island have been inconclusive in determining if they contain human DNA
The group has uncovered several artifacts, including some old makeup and glass bottles from the 1930s that suggest Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan may have died as castaways on the island, said Ric Gillespie, director of the group.

'We knew this would be a tough job to get DNA from stuff that had laid around for 70 years,' Gillespie said in a phone interview.

'The woman's been missing for 74 years. We've been looking for her for 23 years. We have learned patience.'

Researchers at OU said about one-half gram of bone material remains that could be tested later.

'For posterity, we have decided to preserve this remaining bone,' Cecil Lewis, the director of OU's Molecular Anthropology Laboratory, wrote in his report.

'There is reason for optimism that someday in the near future, less destructive and more sensitive genomic methods will be able to resolve the bone's origin. For now, the question of whether the bone is human must remain unanswered.'

Lewis said tests are ongoing on clumps of material resembling soil or feces that also were recovered at the site.

In 1940, just three years after Earhart disappeared, a British overseer on the island recovered a partial human skeleton and several artefacts at what appeared to be a former campsite, Gillespie said.

The bones later vanished, but Gillespie said the findings support their theory that Earhart was able to land on a reef surrounding the remote island and send distress signals that were picked up by distant ships.

'There's a tremendous story of a castaway here who was catching various things,' Gillespie said.

'We just don't know for sure who the castaway was.

The most widely accepted theory is that the aeroplane ran out of fuel and ditched in the sea. There have been several searches by many different professionals eager to solve the mystery, but none have been proven.

Another popular theory is that they landed on the island of Nikumaroro in the Pheonix Islands, 350 miles southeast of Howland Island and fended for themselves for serveral months until they succumbed to injury or disease. Improvised tools and bits of Plexiglas that are consistent with that of an Electra window were found on the island.

A few theorists reckon that she Earhart was spying on Japan and had been captured and executed. This theory has been discounted by the American authorities and press.

A rumour claimed that she was one of many women sending messages on Tokyo Rose, an English-language Japanese propaganda station designed to attack the Allies' morale.

An Australian aircraft engineer said he found a map that showed Earhart and Noonan may have turned round to try and refuel but crashed before getting to an airstrip.

The most whacky theory is that she was still alive and had a different identity. A woman fron New Jersey successfully sued for $1.5m in damages from the author of a book who pursued this theory.