Members of a new expedition on their way to an island in the South Pacific are optimistic they’re finally going to solve the mysterious disappearance of legendary pilot Amelia Earhart.

Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared July 2, 1937 after leaving Papua New Guinea for Howland Island while attempting to circumnavigate the world in a Lockheed Electra aircraft.

Planes and ships were launched in an exhaustive search in the South Pacific for Earhart and Noonan, but no trace of them or the aircraft was ever found.

The $2-million expedition by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) left Hawaii this week armed with new evidence, including a survey photo taken in 1937 that may show an aircraft’s landing gear in the water near an island where bones were found decades ago.

One member of the expedition’s advisory team said that while there have been many visits to the island - Nikumaroro, formerly known as Gardner Island - this time they’re better equipped and possess solid information.

“It’s a bigger ship with equipment that can go deeper, has better lights . . . we have an autonomous vehicle that will map the search area first, then a remotely operated vehicle that can look specifically at points of interest,” Martin Moleski told CTV’s Canada AM in an interview Thursday from Buffalo, N.Y.

Moleski became involved with TIGHAR in 2000, joining an expedition in 2003 looking for the lost bones in New Zealand’s archives, and now manages its website.

One item that’s garnered particular interest on this expedition is a jar found on the island near a campfire, along with various animal and fish bones, parts of a woman’s compact and pieces of rouge, he said.

“We think this is where a castaway died on Gardner Island before 1940,” Moleski said.

“TIGHAR thinks they’ve found the site where the skeleton was found and this jar could be wrinkle cream, or some other kind of beauty cream,” he said.

The jar pieces appear to be the right age and it’s commonly known Earhart was embarrassed by her freckles and may have carried a cream on the journey.

“It’s not the right coloured glass, it’s transparent and the freckle cream came in opaque white jars, so it’s not a perfect match,” Moleski said.

“But it’s suggestive of an American woman at this site on the island where somebody died.”

As well, there’s evidence the animal and shellfish were not consumed by natives of the region.

“The person who killed and ate these birds left the heads (natives would have eaten them), the clam shells were opened by an amateur . . . the natives would have dug the meat out of the clam while they were in the water,” Moleski said.

Finding the aircraft

It’s possible the aircraft could have slipped off a reef near the island and sank to about 1,000 metres, leaving the landing gear on the edge, which could be what’s visible in the survey photo, he said.

Storm surges and currents may have reduced the wreckage to mere “aluminum dust” at the ocean’s bottom, but the team remains optimistic about its chances of finding it.

“We’d like to find great big pieces of the wing, the spar, the landing gear, the engines,” Moleski said.

The latest search takes place the same week Earhart disappeared 75 years ago, and it remains an enduring aviation mystery.