Despite a flurry of report to the contrary, the mystery of Earhart’s last resting place has actually not been — and also may never be — solved.

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Published15 march 2018Updated24 in march 2018

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In the at an early stage morning hrs of 2 July 1937, Amelia Earhart departed from Papua new Guinea’s Lae Airfield top top a course because that a small mound in the Pacific Ocean named Howland Island. Waiting for castle in depths waters surrounding was a unified States coastline Guard Cutter called the Itasca, which was there to provide navigational support for what to be intended to be Earhart’s most risky refuel in the middle of the ocean.

In a mystery that proceeds to provoke impassioned conflict to this day, Earhart never landed on Howland Island, and the wreckage of her plane, and the remains of both Earhart and also her navigator Fred Noonan have never conclusively been located, regardless of a large search in the area the Howland Island by the Itasca and also others in the weeks adhering to her disappearance. Earhart was declared dead in absentia two years later.

Howland or Nikumaroro Island?

The most straightforward and, according to numerous experts, most most likely explanation for her fatality is that Earhart ran the end of fuel throughout an ultimately unsuccessful find for Howland Island. Fuel evaluation performed by historians and also scientists indicate that Earhart more than likely would have had very little extra fuel in the event of navigational problems by the time she was to have arrived in ~ Howland Island, and also the couple of radio transmissions in between the Itasca and also Earhart that went through imply she to be approaching its basic location, as defined by Smithsonian Magazine:

The Itasca’s operator heard her transmissions, farming stronger together she approached Howland Island quickly after sunrise. In ~ one allude her signal to be so solid the ship’s radio operator ran to the deck to look for her overhead. Yet he saw just empty sky, and she, that seems, simply clouds and also empty ocean. Near the end, she voice was ending up being strained; she sounded “frantic,” according to the Itasca’s commanding officer. “We must be ~ above you but cannot view you,” she radioed. “Gas is to run low.”


Competing theories through varying levels of plausibility (some of which, such together her gift captured and held by the Japanese as a POW, are already conclusively debunked) have been offered ever since.

One group in particular has to be remarkably effective in cultivating their own theory that the incident to the mystery-loving publicly — The International team for historic Aircraft restore (TIGHAR), led through aviation accident investigator Ric Gillespie. The team is single-handedly responsible because that the bulk of famous Amelia Earhart headlines end the previous decade.

TIGHAR’s theory rests ~ above the assumption that skeletal recovered native an island about 350 nautical miles southern of Howland named Nikumaroro Island (but recognized at the moment as Gardner Island), belong come Earhart. Transparent the years, a steady stream of artifacts found through TIGHAR and also potentially connected with those human being remains on the island have provided tantalizing proposal for people invested in the theory that Earhart ended up somewhere else on land.

Two of the main hurdles undermining widespread support for the TIGHAR explanation, however, space the truth that bones uncovered on this island — discovered around 1940 — were originally explained by a clinical investigator as belonging to a stocky Polynesian male (not a tallish slim woman of european descent like Earhart), and also that no one knows, presently, wherein the Nikumaroro skeletal are.

This means that everyone and also anyone pointing out those skeleton is relying on the very same 1941 note of 2 doctors’ examination of the discover to make arguments around who they might belong to. This context is essential when considering the most recent headlines influenced by TIGHAR’s work, such as this from the Daily Mail:

Is this the last resting ar of Amelia Earhart? Bones discovered on Pacific island are ‘99% details to it is in hers’ claims scientist.

The Nikumaroro skeletal

In early on 1940, a local on the island the Nikumaroro came throughout a skull and also a bottle. By September 1940, native of the find had made its way to Gerald “Irish” Gallagher, the very first officer-in-charge that the Phoenix archipelago Settlement scheme — a failed British effort to colonize a collection of greatly uninhabited islands, including that the Nikumaroro, whereby he was stationed. Gallagher sent a telegram come his superiors concerning the find, arguing that they can be the skeleton of Amelia Earhart and also that they should keep the discover quiet.


Gallagher detailed in this telegram that added bones had been located, together with a women’s dimension 10 shoe and a sextant box. ~ a lengthy back and also forth between British officials, the bones to be shipped come Suva, Fiji and also analyzed by two people — Lindsay Isaac and also D.W. Hoodless.

