Amelia Earhart May Have Actually Died as a Castaway and Not in Plane Crash

Aviator Amelia Earhart died as a castaway on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean and not in a plane crash as previously believed, new research claims.

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) announced on October 22 that a partial skeleton found on the island of Nikumaroro, Kiribati, in 1940 is now believed to have belonged to Earhart, who disappeared at the age of 39 en route to Howland Island on July 2, 1937, as she attempted to become the first female pilot to fly around the world.

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart Pictures Inc./Pictures Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

"Until we started investigating the skeleton, we found what history knew was that Amelia Earhart died in July 2nd, 1937, in a plane crash," TIGHAR executive director Ric Gillespie told CNN on Tuesday, November 1. "But there is an entire final chapter of Earhart's life that people don't know about. She spent days — maybe months — heroically struggling to survive as a castaway."

When the bones were first discovered 76 years ago, officials dismissed the possible connection because a British doctor said they belonged to a male. In 1998, TIGHAR recovered the doctor's records and sent them to a group of forensic anthropologists, who said the bones appeared to be "consistent with a female of Earhart's height and ethnic origin," CNN reported.

Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called
Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928, in front of her bi-plane called "Friendship" in Newfoundland. Getty Images

Forensic expert Richard Jantz then noticed that the skeleton's forearms were larger than those of an average European woman. The discovery prompted further research, and anthropologists found Earhart's forearms were "virtually identical" to those of the bones found in 1940, according to the news outlet.

TIGHAR noted in a press release on its website that Earhart's exact measurements aren't know, but experts used historical photos of Earhart, who was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, for estimations.

Gillespie has organized three separate archeological expeditions to Nikumaroro since the late 1990s to further explore the area where the skeletal remains were discovered decades ago.

"We found records of bonfires being lit in the area where the bones were found," he told CNN. "Based on the fish bones and bird bones found in the area, Earhart survived weeks, maybe even months, in that island."

The bones were the only human remains found in the area, according to Gillespie.

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