Bones of US aviator Amelia Earhart likely identified | News | DW | 08.03.2018
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Bones of US aviator Amelia Earhart likely identified

Amelia Earhart disappeared in the South Pacific in 1937 while on an around-the-world flight. A new study appears to confirm she crashed and later died on Nikumaroro, a tiny island now part of the Republic of Kiribati.

Richard Jantz, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, used a computer program called Fordisc to estimate the sex, ancestry and stature from seven bone measurements recovered from the island of Nikumaroro in 1940 and taken to Fiji.

The study and other evidence "point toward her rather strongly," Jantz said Thursday. "I think we have pretty good evidence that it's her."

Despite a two-week search at the time, Earhart was not found alive. Three years later, a British Colonial Service expedition found a human skull, bones, part of the sole of a woman's shoe, a box for a sextant and a bottle of Benedictine on the island. The remains were taken to Fiji where they were examined by anatomy professor, David W. Hoodless. He determined that the bones were those of a stocky man, and the bones were later lost.

Read more: New Barbie dolls pay tribute to Amelia Earhart

But using photographs, seven bone measurements done by Hoodless and examination of her clothing, Jantz used the computer program to compare them to measurements of Earhart's bone lengths. They have more similarity to Earhart than to 99 percent of individuals in a large reference sample, according to the study published this week in the Forensic Anthropology journal of the University of Florida.

"This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart," Jantz said. "The bones are consistent with Earhart in all respects we know or can reasonably infer."

"Until definitive evidence is presented that the remains are not those of Amelia Earhart, the most convincing argument is that they are hers," he said.

Amelia Earhart at the start of her last journey in 1937

Amelia Earhart at the start of her last journey in 1937

Decades of investigation

It is the second time that Jantz has offered his findings. In 1998 he put forward his thesis that the bones were those of a woman of European ancestry but, in 2015, other researchers concluded the original assessment that they were of a man were correct.

An aviation pioneer and author, in 1932 Earhart became the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, for which she received the Distinguished Flying Cross. She set other records and wrote best-selling books about her flying experiences before setting off, aged 39, from California in May 1937 with navigator Fred Noonan in a Lockheed Model 10-E Electra twin-engine airliner to fly around the world.

Out of radio contact, it was impossible to track the aircraft and the best theory as to their disappearance is that they ran out of fuel and came down on the uninhabited Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro, part of the Phoenix Islands, Kiribati, in the western Pacific Ocean. The Republic of Kiribati, is made up of 33 atolls and reef islands, and one raised coral island over 3.5 million square kilometers (1.3 million square miles).

This year's study was carried out in collaboration with The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR).

Earhart was a member of the National Woman's Part which had been formed in 1913 to fight for women's suffrage and was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed amendment to the US Constitution designed to guarantee equal rights for all citizens regardless of sex.

jm/rc (AP, AFP)

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