Isaac, a British medical officer, carry out the first inspection on route to Fiji in the harbor of Tarawa top top 11 February 1941. Complying with his analysis, Isaac sent out Gallagher a telegram informing him the it to be his check out that the bones most likely belonged to an elderly guy of Polynesian lower — details that Gallagher defined as anticlimactic.

Hoodless, the major of the central Medical college in Suva, Fiji, perform a 2nd inspection. Lot of our information around the Nikumaroro Bones originates from a 4 April 1941 report from Hoodless come an officer of the British western Pacific Territories. Hoodless, utilizing an analysis of the bone’s lengths, concluded the the bones most likely belonged to a 45- to 55-year-old male through a height of approximately five and a fifty percent feet. Hoodless speculated the bones can have belonged either a Polynesian or a european person; he can not it is in sure.

As a result of these conclusions, the skeleton (which were lost after Hoodless’ analysis) were mainly forgotten till 1998, once TIGHAR-associated researchers presented their concept at a conference of the American Anthropological Association the the bones had been defined incorrectly by Hoodless. The conclusion, do by forensic anthropologists Karen Burns and Richard Jantz utilizing a reinterpretation that the information contained in the telegram, was the the bones can actually have belonged come someone who fits the Amelia Earhart profile:

Based top top the details now in hand, Jantz and Burns both concluded the the remains discovered on Nikumaroro in 1939-40 stood for an individual who was: (1) more likely female than male (2) an ext likely white than Polynesian or other Pacific Islander (3) most likely between 5’5″ and also 5’9″ in height.

This finding, which continues to be controversial, renewed interest in the Nikumaroro theory and has to be the basis for many expeditions to the island to search for other artefacts that could bolster your interpretation. The group has gained exposure through press releases and from documentary movie crews from media outlets that support their work.

The 2018 paper that produced the viral claims that a scientist is “99% certain” the the Nikumaroro bones belonged come Earhart was created by Jantz, an author of the initial 1998 paper. His 2018 file is generally a an answer to a 2015 critique that their job-related which said that their factors for questioning the 1941 evaluation of the bones to be insufficient.

Scientists are “99% Certain” the Nikumaroro bones Belong come Earhart


In his 2018 paper, which like many of their finds came v a TIGHAR push release describing the discover as essentially conclusive, Jantz reiterated his debate from the 1998 presentation the Hoodless could not (and go not) adequately analyze the bones. In this most recent paper, Jantz shows up even much more confident than his 1998 presentation, arguing that modern-day methods create results that indicate a 99 percent certainty that the skeletal belonged to Earhart:

When Hoodless performed his analysis, forensic osteology was not yet a well-developed discipline. Analyzing his methods with referral to modern data and also methods argues that castle were poor to his task; this is particularly the situation with his sexing method. Because of this his sex evaluate of the Nikumaroro bones can not be assumed to be correct.

To address the question of even if it is the Nikumaroro bones match estimates that Amelia Earhart’s bone lengths, ns compare Earhart’s bone lengths v the Nikumaroro bones using Mahalanobis distance. This analysis reveals that Earhart is an ext similar come the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample. This strongly support the conclusion the the Nikumaroro bones belonged come Amelia Earhart.

That nearly-complete certainty refers especially to the kind of evaluation Jantz performed, in i m sorry he compared the dimensions of the Nikumaroro bones to a pool of data which contained a arbitrarily assortment the 2776 Euro-American individual’s skeleton measurements. “If the bones perform not belong to Amelia Earhart,” the wrote, “then they are from who very similar to her. And, together we have seen, a random individual has actually a really low probability of own that level of similarity.”

He reviewed picture of Amelia Earhart that enabled for approximates of the actual size of Earhart’s skeleton features, and also he reviewed the methods employed through Hoodless, saying they were the end of date and not a reasonable basis for Hoodless’s conclusions about them. His evaluation determined the Amelia Earhart is a better fit for the Nikumaroro Bones 보다 99 percent that the 2776 individuals included in his dataset of Euro-American skeletal measurements. In an e-mail, Jantz called us:

It comes under to the fact the Earhart’s dimensions are much more similar to the bones than 99% the the basic population, as characterized by my reference sample that Euro-Americans.

