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Study: Bones Found on Pacific Island Likely from Amelia Earhart

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A new study suggests bones found on a Pacific Island in 1940 were likely those of famous American pilot Amelia Earhart.

If true, the findings would end a long debate over what happened to Earhart. She disappeared in 1937 over the southern Pacific Ocean. At the time, Earhart was attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world. She was 39 years old.

Her navigator, Fred Noonan, was also on the plane that disappeared.

In 1940, a group of bones was discovered on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro. Some believed the bones belonged to Earhart. But a scientist who took measurements at the time concluded that they belonged to a man who did not match the description of Noonan.

The bones were later lost. All that survived were seven measurements. They showed the size of the skull and of bones from the arm and leg.

In 2015, researchers completed a new analysis based on the measurements. Those researchers said their findings confirmed the earlier conclusion – the bones did not belong to Earhart or Noonan.

Famed aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, pose in this file photo in front of their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in Los Angeles at the end of May, 1937. (AP Photo, File)
Famed aviator Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, pose in this file photo in front of their twin-engine Lockheed Electra in Los Angeles at the end of May, 1937. (AP Photo, File)

But the new study – appearing in the publication Forensic Anthropologychallenges those findings. Richard Jantz led the study. He is an anthropologist from the University of Tennessee.

Jantz said his study provides evidence that “strongly supports” the bones belonged to Earhart. “The bones are consistent with Earhart in all respects we know or can reasonably infer,” he wrote in the study.

During his research, Jantz compared the bone measurements to photographs and examinations of Earhart’s clothing. He says that until new evidence is presented that the bones are not those of Amelia Earhart, “the most convincing argument is that they are hers.'

The mystery of Amelia Earhart

Ever since Earhart’s plane disappeared in 1937, people have sought to learn what happened to the plane and its crew.

The plane had left from what is now Papua New Guinea. The next goal of the flight was to reach Howland Island - about 4,000 kilometers to the east. But Earhart and Noonan never arrived there.

Flight experts decided the plane must have crashed in the sea after using up all its fuel. Searchers found no other explanation.

Amelia Earhart, 40, stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. (AP Photo)
Amelia Earhart, 40, stands next to a Lockheed Electra 10E, before her last flight in 1937 from Oakland, Calif., bound for Honolulu on the first leg of her record-setting attempt to circumnavigate the world westward along the Equator. (AP Photo)

But observers have long shared rumors about what really happened. One unconfirmed report said Earhart had made her final flight while working as an American spy. The story claimed then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt had asked her to observe Japanese activity in the Pacific.

At the time, U.S. relations with Japan were tense. In 1941, Japan bombed the American military base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack led to America’s involvement in World War II.

Another report suggested Japanese forces or civilians had rescued Earhart and taken her to Japan. This rumor, or similar ones, said she died there.

Still another rumor claimed she was freed after the war ended. It claimed that she lived under another name in the United States.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse and other sources. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

analysis n. a careful study of something to learn about its parts, what they do, and how they are related to each other

challenge v. to say or show that something may not be true or correct

consistent adj. always behaving or happening in a similar

infer v. to form an opinion from evidence

convince v. make someone believe something is true

rumor n. information passed from person to person that is not proved to be true

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