Amelia Earhart: Mystery Solved?

Mar 12, 2018 By Elena, Writer Intern
elena.wllms's picture

The disappearance of Amelia Earhart remains one of the greatest mysteries of history.

In 1940, human bones had been discovered on the remote Pacific island of Nikumaroro. However, they were initially thought to be that of her co-pilot. But recent studies reveal they indeed might be Earhart's, putting an end to an eighty-year-old search. 

Who was Amelia Earhart?

Amelia Earhart, born 1897, did not grow up in a time when women had equal rights to men, and certainly not one when a woman’s career as a pilot would be considered commonplace.

Still, Earhart had a way of rebelling against society’s rules for women: she was a tomboy who played basketball as a child and even attended college, a strictly men-only place at the time. Naturally, when World War I reached the United States, Earhart was determined to help in the war effort, so she enlisted as a Red Cross nurse’s aid and was went to Toronto to serve. During her time abroad, she watched new pilots training in the Royal Flying Corps, and she fell in love with the idea of flight.

A few years after the war, in 1921, Earhart began taking private flying classes. As a woman, the odds were against her once again. First, she would have to make enough money to pay for her classes, at a time when men were uneasy about giving them a salary at all. Second, she would not be taken seriously as a female pilot by her male counterparts. Undeterred, Earhart picked up a job as a filing clerk and chose a female instructor who would take her seriously. Within the year, Earhart got her license to fly.

Flying and Falling

Earhart was known for pushing the boundaries of aviation, and in doing so, she set many records. For one, in her first year as a licensed pilot, Earhart became the first woman to fly above 14,000 feet. For another, she became the second person (the first being Charles Lindbergh) to make the transatlantic flight--to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a plane.

Her last mission, when she met her fate, was the most ambitious of all: to fly around the entire world. With only 7,000 miles left to go, she lost radio contact with the Coast Guard and never made it to her next refueling station on Howland Island. Though the President authorized an extensive search, she was never found. She had disappeared without a trace. She was declared lost at sea, and for eighty years, no one found the wreckage or her remains.

Found at Last?

A recent study in Forensic Anthropology claims that it has identified the remains of Amelia Earhart. Its authors believe that a set of bones found in 1940 on Nikumaroro, an island in the Pacific, are Earhart’s.

By measuring the dimensions of the bones and comparing that data to the bone structure of a Pacific Islander, researchers were able to eliminate the possibility of the bones being from a native of Nikumaroro or from a shipwrecked crew in the area from 1929. From there, the clothing that Earhart wore was used to fill in the gaps about her own dimensions, and the numbers seemed to fit.

This finding suggests that Earhart did not die in the plane crash, but that she survived as a castaway on an unknown island. It is not known how long she lived on Nikumaroro, hoping and waiting for rescue, and it could have been days, weeks, or even months. Her survival was a testament to her strength, her courage, and her spirit, which have made her such an inspiration through the years.

Sources: CNN, NPR, BBC, History.com, Ameliaearhart.com, Smithsonian