Other forensic anthropologists believe Jantz’s techniques make sense. In one e-mail, Bruce Anderson, one adjunct professor of forensic anthropology at the college of Arizona who additionally works because that the Pima county Office the the medical Examiner, described Jantz together “the pre-eminent physical/forensic anthropologist in the united state in terms of measurements of the person body,” adding:

Sex evaluate from skeletal stays is one, if not the most common, error that has been regularly made through non-physical/forensic anthropologists. <…> If ns were a betting man, I’d placed my money top top the interpretation forwarded through Richard Jantz.

Kristina Killgrove, a biological anthropologist in ~ the university of West Florida, told the BBC the techniques are an exciting solution come a hard scientific problem, however that the certainty the the findings has been oversold:

Dr. Jantz has done a great job v the details at hand, in an effort to go additional in resolving this case. However I disagree through the conclusion that we should necessarily assume the these bones room Earhart’s. <…>

I think the he has tried to correlate this measurements really well, i m sorry is an amazing approach, however to me that a most what-iffing. It’s essentially gaming out the reasonable conclusion the a whole lot of various variables. For this reason this no a hopeful identification as Jantz notes also in his article.


While Jantz’s work may suggest a higher similarity in between the Nikumaroro Bones and Earhart’s dimensions 보다 was formerly assumed, the does not define away any of the other far-reaching challenges come the Nikumaroro hypothesis. Jantz identified that there was a limit on just how much details the 1941 notes can tell a researcher, however that he hope his research would show that there room still avenues available to scientists hoping to shed light top top the mystery:

What ns hope my record does is show that scientific methods can be offered to study this mystery. I understand there is only so much that can be done v the meager proof left through Dr. Hoodless, but an ext can be done, and also I hope will certainly be.

No one to know whether the skeletal will ever be found. If so, the matter could be placed to rest in brief order. If not, then we should bring as much evidence to bear on the question as we probably can.

Problems through the Nikumaroro Conclusion

The TIGHAR hypothesis provides few specifics on exactly how Earhart would certainly have finished up 400 miles south of her intended target. A common technique for aviation navigators throughout this era, in the event that they were unable to acquire a visual on the island (which to be the case), or to get their bearing native the Itasca (which was also the case), is to purposely fly towards the north or south of the the expected target before flying a north-south heat that would presumably intersect with the target.

Historians on every sides the the controversy generally agree the Earhart was likely trying to communicate this plan in the final undisputed transmissions got by the Itasca in between 8:43 and also 8:55 A.M., in i m sorry she stated, “We room on the line 157 337” (a compass bearing) and then a garbled transmission that countless have understood as “we are running on line north and south.”

In TIGHAR’s view, Earhart would have actually been southern of the island, attempting to discover it by going northward briefly, prior to pointing south, hoping the they would find Howland, yet committed come south due to the fact that their 157 337 line could, in a worst instance scenario, intersect v either Baker Island (a little south the Howland) or the more distant Nikumaroro:

She knows that Howland Island is what on this 157/337 line, close enough for the Itasca come hear her radio calls, yet that can be number of hundred miles. What to execute now? revolve left? revolve right? by happy coincidence, Howland is no the only island ~ above the 157/337 line. <…>

Of course, the island they want to reach, and hope come reach, is Howland – the only ar in the entire central Pacific whereby there is one airfield – but the fate to be avoided at all prices is running out of gas end the open up ocean.

The most reasonable food of activity is obvious: paris northwestward (337°) along the line for a short means to see if Howland is surrounding in the direction. If that is not, revolve around and also proceed southeastward (157°) till you involved an island.

Critics that the theory, like science writer and also Skeptoid podcast hold Brian Dunning, argue the 1.) the clear radio transmissions got by the Itasca do it evident she was quite close come Howland and 2.) that if she was close to Howland she would not have actually had anywhere near sufficient fuel to do it come Nikumaroro.

Earhart had a 50 W radio transmitter and utilized the 3105 khz HF radio frequency to interact voice message to the Itasca. The street such a signal could travel varies based on huge number of variables including time the day, weather, altitude, atmospheric conditions, and also even celestial factors. The clearest transmission received by the Itasca come in at 7:42 A.M., and it proclaimed Earhart’s belief she was whereby she intended the island to be: “We have to be ~ above you but cannot see you however gas is running low. Been unable to with you by radio. We are flying in ~ 1000 feet.”

