Bones discovered on Pacific island belong to missing aviator Amelia Earhart, forensic study concludes

The Telegraph
Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic - Channel 5 Television

Bones found on a remote Pacific island are most likely those of the lost aviator Amelia Earhart, a new forensic study has concluded.

The pilot, who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, disappeared over the Pacific in 1937 while attempting to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air.

In the decades since numerous theories and conspiracies have emerged as to her fate, including that she was captured and held by the Japanese.

However a new study by a professor at the University of Tennessee, Richard L. Jantz, has concluded that bones found on the island of Nikumaroro three years after her disappearance are those of the missing pilot.

The bones were initially ruled out as those of Earhart after a first examination concluded they were male.

Bones discovered in 1940 on a remote Pacific island are now thought to be those of Earhart's Credit: AP

Professor Jantz has argued that forensic techniques were not fully developed at the time and that the bone measurements closely match Earhart’s records.

He said: "The only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart."

The final flight

A pioneering aviator, Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932 and in 1937 she was attempting to fly across the globe with her navigator Fred Noonan.

At the time of her disappearance the 39-year-old was trying to reach Hawaii before completing her journey onto California.

It had previously been accepted that the pair perished when their plane crashed close to Howland Island in the central Pacific Ocean, amid poor visibility and low fuel levels.

Amelia Earhart final flight map

In her last radio transmission, Earhart said they could not find the island and their Lockheed Electra L-10E was running low on fuel.

For weeks the area was searched by the US Navy, but the plane was never found and Earhart was legally declared dead in 1939.

In 1940 an exploration party sent by the Phoenix Island Settlement Scheme, which aimed to colonise remote islands, stumbled across bones on Nikumaroro.

The officer in charge then ordered a wider search of the area which turned up more bones, part of a woman’s shoe and personal artifacts including a sextant box and a bottle of the herbal liqueur, Benedictine.

Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan pose with a map of the Pacific Ocean showing the planned route of their round-the-world flight Credit: AP

The remains were examined by the principal of the Central Medical School, Fiji of the Dr. D. W. Hoodless, who concluded they belonged to a “stocky male” around 5ft 5ins.

A fresh examination

As bones have since been lost, Professor  Jantz, an expert in forensic anthropology at the University of Tennessee, used the bone measurements taken by Hoodless and compared them with what is known of Earhart's body type.

Professor Jantz used Earhart’s driver’s and pilot’s licence records and photos of the aviator to piece together her bone measurements.

Amelia Earhart in 1937 before takeoff in Miami for her attempted round-the-world flight Credit: The Miami Herald

Summing up the process, he said: “If the skeleton were available, it would presumably be a relatively straightforward task to make a positive identification, or a definitive exclusion.

“Unfortunately, all we have are the meager data in Hoodless’s report and a premortem record gleaned from photographs and clothing.

“From the information available, we can at least provide an assessment of how well the bones fit what we can reconstruct of Amelia Earhart.”

Profile | Amelia Earhart

Professor Jantz argued that in 1940 “osteology was not yet a well-developed discipline” leading Hoodless to incorrectly assign the gender of the remains.

His own studies showed that the bones were closer to the measurements of Earhart than 99 per cent of a very large sample size.

Jantz concluded: “Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers.”

Previous conspiracy theories

In the decades since her disappearance, numerous theories and conspiracies emerged as the to the fate of Earhart.

Last year a photo was found in a "top secret file" in the US National Archive which led to speculation that Earhart and Noonan had been captured by the Japanese after crash-landing in the Japanese-held Marshall Islands.

The photo from the US National Archive which led to speculation that Earhart was the seated figure in the centre and had been captured by the Japanese

A documentary on the findings also postulated that the US government knew of Earhart's whereabouts and did nothing to rescue her.

Japanese authorities told the documentary's maker, NBC,  that there are no records indicating that Earhart was in Japanese custody.  

Other theories suggest that Earhart had survived her final flight and had gone on to live a secret life under an assumed identity.

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