Amelia Earhart is a feminist icon. The first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo, she was a true aviation pioneer and inspired generations of female pilots.
Upon marrying her husband, George Putnam, in 1931, she kept her own name, leading to her mock moniker ‘Mr Earhart’.
When she set off on her dream mission in 1937: to fly solo around the world, she was never to return. Believed, ever since, to have died in a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean, her body has never been found. The American pilot disappeared on 2 July 1937, aged 39.
Until, perhaps, now.
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Researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believe that a skeleton discovered in 1940 on a remote Pacific island, previously thought to be that of a castaway, may in fact be Earhart’s.
The US-based researchers re-examined the remains that were found on the island of Nikumaroro, three years after Earhart’s disappearance. Although once suggested to be Earharts, British authorities rejected the theory at the time, saying the skeleton was that of a man.
The bones have since been lost, but doctors files containing measurements of the bones, rediscovered in 1998, have now be re-examined by forensics, who said in a statement that the bones were “consistent with a female of Earhart's height and ethnic origin.”
Interestingly, the bones were notable because the length of the forearm was longer than average. They then compared the measurements to a photograph of Earhart. They have concluded the ratios are “virtually identical.”
“The match does not, of course, prove that the castaway was Amelia Earhart but it is a significant new data point that tips the scales further in that direction,” said researchers.
Additionally, in August this year, the researchers found that Earhart had made 100 radio transmissions for help between 2 July and 6 July 1937, which suggests her plane didn’t crash – as the radio would not have worked without the engine running.
Speaking to CNN, TIGHAR executive director, Ric Gillespie said:
“Until we started investigating the skeleton, we found what history knew was that Amelia Earhart died in July 2nd, 1937, in a plane crash.
“But there is an entire final chapter of Earhart's life that people don't know about. She spent days — maybe months — heroically struggling to survive as a castaway.”
The group has organised several expeditions to the island to discover more, and have discovered evidence that suggests someone was living there:
“We found records of bonfires being lit in the area where the bones were found.
“Based on the fish bones and bird bones found in the area, Earhart survived weeks, maybe even months, in that island,” says Gillespie.
The bones were the only human remains found in the area, suggesting Earhart’s navigator, Frederick J. Noonan died soon after the crash and was washed away by the ocean.
“We speculate Noonan died early on as she reported him being injured in the initial distress calls,” said Gilepsie.
“We believe she [Earhart] survived heroically, and alone, for a period of time, in terrible circumstances. History needs to tell her story right.”