Her voice in ~ this point was rather clear, according to the Itasca’s chef radioman Leo G. Bellarts:

We could hear her voice simply as straightforward as i’m hearing yours appropriate now and also I’m hearing deactivated in one ear now. But I’ll call you, you could hear she voice anywhere the shack and also even outside the shack. Friend know, genuine loud and also clear.

Theodore Rappaport is an professional in wireless communication and also an engineering professor at brand-new York University and is additionally an active amateur radio operator that communicates about the world using high frequencies (HF) close come those offered by Earhart. He told us: “It is possible that she transmission can have traveled for 1,000 to 2,000 mile or even much more into darkness, or follow me the sunlight/darkness boundary, however the distance into the daylight direction would have been lot smaller, on the stimulate of 100-200 miles.” If she was transmitting using voice modulation, that says, the distances would be just slightly smaller than if she to be transmitting Morse code.

This would suggest she was within 200 miles, more than likely closer, to Howland once their gas to be “running low.” Indeed, the shore Guard assumed based upon their radio communication with her that she went under in a sector between 40 miles and 200 mile from Howland Island.

Given the 7:42 A.M. Time of her clearest transmission, however, it is possible that this transmissions might have traveled further, many thanks to part funky day-night interactions in the ionosphere that can — under details circumstances — happen along the “grey line” in between night and also day. “Shortwave radio communications for 400 miles on a course either north or southern of her airplane could be doable at the time of day,” Rappaport said us.

Putting Earhart much more than 200 miles southern of Howland would certainly be a vast error for two knowledgeable aviators, and also it runs contrary come the initial coast Guard/Navy presumption she went down north west that the island. If she was that much off course, however, you would then need to argue castle had enough fuel to do it close to Nikumaroro. TIGHAR says that she would have had hours of fuel (contrary come Earhart’s 7:42 A.M. Declare of to run low) after ~ abandoning your hypothesized northward search for Howland.

Marie K. And Elgen Long, in their famous book Amelia Earhart: The mystery Solved, argued — based upon a number of technical determinants — that such a scenario would be unlikely, as they would have actually been perilously low on fuel once they came down on what they felt was your intended target based on their reconstruction of her trip (a scenario the TIGHAR disputes). And also then, there space those supporting artifacts collected near the Nikumaroro Bones and also by later TIGHAR expeditions. Despite numerous proclamations the certainty concerning their connect to Earhart, numerous of the finds have actually later been called into question. The island chin sits close to currents the would most likely transport trash and also other artifacts to the island, and also there is evidence of earlier habitation in the region. Additionally, a shipwreck developed there top top 29 November 1929 in i m sorry eleven people died.

The skeletal themselves, in addition to being defined as belonging come a short male, to be assumed by Isaac in 1941 to be so weathered regarding have been exposed for two decades (long prior to Earhart’s disappearance), one assertion the cannot be addressed or challenged by modern techniques without the skeletal themselves.

A lot of variables would need to line up in its entirety for the TIGHAR hypothesis to occupational with the coast Guard/Navy data, and it additionally bears mentioning that Naval plane searched Nikumaroro island for Earhart and Noonan top top July 9th and also found no signs of Earhart, she plane, or Noonan.

Due to these complicating factors, Jerry Adler suggested in Smithsonian Magazine the Earhart running out of fuel close to Howland “remains the most basic explanation, but for that really reason, has attracted derision native those who like their background complicated.”

The historic record provides much less conclusive proof than TIGHAR suggests, and arguing the notes noted by a deceased doctor about bones lost since 1941 sell 99 percent certainty is miscellaneous of an oversell.

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Therefore, us rank the case as unproven. Us don’t mean that to change any time soon, either.


Recent UpdatesCorrection <24 march 2018>: repair to reflect that the Nikumaroro bones were likely an initial identified in beforehand 1940, the Issac's analysis of the bones emerged en route to Fiji, and also that the report communicating Hoodless' analysis of the skeleton was no a telegram, yet a typed paper delivered by hand. Correction <15 march 2018>: The dataset offered by Richard Jantz for comparison purposes had the dimensions of 2776 individuals. An earlier version incorrectly declared that number together 500.
Published15 march 2018Updated24 march 2018
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