July 2, 2017 marked the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance. Since that day, many have pondered what exactly happened to the famed aviator.
Even now, 80 years after her 1937 disappearance during a circumnavigational flight, the search for answers continues. A group of researchers believe a partial skeleton found on a remote Pacific island back in 1940 could have belonged to the pilot, and they’re now using bone-sniffing dogs to look for more evidence.
Bones Found On Remote Island In 1940
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery announced in October 2016 that they were reevaluating the partial skeleton that was found in Nikumaroro (also known as Gardner Island), a part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. Previously, the skeleton’s connection to Earhart was dismissed because a British doctor claimed the bones belonged to a male.
The skeleton was then forgotten—and in fact, the bones were lost during World War II—but in 1998, forensic anthropologists re-evaluated the data and found that the bones were indeed consistent with a female of Earhart’s height and ethnic origin.
One of the forensic anthropologists, Richard Jantz, noticed that the forearms of the skeleton seemed to be longer than average, and he wondered if Amelia may have had similarly longer-than-average forearms.
To discover if he was correct, he called on a forensic imaging specialist to look at a photo where Earhart’s arms were clearly visible to identify her bone length. What they found was that her measurements were almost identical to the castaway’s bones.
Of course, this still doesn’t prove that the skeleton belongs to Earhart, but the findings were enough to take the group to the next level of bringing in dogs to search for more bones.
According to Live Science, the remains of birds, a turtle and a campfire were found and catalogued along with the bones in 1940, plus artifacts including “the sole of a shoe thought to belong to a woman, a Benedictine liquor bottle and a box that held a nautical navigational device called a sextant.” The box, according to Live Science, would have contained the same type of sextant that Noonan is said to have used as a backup navigational device.
The Earhart project is continuing to test the hypothesis that Amelia Earhart landed and eventually died on Nikumaroro (Gardner Island). You can find more information about the project on their site, including more details on the bones they found in the Pacific.
Earheart’s Attempt To Fly Around The World
Earheart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2, 1937 after having left the states on June 1 in an attempt to be the first to fly around the world along the equator.
The pair departed Papua New Guinea on the morning of July 2. The destination was Howland Island, their next fuel stop, 2,500 miles to the east. Earheart made contact with a Coast Guard ship that morning to say they were 200 miles away from Howland Island, but then she contacted the ship again an hour later to say she was low on fuel and could not spot land. She made one more contact to share her coordinates, and then that was it.
Two years after Earheart and Noonan disappeared, the U.S. government concluded that Earheart’s plane had run out of fuel and crashed somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.
Various theories have circulated around Earheart and Noonan’s fate, including that they were taken by the Japanese as prisoners of war and another that Earheart had been a spy and later returned to the U.S. using a different identity. The latter has been called a “poorly documented hoax.”
This article was updated on 7/3/2017 to reflect the latest efforts from the group searching for Earheart’s remains.