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Following Earhart’s disappearance, distress signals picked up by distant ships pointed back to the area of Nikumaroro Island, but while pilots passing over saw signs of recent habitation, the island was crossed off the list as having been searched, Mr. Gillespie said.

In 1940, a British overseer on the island recovered a partial human skeleton, a woman’s shoe and an empty sextant box at what appeared to be a former campsite, littered with turtle, clamshell and bird remains.

Thinking of Earhart, the overseer sent the items to Fiji, where a British doctor decided they belonged to a stocky European or mixed-blood male, ruling out any Earhart connection.

The bones later vanished, but in 1998, Mr. Gillespie’s group located the doctor’s notes in London. Two other forensic specialists reviewed the doctor’s bone measurements and agreed they were more “consistent with” a female of Northern European descent, about Earhart’s age and height.

On their own visits to the island, volunteers recovered an aluminum panel that could be from an Electra, another piece of a woman’s shoe and a “cat’s paw” heel dating from the 1930s; another shoe heel, possibly a man’s, and an oddly cut piece of clear Plexiglas.

The sextant box might have been Noonan‘s. The woman’s shoe and heel resemble a blucher-style oxford seen in a pre-takeoff photo of Earhart. The plastic shard is the exact thickness and curvature of an Electra’s side window.

The body of evidence is intriguing, but Mr. Gillespie insists the team is “constantly agonizing over whether we are being dragged down a path that isn’t right.”

Associated Press writer Kelly P. Kissel contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.