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DNA Evidence May Reveal Clues About Amelia Earhart’s Disappearance

July 29, 2009 02:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
Researchers say DNA will prove that Earhart was stranded on Nikumaroro Island before she died. Other sensational theories still abound.

Amelia Earhart Mystery Solved?

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Earhart’s mysterious disappearance on July 2, 1937, has fascinated people for decades, and has given rise to many theories for her death. In May 2010, researchers from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) plan to visit the uninhabited Pacific island of Nikumaroro “in the hopes of uncovering DNA evidence that may show Amelia Earhart survived there for a short period of time,” ABC News reports.

TIGHAR researchers speculate that Earhart, the first woman to fly alone over the Atlantic Ocean, and her navigator, Fred Noonan, found their death at Nikumaroro Island (formerly known as Gardner Island), located approximately 1,800 miles south of Hawaii. Their bodies and their plane were never found. During a prior trip in 2007, however, the TIGHAR team discovered artifacts including early 20th-century makeup and pieces of a 1930s compact mirror that could have belonged to Earhart, ABC News reports. The $500,000 expedition slated for next year aims to prove this hypothesis. 

According to the theory brought forth by TIGHAR, “Earhart and Noonan survive[d] for a time but eventually succumb[ed] to any of a number of possible causes including injury and infection, food poisoning (some local fish are highly toxic), or simply thirst.” The airplane, on the other hand, was “destroyed by surf action and the debris [was] scattered ‘downstream’ across the reef-flat, along the shoreline, and into the lagoon.”

TIGHAR researchers are optimistic about the upcoming expedition. “We think we will be able to come back with DNA,” TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie told ABC. Their discoveries will then be matched up with a sample of mitochondrial DNA provided by one of Earhart’s relatives. 

Opinion & Analysis: Alternative theories

According to ABC News, other historians have offered alternative theories to explain Earhart’s disappearance. Elgen Long, a prominent Earhart historian, believes that Earhart’s plane ran out of fuel near Howland Island, about 1,650 miles southwest of Hawaii.

The Disappearance of Amelia Earhart,” a blog post on the Encyclopedia Britannica Web site, highlights other theories, including that Earhart was accused of being a spy, held as a Japanese prisoner and eventually executed. Others say that “she was a prisoner, but that she was confined within Emperor Hirohito’s palace in Tokyo.” Yet another theory suggests that Earhart managed to return to the United States safely, and lived quietly in Bedford Village, N.Y., under the assumed name of Irene Bolam.


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