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Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved?
Women’s History Month
By Nancy E. Sheppard

AEMS imageA new study was released in Forensic Anthropology, stating that the mystery of what happened to aviatrix and American icon, Amelia Earhart, has probably been solved. Dr. Richard Jantz, Professor Emeritus in Forensic Anthropology from the University of Tennessee, released his data, which was deeper examination from the information taken from a study of thirteen bones found on the Pacific Island, Nikumaroro, in 1940.

In one of the most enduring mysteries in aviation history, Earhart, and her co-pilot, Fred Noonan, disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 while embarking on one of the final legs in her attempt to circumnavigate the world in her Lockheed Electra 10E aircraft. A search for the superstar aviatrix’s whereabouts started when she did not arrive at Howland Island. Theories have sprouted over the years from the most plausible, a crash landing, to the outlandish, including taken prisoner by the Japanese.

In 1940, a team of British explorers searching Gardner Island (now known as Nikumaroro), located 400 miles southwest of Howland Island, discovered human bones including a skull, humeri, radii, tibia, fibula, and two femurs, alongside a woman’s shoe, a bottle of Benedictine (an herbal liqueur used by Earhart), and a Navy tool known to be used by Noonan. The skeletal remains were sent to Fiji and studied by physician, Dr. D.W. Hoodless, who determined that they belonged to a stocky male. After he completed his study, the bones were lost.

Because forensic osteology was in its rudimentary phase, a great deal of interest has been taken in reexamining the data that Hoodless collected during his initial study. Dr. Jantz, in conjunction with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), embarked on a mission to take a second look at the data. After taking measurements from Earhart’s preserved clothing and relying upon photographs and notes from her seamstress and on both her pilot’s and driver’s licenses, they were able to determine her measurements. Jantz entered both Hoodless’ data and the data collected through their own analysis into Fordisc, a computer program used by board certified forensic anthropologists around the world, to determine if they were, in fact, a match. The data came back with a 99% certainty that there was a match between Earhart’s measurements and the Nikumaroro bones.

Because the study cannot study the actual bones and is reliant upon the accuracy of Hoodless’ data, it cannot be definitively determined if the bones did belong to Amelia Earhart. But the circumstantial evidence is damning enough for the historians and anthropologists who have devoted years of their study and careers to solve the mystery as to what happened to her. More than likely there was navigational error, which flew Earhart and Noonan off course. They probably ran out of fuel and crashed on the coral atoll, where they later died.

For more information on TIGHAR’s Earhart Project, visit their website at:


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InBrief 13dec18

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