More attempts to find out what happened to Amelia Earhart

August 12, 2017 • 12:45 pm

In my continuing presentation of new evidence for what happened to Amelia Earhart—evidence that always turns out to be wrong—I’ll add this new article from National Geographic:Forensic dogs locate spot where Amelia Earhart may have died.” This summer, an expedition sponsored by National Geographic (which has an obsession with Earhart’s story) as well as The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), brought a team of researchers, as well as four “bone-sniffing” border collies, to Nikumaroro Island—about 400 miles from Earhart’s reported destination, Howland Island. (She was accompanied by her navigator Fred Noonan.)

Why Nikumaroro? National Geographic says there’s evidence of something there that could be Earhart-related:

TIGHAR’s hypothesis is that, when the aviators couldn’t find Howland, they landed on Nikumaroro’s reef during low tide. Proponents of competing theories argue that Earhart’s plane crashed and sank into the ocean, or that she ended up in the hands of the Japanese in the Marshall Islands or on Saipan.

. . . TIGHAR researchers had previously visited the island and narrowed their search to a clearing they call the Seven Site due to its shape. In 1940, a British official visited the site and reported finding human bones beneath a ren, or tournefortia, tree.

In 2001 searchers located what they believe is the ren tree site, and subsequent excavations unearthed possible signs of an American castaway, including the remains of several campfires, and U.S.-made items such as a jackknife, a woman’s compact, a zipper pull, and glass jars.

(From Nat. Geo. article): Forensic dog Kayle sits on a spot where she detects the lingering scent of human bones that may have decomposed long ago. PHOTOGRAPH BY RACHEL SHEA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The bone-sniffing dogs, which I guess have been trained to sniff human remains (as opposed to those from other animals), zeroed in on the soil beneath a “ren tree” (Heliotropium foertherianum). No bones were recovered, but researchers gathered four bags of soil hoping to find some DNA in there. The article notes that Neandertal DNA has been recovered from soil in Europe, but this is a tropical environment in which DNA degrades rapidly. And even if they found DNA to sequence, they’d have to be lucky to get enough to match it to some living relative. Earhart had no children, but she had a sister, Muriel, who did have two children, one of whom appears to be alive. Muriel and her children would all have the same mitochondrial DNA, the DNA from Earhart’s mother, so there’s a possible match there. And there may be other descendants, but if they use nuclear DNA the chance of finding a match would be lessened.

But what happened to the bones that were found in 1940? The team’s pursuing another story that they may have wound up in a post office on Kiribati. Stay tuned as other hypotheses arise.

(From Nat. Geo. article). Archaeologist Dawn Johnson and physician Kim Zimmerman collect soil samples for analysis at a DNA lab. PHOTOGRAPH BY RACHEL SHEA, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

In non-fake news about Earhart, Fox News Science (!) reported last year that Earhart’s plane was used in a Hollywood movie before it was delivered to her in 1936.

The plane Amelia Earhart was flying when she disappeared over the Pacific has been discovered … in a 1936 Clark Gable film. Discovery News reports that researchers with the International Group of Historic Aircraft Recovery spotted Earhart’s Lockheed Electra—given away by the registration number on its wing—in the 1936 film Love on the Run.

It appears that even official Earhart biographers were unaware of the famous plane’s star turn. In the film, the Lockheed carrying Gable and Joan Crawford narrowly avoids running into a crowd of spectators during a comically rough takeoff.

(“I wonder what all those gadgets are for?” asks Gable upon surveying the cockpit.) You can watch the scene here. “It is little wonder that this bizarre and undignified use of Earhart’s vaunted new ‘Flying Laboratory’ was kept quiet,” the group known as TIGHAR states on its Facebook page.

Love on the Run debuted about eight months before Earhart’s disappearance in July 1937. Stunt pilot Paul Mantz, who also served as Earhart’s technical adviser, performed the takeoff in the film.

The plane was delivered to Earhart on her 39th birthday on July 24, 1936, within weeks of the scene being filmed. It’s unclear if she knew it was used in the movie.

Here’s the relevant clip from Love on the Run:

h/t: Keith

19 thoughts on “More attempts to find out what happened to Amelia Earhart

  1. Seems like a lot of trouble and cost is being undertaken to get anything on this story. Is there some prize to be gained if they were somehow able to say, ah, there is her DNA?

    I do not understand what the information about the planes use in the movie is suppose to add? The sad truth is that Earhart and her navigator were attempting something that was extremely difficult and beyond their capabilities and it should not be surprising that they become lost/missed their tiny target in the middle of the ocean. The airplanes at that time, just 10 years after the Lindbergh flight were a big improvement, but navigation was still very primitive for what they were attempting to do.

