Scientists Find Clues Behind the Mystery of Amelia Earhart’s Disappearance

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In Amelia Earhart's plane

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A tiny sliver of bone found on an island off the South Pacific may finally solve the riddle of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance 73 years ago.

Famed as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart vanished in a record attempt to circle the world’s equator. Later declared missing and eventually dead, many believed her plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean. But now historians say they have found evidence to suggest Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan may have landed the plane and survived as castaways on the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro in the republic of Kiribati.

(Read Hollywood’s Amelia: Lost at Sea)

The search, organized by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), also turned up, the remains of a 1930s woman’s compact, a small bottle made in New Jersey in 1933, a zip made in Pennsylvania in the mid-1930s, and a broken pocket knife of the same brand that was listed in an inventory of Earhart’s aircraft.  With the piece of bone currently being tested at the University of Oklahoma’s Molecular Anthropology Laboratories to see if it contains human DNA, the results won’t be ready for another few weeks, but if any human DNA is extracted it will be sequenced to Earhart’s DNA.

Though scientists have cautioned that the bone could be from the flipper of a turtle, TIGHAR is confident Earhart’s final days were spent on the South Pacific remote island and that the aircraft had sufficient fuel to reach Nikumaroro where it landed on flat reefs. Earhart and Noonan could have survived on the island for a time, but eventually succumbed to injury or infection, food poisoning or thirst. The theory is also backed up by British colonial records in Fiji reporting the discovery of the partial skeleton of a castaway who perished shortly before the island was settled in 1938.

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And as for TIGHAR’s next expedition to the island? Using a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), they plan to carry out an underwater search for the heavier parts of the wreckage of Earhart’s plane off the western end of the island. “It is our hope and intention to do the underwater search on or before July 2012, the 75th anniversary of Earhart’s disappearance,” said TIGHAR’s executive director, Ric Gillespie. The expedition marks TIGHAR’s tenth visit to Nikumaroro since 1989.