One of the most captivating mysteries in aviation history – the disappearance of Amelia Earhart – recently had a major breakthrough. A new study published by Professor Richard Jantz in a Forensic Anthropology Journal claims that bones found on a deserted Nikumaroro island in 1940s may have been Earhart’s, suggesting that she died as a castaway along with her navigator Fred Noonan.

The mystery of Earhart’s disappearance prompted many hypothesis and conspiracy theories about what may have happened to the aviation pioneer. One of the leading ideas as to what happened was that the plane simply ran out of fuel and crashed into the Ocean. Another, arguably more interesting one, seems to be the correct one after the study.

According to the theory, supported by the study, claims that after being unable to find Howland’s Island where the plane was planned to refuel, seeing that the fuel was running low, Earhart landed 350 nautical miles southwest of Howland in a deserted Nikumaroro Island, which during a low tide could have provided enough land to make an emergency landing.

Three years later after the plane seemingly vanished into thin air, British official Gerald Gallagher found a partial human skeleton, 12 other bones including humerus, radius and tibia, remains of a campsite, a box for a sextant and a women’s shoe on Nikumaroro island. The bones were examined in Fiji by D.W. Hoodless who concluded that the bones belonged to a short man of European descent dismissing the theory. Following his conclusion, Hoodless discarded the bones preventing any further assessment or DNA measurement.

However Hoodless’ measurements survived and recently were reexamined by forensic anthropologist Richard Jantz. The professor analyzed the measurements taken by Hoodless and compared them with Earhart’s body dimensions indicated by her numerous photographs and articles of clothing. He assessed that the Hoodless’ conclusion was incorrect and the bones found on Nikumaroro are most likely to be Earhart’s.

“The bones are consistent with Earhart in all respects we know or can reasonably infer. Her height is entirely consistent with the bones. The skull measurements are at least suggestive of female. But most convincing is the similarity of the bone lengths to the reconstructed lengths of Earhart’s bones,“ the study concluded.

Over the past century numerous search expeditions were launched to find the answers. The International Group of Historical Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been investigating the Nikumaroro hypothesis for some time suggesting the reason for why only 12 bones were found was because the island is densely populated by coconut crabs who may have consumed the rest of her and Noonan’s remains.

TIGHAR’s director Ric Gillespie also claims that a photo taken by a British expedition vessel in 1937 near the island seems to have what appears to be landing gear from a plane, possibly belonging to the one Earhart piloted, The Washington Post reported.

The aviator could also have used the aircraft radio to signal from the island for about a week before being submerged in water. In fact, numerous Earhart’s radio messages were reported by people across the world the following week. The report also includes one of a teenager Betty Klenck who reported that she heard transmissions of a female voice her radio saying “This is Amelia Earhart. Help me”. Klenck also claimed to have heard her arguing with a disoriented man; however her report was dismissed precisely because there were so many reports of her messages.

 The theory however, raises an interesting question. If Earhart indeed landed on Nikumaroro that does not explain why the navy planes flying over the island a week after her disappearance on July 9 did not notice any sign of life. Yet, despite some unanswered questions, with the recent news of the study, the Nikumaroro Island theory seems to be the most convincing.

Speculations lasting a century

The theories of what might have happened to Amelia Earhart ranged from her crashing into the ocean, actually being alive in the US under the disguise of Irene Craigmile to an alien abduction. Nevertheless, a theory of Earhart being a spy gained traction over the decades.

Retired US air forces colonel Rollin C. Reineck claimed that Earhart was supposed to land in the Marshall Islands at the time occupied by Japan, so that the US government could perform reconnaissance under the excuse of looking for Earhart. Corroborating the theory were some of the Marshall Islands locals, claiming that they saw the plane crash near the islands.

Further supporting the claims was an army officer Thomas E. Devine who said that in July, 1944 he met a group of soldiers guarding a hangar which supposedly had Earhart’s plane. According to him the aircraft was later burned.

The theory of Earhart surviving the crash was also backed by a picture found in national archives which was thought to have been of her and her navigator Noonan. However it was later debunked when it was found in a book published before her disappearance.

The legendary aviatrix and her navigator disappeared when attempting fly around the world on July 2, 1937. On the third-to-last leg of the trip she and Noonan departed Lae, New Guinea, in a heavily loaded Lockheed Electra 10E with the intention of stopping at Howland Island to refuel. The trip was supposed to last approximately 18 hours. The coastguard ship ITASCA off the coast of Howland Island was to provide communications for Earhart as she neared the island. The pilot must have gotten pretty close to the island since one of the last messages received were of Earhart saying she could not see the island and that fuel was running low.