The end of the mystery around the disappearance of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart in 1937

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It is a mystery that researchers and aviation buffs have been trying to solve for decades: what happened to this American woman who was the first woman to cross the Atlantic alone by plane in 1932? The analysis of bones found in 1940 may well provide an answer.

Photo of Amelia Earhart in 1935.

The adventure of Amelia Earhart (39 years old at the time) and Fred Noonan (her 44-year-old navigator) started on May 20, 1937. That day they took off from Oakland, California, to fly around the world.

On July 2, they left Lae, Papua New Guinea, for a particularly ambitious milestone of 4,000 kilometres to refuel on tiny Howland Island, an American territory located almost halfway between Australia and Hawaii. They never arrived there. Researchers and aviation fans have been trying for decades to uncover the mystery of the disappearance of this pioneer, the first woman to cross the Atlantic alone by plane in 1932.

The most common theory since then is that in July 1937, their twin-engine Lockheed Electra broke down over the Pacific Ocean and crashed on the uninhabited Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro and belonging to the Republic of Kiribati. It seems that this theory is also the right one.

Bones found as early as 1940

In 1940, a British expedition found on this island a human skull, bones, the sole of a woman’s shoe, a case for a sextant and a bottle of Benedictine. It now seems, according to a recent study, that these bones correspond to the remains of Amelia Earhart, who disappeared in the region three years earlier. Richard Jantz, professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, today says that new analyses have determined that these bones are those of the famous aviator.

The bones had been shipped to Fiji and examined the following year by David W. Hoodless, a professor of anatomy. He had, however, concluded that the bones belonged to a small man. To add to the mystery, these bones were then lost.

Nearly 80 years later, Richard Jantz used a computer programme called Fordisc to analyse David Hoodless’s measurements of the bones: four on the skull, three on a tibia, a humerus and a radius.

He also studied the clothes worn by Amelia Earhart to determine that the remains found were at more than 99% those of the aviator. “This strongly supports the conclusion that Nikumaroro’s bones belong to Amelia Earhart,” Jantz said in a statement released by the University of Tennessee.

The misinterpretation of previous research is explained by the fact that “legal anthropology was not very developed at the beginning of the twentieth century“, he explained. The study was published in the Forensic Anthropology journal of the University of Florida.

The false Japanese track

A documentary broadcast in July 2017 on the American History Channel, entitled “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence”, suggests that the two aviators actually survived before being taken prisoner by the Japanese.

The authors based their theory on a fuzzy black-and-white photograph found among the documents of the American National Archives in Washington. There are several people on a Jaluit Atoll pier in the Marshall Islands, including a woman seen from the back with a figure resembling that of Amelia Earhart. A man standing near her on the wharf would also look remarkably like Fred Noonan, according to an expert physiognomist interviewed in the documentary.

Behind the platform, one can see a boat towing a machine. According to documentary filmmakers, it could be the Japanese ship Koshu Maru towing the aircraft of Amelia Earhart.

Before them, residents of the Marshall Islands had long claimed that the two airmen had survived the emergency landing of their aircraft before being captured by the Japanese.

Nevertheless, when the documentary is released, the experts are sceptical. For an expert on military matters, Matthew B. Holly, this photo showing so-called aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart alive after her alleged disappearance in 1937 proves nothing at all since this photograph can be traced to the travel diary of a Japanese photographer published well before the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.

Mr. Holly claims that this shot was indeed taken on Jaluit Atoll, but in 1935, before being published in a travel diary of more than 100 pages in 1936. “There is no doubt that the photo was taken in 1935,” he told AFP. “The book is a collection of photos of a man travelling on a Japanese boat,” says the expert, who lives in Majuro and lists for decades the wrecks of American planes and the identity of American pilots killed in action in this area.

He explained that the lack of Japanese flags and soldiers on the photo used as a base for the documentary had intrigued him from the start.

Richard Gillespie, executive director of an American group of aviation history buffs, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), had already considered the so-called index presented in the documentary “laughable”.

Source: Reuters, Le Vif

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