On June 1, 1937, Amelia Earhart took off with co-pilot Peter Noonan from Oakland, California. Her intent was to become the first female pilot to travel around the globe. On July 19, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared them lost at sea. In the decades that followed, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance remained a mystery. But now, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Richard Jantz, believes the mystery may be solved.
In 1940, unidentified bones were found on the island of Nikumaroro, three years after Amelia Earhart was lost at sea. The doctors who examined the bones at the time speculated that they belonged to a male. The bones themselves are lost, but the recorded data and their measurements survived, and Richard Jantz disagrees with the conclusions of the original two doctors. In a paper he published in the academic journal Forensic Anthropology, Jantz said, “If the bones do not belong to Amelia Earhart, then they are from someone very similar to her.” Jantz considered other options but feels strongly that based off the recorded measurements and Amelia’s height, the bones are hers. “Forensic anthropology was not well developed in the early 20th century,” Jantz said. “There are many examples of erroneous assessments by anthropologists of the period.”
There is other evidence to suggest that Earhart and Noonan landed and spent some time as castaways before dying, as there were 1930s era glass bottles discovered on the island. In 1938, British colonists found airplane parts on the island. There have been 12 explorations of the island in the past 30 years. During these, several campsites were found and they weren’t from local Pacific Islanders. This was determined by the ways the shellfish were opened and the fish were eaten. In addition, forensic dogs had sniffed out the site where the bones were first found, and soil samples were taken to test for DNA. No results are yet available from these tests.
In addition to the evidence found on the island, research in 2012 by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) concluded that 57 previously dismissed radio transmissions were credible. These communications confirm her aircraft was on land for several days after the disappearance. The final message indicates her course was in line with Howland Island, but also Nikumaroro.
The disappearance of Amelia Earhart is one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century. Her life and the unsolved mystery of her death has captivated and puzzled people in the decades since her disappearance. Thanks to scientific advances, curiosity and persistence, we might finally have the full answer to what happened to Amelia Earhart.