    1. Nat.Geo. have a bee in their bonnet, and there’s clearly enough interest for their sponsorship of the research to pay back adequately at the news-stand and advertising bureau. Doing this sort of thing is hardly going to harm their reputation.
      Sufficient reasons, IMO.

  2. No bones were recovered, but researchers gathered four bags of soil hoping to find some DNA in there.

    DNA from a recent tropical soil surface sample … that’s a bit of a big ask from the mischievous imps of taphonomy (science of decay and fossilisation).
    On the other hand, there’s an appreciably better chance of finding minuscule bone fragments (rat- or crab- scraped and chewed), because most people don’t look very closely at sand and even fewer have looked at hundreds of sand samples, to have a reasonable search image to say “that’s odd …” ; whether any such fragments could be assigned to “human” versus “goat” or “pig” is another question. I do hope they did an inventory of current potentially confusing wildlife, otherwise they’ll have to go back and spend a week sitting on the beach with a notebook and a pencil. A devastating prospect.
    Even without bone fragments, unless there’s a lot of rainfall, there’s a good chance of a detectable signal in the soil phosphate content. Not exactly run-of-the-mill archaeological investigation, but an established practice – seeking mass graves from old battlefields, that sort of thing. But you’d need more than 4 soil samples to get good confidence on that.

    1. Rainfall you say. I would guess lots and lots at this location and many typhoons as well. My experience in this part of the world is that it feels like rain all the time even when it is not raining.

    2. The last time this did the rounds here, I read that TIGHAR has already suspected turtle bones for human bones.

      And even if they find specifically human bones, these islands have been visited before and after.

      On the other hand, that ocean is big, and downed in the sea seems to be the baseline and official hypothesis. I do not think there is any evidence suggesting otherwise.

      1. And on the gripping hand, you can see long way from height, and if you’re running low on fuel, you are going to head for any land you can see. I recall a dry-suit staining ride of nearly 30 miles in a helicopter with half the normal number of working engines, at autogyration height, following the surf line just off the Aberdeen-Newborough beach. High enough to allow the rotors to dispose of the descent speed ; wet enough to break up a fuel fire ; wading depth to shore. It was only the last 10 or so km that we went over land, avoiding flying over residential areas. This wasn’t a spontaneous plan from the pilots, it’s an SOP for shut-down engine.

  3. I can’t help myself, I always read the items posted here about Amelia Earhart. I figure it’s the prix fixe for Jerry’s idée fixe. 🙂

  4. The TIGHAR people are mostly about fundraising. They are looking for DNA on a small island that has been occupied by many as 100 people at a time during various periods of settlement and agriculture. There was a British survey in 1938, followed by the establishment of a coconut plantation. During WW2, the US had a small base there.
    I suspect that those people might have noticed Earhart’s camp, aircraft, or remains during those years.
    But we are talking about the sort of people who find an aluminum scrap, and immediately decide that it must be part of Earhart’s plane. But that whole part of the world is covered with the debris of WW2. There are aluminum aircraft parts all over the place. I have a basement full of them.

    1. Yep! TIGHAR has been promoting their stuff as if the island has been as remote and uninhabited as Howland, when it’s had countless people on it over the decades, and was even used as a fishing ‘stopover’ before the Earhart/Noonan flight. Planes searching for that flight even noticed a wrecked ship offshore and a small settlement on the island – and of course, no Electra.

      TIGHAR has *nothing* that connects to Earhart in any way, and no plausible scenario for the plane having made it to Nikumaroro. Everything that they parade through the media is based on wild suppositions with a probability so low that it’s ridiculous, and every time they come up with a dead end they change their story. How NatGeo got roped into this I can’t imagine, but it says a lot about their new editorial standards.

      In case anyone has the interest, I went over a lot of this in a post a few years back:

  5. Paul Mantz bought 475 war surplus airworthy U.S bombers & fighters for $55k, for use in Hollywood film stunts. It is claimed he made a small profit just selling the fuel they contained. Nice story if true!

  6. It’s all very fascinating. Who knows what will be found. In any event, in some sense it makes no difference if the story of Amelia Earhart is ever completely understood. Her legacy is already known. The name Amelia was borrowed in naming my own daughter because Earhart was a courageous woman. She thought of life as a great adventure we should not fear. Risks, if they are important enough, should be taken. I wanted that for my daughter.

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