In July 1937, famous aviator Amelia Earhart disappeared while flying over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island in a round-the-world flight. She was never heard from again.
What became of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, has remained a mystery ever since, but it’s been widely believed for some time that Earhart and Noonan likely crashed in the Pacific Ocean and perished there. Earhart was officially declared dead two years later. Then, in 1940, British colonial officer Gerald Gallagher, who was also a pilot, discovered bones on Gardner Island — now known as Nikumaroro — about 400 miles away from Howland Island.
Gallagher sent the remains to Fiji, where they were unfortunately misplaced — but not before Dr. David Winn Hoodless took detailed measurements of them. Now, decades later, Dr. Richard Jantz, expert on skeletal biology at the University of Tennessee, says he’s pretty sure they belonged to the late aviator.
“What I can say scientifically is that they are 99% likely to be her,” he said.
“We were able to measure her humerus length and her radius length from a photo that had a scaleable object in it,” Jantz went on to explain. “Then we also had her a good estimate of her tibia length which we got from her trouser inseam length and from her height. We were able to compare the three bone lengths from Nikumaroro island to Amelia Earhart. The result is that they are very similar and it’s unlikely that just a random person would be that similar.”
Experts compared the bones to those of 2,776 other people, and only 17 had dimensions that matched more than Earhart’s. Just two of those people were women.
“The fact that she is not the closest one is not disqualifying at all, because there are going to be measurement errors on my part from estimating her dimensions, and it could be that Hoodless also made some errors,” Jantz added.
Of course, all this should be taken with a grain of salt because more concrete evidence is needed to match the bones without a doubt. Still, it’s exciting to think that this decades-old mystery may be solved sometime soon.