Pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937 while flying over the Pacific Ocean. Wreckage of her plane was never found. (Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

There’s a new ray of hope in the decades-long search for Amelia Earhart’s airplane. Sonar, or sound wave, images from a spot near a western Pacific island show what could be parts of the famous aviator’s Lockheed Electra.

“It’s the right size, it’s the right shape, and in the right place to be the Electra,” Ric Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (known as Tighar), told CBS television.

Tighar led an expedition last summer to Nikumaroro, an island close to where Earhart is thought to have disappeared July 2, 1937.

Although researchers didn’t find the plane during the 10-day trip, they did capture sonar and underwater video from the area. Before summer’s end, a review of high-definition video turned up an area with several objects that might be aircraft parts.

The images raised more questions. Where was most of the wreckage — the engine, the main beam and pieces of wings or the tail section?

A new discovery suggests answers.

In March, a man taking part in a Tighar online forum reported an odd feature on a sonar map from the expedition. It’s a long, thin, slanted streak that has a sonar shadow, showing that part of it has bulk.

“It gives the impression of being an object that struck the slope at the base of the second cliff at a depth of [613 feet], then skidded in a southerly direction for about [131 feet] before coming to rest,” states part of a discussion on Tighar’s Web site.

The bulky part is about the size of the plane, and the streak behind it could be a trail of wreckage.

The location lines up — literally. The streak and the debris field seen on the video seem to be consistent with the theory that the Electra landed on a sandbar offshore, got swamped by high tides or waves and left debris as it descended along the island’s underwater shoulders.

“This thing could also be a very unusual coral ridge. It could be a fishing boat that nobody knows sank out there,” Gillespie said. “But it could also be a Lockheed Electra. So we’ve got to go look.”

Gillespie said he plans to return to the island next year if enough money can be raised.

The Discovery Channel will help support the trip, but Gillespie said he will need other large donations. If the money’s in place by September, next summer could be when the mystery is finally laid to rest.

From wire reports