Sunday 22 July 2018

Bones found on Pacific island 'solve mystery of missing aviator Earhart'

Bones found on an island in 1940 are likely to be that of Amelia Earhart (PA)
Bones found on an island in 1940 are likely to be that of Amelia Earhart (PA)
Amelia Earhart disappeared in 1937

Mike Wright and Charlotte Krol

Amelia Earhart's story is revolutionary - she was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean and might have been the first to fly around the world had her plane not vanished over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

After decades of mystery surrounding her disappearance, her story might be coming to a close.

A new scientific study claims that bones found in 1940 on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro belong to Earhart, despite a forensic analysis of the remains conducted in 1941 that linked the bones to a male.

The bones - the subject of 'Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones' by University of Tennessee professor Richard Jantz - were discarded.

For decades they have remained an enigma as some have speculated Earhart died a castaway on the island after her plane crashed.

The bones were uncovered by a British expedition exploring the island for settlement after they came upon a human skull, according to Prof Jantz. The expedition's officer ordered a thorough search, which resulted in the discovery of several other bones and part of what appeared to be a woman's shoe.

Other items found included a box made to hold a Brandis navy surveying sextant that had been manufactured around 1918, and a bottle of Benedictine liqueur.

"There was suspicion at the time the bones could be the remains of Amelia Earhart," Prof Jantz writes.

When the 13 bones were shipped to Fiji and studied by Dr DW Hoodless of the Central Medical School the following year, Prof Jantz argues it is likely a forensic study of the bones was still in its early stages, which affected his assessment of which sex the remains belonged to.

Prof Jantz, in attempting to compare the lost bones with Earhart's, co-developed a computer programme that estimated sex and ancestry using skeletal measurements and is now commonly used by forensic anthropologists across the globe.

Prof Jantz compared the lengths of the bones to Earhart's measurements, using her height, weight, build, limb lengths and proportions, based on photographs and information found on her pilot's and driver's licences.

His findings revealed Earhart's bones were "more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99pc of individuals in a large reference sample".

"In the case of the Nikumaroro bones, the only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart," Prof Jantz wrote.

Earhart's disappearance has long captivated the public, and theories involving her landing on Nikumaroro have emerged.

Retired journalist Mike Campbell, author of 'Amelia Earhart: The Truth at Last', maintains that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were captured in the Marshall Islands by the Japanese, who thought they were American spies. He believes they were tortured and died in custody.

But Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) told 'The Washington Post' in 2016 he too believes the bones found on Nikumaroro belong to Earhart.

In 1998, the group took Dr Hoodless' measurements of the Nikumaroro bones and analysed them through a robust anthropological database.

They determined the bones belonged to a taller-than-average woman of European descent. Earhart, at 5ft 7in to 5ft 8in, was several inches taller than average.

In 2016, the group brought the measurements to Jeff Glickman, a forensic examiner, who located a photo of Earhart that showed her with her arms exposed. It appeared - based on educated guesses - that Earhart's upper arm bone corresponded with one of the Nikumaroro bones.

Mr Glickman, now a member of TIGHAR, said at the time he understood some might be sceptical about his findings as they were based on 76-year-old medical notes. But the research made clear, he said, that Earhart died on Nikumaroro.

Neither Mr Gillespie nor Mr Glickman could be immediately reached for comment on Jantz's findings.

In June 2017, researchers travelled to Nikumaroro with dogs who had been specially trained to sniff the chemicals left behind by decaying human remains. They thought they might discover a bone and were especially hopeful when the dogs seemed to detect the scent of human remains beneath a tree, but the search failed to turn up any evidence.

A week later, the History Channel published a photo suggesting Earhart died in Japan.

Based on a photograph unearthed from the US National Archives, researchers said Earhart may have been captured by the Japanese after all as the photo showed Earhart and Noonan in Jaluit Harbour in the Marshall Islands after their disappearance. (© Washington Post Service)

Irish Independent

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