Almost eight decades ago, a set of female skeletal remains were found on a remote Pacific island. Since their discovery, the bones remained unidentified, but some people speculated that they might have belonged to the famed pilot Amelia Earhart. Finally, on March 7 of this year, a new study revealed that it was extremely likely that the remains, found on the island of Nikumaroro, belonged to Earhart.
Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer of the early 1900s. According to her biography on History.com, she started breaking traditional gender roles at an early age. As a young girl in Atchison, Kansas, she played basketball, took an automotive repair course and even spent a short time enrolled at Columbia University in New York as a pre-med student. She fell in love with flying during her time as a Red Cross nurse’s aid in Toronto during the first World War while watching the Royal Flying Corps training in a local airfield. She began taking flying lessons in January of 1921. Later that year, she purchased her first airplane – a yellow, secondhand Kinner Airster, which she called “the canary.” In December, she passed her flight test and earned her National Aeronautics Association license.
In 1922, she became the first woman to fly solo over 14,000 feet. She also became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo, the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States and was the first person to make a solo flight from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. After crossing the Atlantic, she became the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is a military decoration awarded for “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”
In 1929, Earhart helped form the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of female pilots which is still around today and represents female pilots from 44 different countries. She was the first president.
On June 1, 1937, Earhart took off on what would be her final flight. She and her on-board navigator Fred Noonan were attempting to circumnavigate the globe. They left from Oakland, California, and flew east. In a little more than a month, they had flown about 22,000 miles and had only 7,000 more miles to go before returning to California. The last time Earhart and Noonan were seen alive was when they were departing Lea, New Guinea, for Howland Island, their next refueling stop. Between those two islands, Earhart and Noonan lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard and their aircraft disappeared. Despite the massive two-week search, authorized by former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt himself, neither their bodies nor their aircraft were immediately recovered, and they were declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937.
Countless theories have been formed about what might have happened to the pilot and her navigator, but they, as well as Earhart, can finally be put to rest. The recent study of the recovered remains was conducted by Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee Richard Jantz. According to a recent article from CNN, Jantz used a new technology in the field of forensic anthropology called “Fordisc” to estimate the sex and general ancestry of heavily decomposed remains. Jantz wrote in his report, “I reassess (bone measurements) with realistic assumptions about who could have been on Nikumaroro island during the relevant time.” Jantz compared the bone measurements to measurements of Earhart’s body taken from tailored clothing kept at the George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers at Purdue University, which included seamstress measurements. After comparing Earhart’s measurements to the recovered remains, Jantz concluded that “the only documented person to whom they may belong is Amelia Earhart.”
Abbygail Vasas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org