WASHINGTON -- Amelia Earhart is still missing, but they might have found her luggage.
On the 54th anniversary of Earhart's disappearance, a team of explorers announced yesterday that this fall they will conduct a sea and land search of a remote Pacific atoll where they believe the pioneering pilot landed her plane and then died of thirst.
The searchers are following up on a 1989 discovery of a small aluminum box on the island they believe could be the map case from her plane.
A photo specialist said yesterday the box "is approximately the right size" as the map case seen inside Earhart's plane in a fuzzy photograph taken four days before Earhart vanished.
Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2, 1937, when they missed Howland Island, a tiny refueling stop in the midst of the Pacific, as they neared the completion of an around-the-world flight.
Members of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery announced yesterday they will try to solve one of aviation's most enduring mysteries with a two-week search of an uninhabited atoll named Nikumaroro, where the box was found.
"I'm as certain as I can be that we have the answer to the Earhart mystery," said expedition leader Richard E. Gillespie, a former aviation accident investigator. "The only thing I'm not sure is of what's left for us to find."
Gillespie said a 16-member search team would set sail from Hawaii Sept. 30 to the island, which is about 1,820 nautical miles away. The remote atoll was known as Gardner Island in Earhart's time.
"I wish them luck, and they're going to need a lot of it,' said Doris L. Rich, author of a 1989 biography of Earhart. "I think that it is possible, but I think it's a long, long chance."
Gillespie said he had worked with historical records to develop ,, his theory and put "no reliance on tales half-remembered of the South Pacific." He said Earhart's radioed distress calls indicate that she landed on land, not at sea, and directional finding radio stations that took bearings on the weak signals point to Nikumaroro as the most likely landing spot.
Gillespie said he believes Earhart and Noonan took a wrong turn that carried them away from Howland Island. Before they ran out of fuel, he added, Earhart landed her twin-engine Lockheed airplane on a broad flat expanse of coral that is exposed at low tide on Nikumaroro, which is about 350 miles from Howland.