Amelia Earhart seemingly vanished into thin air, her disappearance becoming one of the greatest mysteries of the 21st century.
In yet another attempt to pin down where Earhart spent her last days, one scientist thinks he may have solved the mystery by proving she died a castaway on a remote Pacific island.
Richard Jantz, an emeritus anthropology professor at the University of Tennessee, worked in collaboration with the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). The organization has long bought into the theory that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed on the remote Nikumaroro Island 560 kilometers (350 miles) southeast of her Howland Island destination. They've even put together a tourism cruise to the island.
In the past, TIGHAR collected artifacts from the island, which seemed to back up the idea that the pair lived as castaways before succumbing to starvation or dehydration. Without the remains of the pilot or her aircraft as proof, skeptics have long challenged the notion.
Earhart went missing on July 2, 1937. In a failed attempt to circumnavigate the globe, the famed American pilot’s Lockheed Model 10 Electra plane went missing somewhere over the central Pacific Ocean. Earhart and Noonan were the only people on board.
Three years later, bones believed to be Earhart’s were found on Nikumaroro Island along with a number of items that may have belonged to her, including a woman’s shoe, a box designed to hold a Sextant, and a Benedictine bottle, which she was known to carry with her. After analyzing and measuring the bones in 1940, physician D. W. Hoodless determined they belonged to a man and nixed the idea.
To add another layer of mystery to the affair, the bones disappeared shortly after. Some speculate they were left on the island, others suggest they somehow wound up at a post office in nearby Kiribati.
So without the bones, Jantz used photographs that had a scalable object and clothing measurements of Earhart's to estimate the lengths of her humerus, radius, and tibia. Using modern quantitative techniques, which include a computer program called Fordisc, Jantz was able to estimate the sex, ancestry, and stature from skeletal measurements.
The remains found on the remote South Pacific Island more closely matched Earhart’s than 99 percent of individuals in a large reference sample.
“Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers," Jantz concludes in his research published in Forensic Anthropology.
"Her navigator, Fred Noonan, can be reliably excluded on the basis of height," writes Jantz. "His height was 6'1/4", documented from his 1918 Seaman’s Certificate of American Citizenship.
Other theories to explain the pilot’s disappearance are as interesting as the woman herself. Take this photograph that surfaced in 2017. Taken on the island of Jaluit Atoll, part of the Japanese-Marshall Islands, theorists say it shows Earhart, her plane, and co-pilot before being captured and taken as prisoners by Japan. Another theory suggests the plane simply crashed into the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen again.
But not everyone is convinced that Nikamuroro is the final resting place of the famous pilot. Some suggest the remains could belong to one of 11 men presumably killed in the 1929 shipwreck of the Norwich City more than four miles away. Others say they could be the remains of a Pacific Islander.
Jants remains convinced. He says he's considered these other theories, but without evidence that the men survived the shipwreck, or indigenous settlements on the island, he threw out the ideas.
He also said it’s unlikely either party would have been carrying around a woman’s shoe.
"Forensic anthropology was not well developed in the early 20th century," the paper states. "There are many examples of erroneous assessments by anthropologists of the period. We can agree that Hoodless may have done as well as most analysts of the time could have done, but this does not mean his analysis was correct."
However, it is hard to say for certain without the bones.