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Amelia Earhart
Famed aviator Amelia Earhart looks out from the cockpit of her plane in a circa-1936 picture. (Harris & Ewing Collection, Library of Congress via University of Tennessee)

A newly published study lends support to the view that famed aviator Amelia Earhart died on the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro during her attempt to fly around the world in 1937.

In the study, published by Forensic Anthropology, Richard Jantz contends that the recorded measurements for remains found on the island in 1940 are consistent with the estimated size of Earhart’s bones. That contradicts earlier determinations by experts that the bones belonged to a stocky middle-aged man.

Jantz estimated Earhart’s skeletal dimensions by analyzing photographs of the aviator and factoring in clothing measurements from a collection of Earhart’s personal papers.

Some anthropologists have questioned how reliable such methods could be, but Jantz insists that the bones described in 1940 should have more similarity to Earhart’s bones than to 99 percent of the individuals in his reference sample of 2,700 individuals.

He said his re-examination of the bone measurements, coupled with the fact that the bones were found along with part of what was judged to be a woman’s shoe and other artifacts linked to Earhart, bolsters an existing hypothesis that the remains were hers.

The disappearance of Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, has posed a mystery for decades. In recent years, an investigation led by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, has been assembling evidence suggesting that the fliers failed to locate a refueling station on Howland Island in the Pacific and had to ditch the plane near Nikumaroro.

Jantz, professor emeritus of anthropology and director emeritus of the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, is associated with TIGHAR.

He said in his research paper that Earhart “was known to have been in the area of Nikumaroro Island, she went missing, and human remains were discovered which are entirely consistent with her and inconsistent with most other people.”

The latest chapter in the Amelia Earhart saga comes eight months after a brouhaha over whether she and Noonan might have died while in Japanese custody. That debate was sparked by an archival picture that some said showed a fuzzy image of Earhart sitting on a dock. The claim was discredited when the photo was found in a book published two years before Earhart disappeared.

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