Amelia Earhart, long hailed as a courageous pilot and iconic figure of female ambition and strength, may have been even more physically and emotionally tough than is even thought, as new reports suggest that the pilot, who was attempting to make a flight around the world in 1937, did not crash and die immediately in deep ocean water, but may have survived as a castaway on a remote island for weeks or even months, according to the University Herald.
The 40-year-old Earhart was a legend in her own time, breaking social norms of female roles in the field of aviation when she was thought to perish in July of 1937. She was born in Kansas in 1897, and although she was not the first female to be issued a pilot’s license, she was the first female to successfully fly a plane across the Atlantic Ocean, which she accomplished in 1928 in a time span of 20 hours and 40 minutes. Although the trip was successful, Earhart was reportedly unhappy with having to rely heavily on her co-pilot due to adverse weather, and wished for a greater challenge, according to Biography. She wished to fly over both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, which was underway when she disappeared during the flight in July of 1937. After a search at the time revealed no evidence of her plane on any Pacific islands, she was declared legally dead in 1939.
New evidence suggests that perhaps she did not perish due to the crash at all, and actually survived as a castaway on the remote pacific island now known as Gardner Island in the Republic of Kiribati, for a period of days to months, archeologists believe. While her plane was never recovered, some type of “anomaly” was found on the floor of the ocean near Gardner Island in 2014 which may be consistent with the plane Earhart was flying, according to LiveScience.
It is known that radio transmissions were made from Earhart up to four days after her plane is to presumed to have crashed, and at that time she suggested her companion and co-pilot was injured. While an expansive search was conducted at that time, no sign or the two people nor the plane was discovered. However, in 1940, human skeletal remains were found on what is now known as Gardner Island, although the bones had suffered profound destruction from coconut crabs, according to LiveScience. The skeletal remains were found next to what appeared to be the remnants of a fire pit, the skeletons of fish, birds, and a turtle, and a navigational device that Earhart’s flight companion was known to carry. At that time, the remains were said to be from a male that was approximately five feet six inches tall, while Amelia Earhart was five feet nine inches tall. The conclusion at the time was that it was not possible for the remains to be those of Earhart for that reason, as well as the fact that scientists said that the bones of the forearm were “too long” to be a female.
However, scientists recently took a new look at specifics about skeletal remains that had been found, and they determined that the bones were possibly that of a female. In general, the pelvic cavity is shaped differently in men and woman. They also noted that the frame and general size of the skeleton was consistent with the habitus of Earhart, and the skull was consistent with someone from a partial-European descent. Of most interest to the mystery is that photos of Amelia Earhart were found with exposed arms and scientists were able to conclude that her forearms were longer than that of most American females of European descent, and matched the remains found on Gardner Island.
The mystery may never be decisively put to rest because scientists no longer have access to that skeleton found in 1940. Strangely, it went missing shortly after it was discovered, and all scientists have are pictures and precise measurements of the bones, but the scientist who took the photos was not a forensic anthropologist. Therefore, some scientists believed that the remains found were not those of Earhart, such as Pamela Cross, an archaeologist at the University of Bradford in the U.K., and Richard Wright, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Sydney. They opined in 2015 that the remains were likely male.
“Without access to the missing original bones, it is impossible to be definitive, but on balance, the most robust scientific analysis and conclusions are those of the original British finding indicating that the Nikumaroro bones belonged to a robust, middle-aged man, not Amelia Earhart.”
However, in light of the new information regarding the length of Earhart’s forearm, many scientists believe it is not only possible but probable that the remains are that of Earhart. Scientist Richard Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, believes that the skeletal remains are that of Earhart and that she survived for a period of time on the island long enough that there were some skeletal changes, according to original scientific notation on the now-missing bones. Furthermore, the sole of a shoe that looked like a woman’s shoe was found near the remains.
“She doesn’t know where she is, and she has to survive the best she can. Looks like she did manage to survive — to catch rainwater and boil it for drinking water. Castaways are really rare in the Pacific, and female castaways even more so. This castaway had things with her that date from the early to mid-1930s, and we have good records.”
[Featured Image by Science Source/Getty Images]