Amelia Earhart was a pioneer unlike any woman before her.
A nurse during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, her tireless efforts eventually resulted in her spending around a year battling pneumonia and other flu-related conditions contracted through her work.
After she recovered, Earhart developed a passion for flying that would culminate in her 1928 flight across the Atlantic. In doing so, she became the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and earned global recognition in the process.
But Earhart wanted more and in 1937 she set off on a circumnavigational flight of the world alongside Fred Noonan. It was a flight that would result in one of the great mysteries of the 20th century, with Earhart’s plane disappearing at some point over the central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island.
Plenty of theories surfaced. Some believe Earhart and Noonan ran out of fuel while searching for Howland Island, ditched at sea, and perished. Others claim the pair landed on the nearby Gardner Island and lived out their days in near solitude. Then there’s the theory that suggests the pair were were captured by Japanese forces. Or maybe she fell victim to the Bermuda Triangle?
Three years after her disappearance, 13 bones were found near Gardner Island, some 1,200 miles from the Marshall Islands. Those bones were studied in 1941 by Dr David Hoodless, from the Central Medical School in Fiji and deduced, from their shape, that they could only belong to a man.
However, a new research from Richard Jantz, a professor at the University of Tennessee, argues more modern scientific techniques point to different findings. In the study from the journal Forensic Anthropology, Dr Jantz said Dr Hoodless’s methods were “inadequate to his task; this is particularly the case with his sexing method”.
Though the bones have long since been lost, he was able to compare data collected to photos of Earhart and her clothing alongside data from 2,776 people. The results are pretty conclusive.
“Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample,” he said. “This strongly supports the conclusion that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to Amelia Earhart.”
The most likely scenario is that Earhart either crashed off the coast of the island, with her remains washed up on shore or, alternatively, landed there and lived out her remaining days on the island. Noonan’s whereabouts are unknown. A search of the island at the time of her disappearance uncovered evidence to suggest someone was living there but there was no sign of her plane.
Ultimately, we may never know the full story behind Earhart’s disappearance. Maybe that’s not a bad thing – at least her legend will live on.