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Amelia Earhart may have died as a castaway instead of a plane crash

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It was always assumed that Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, died in a plane crash while attempting to fly around the world.

But new research from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) suggests the aviatrix died as a castaway on the island of Nikumaroro, in the western Pacific.

A partial skeleton found on the island in 1940 may belong to Earhart, according to TIGHAR

Amelia Earhart may have died as a castaway instead of a plane crash

Initially, British doctors determined that the remains belonged to a male.

TIGHAR discovered the original British files, including the skeletal measurements a doctor made, in 1998. The bones, however, have been lost for years.

Since then, Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director, has been trying to prove the remains belong to Earhart. 

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Ric Gillespie, the director of TIGHAR, during an expedition to the island of Nikumaroro. (Credit: Ric Gillespie)

TIGHAR sent the skeletal measurements from 1940 to forensic anthropologists Karen Burns and Richard Jantz, who said, "The morphology of the recovered bones, insofar as we can tell by applying contemporary forensic methods to measurements taken at the time, appears consistent with a female of Earhart's height and ethnic origin."

Recently, while updating the information about the bone measurements, Jantz noticed something peculiar. The partial skeleton had forearms that were considerably longer than that of the average European woman.

So Jantz contacted Jeff Glickman, a forensic imaging specialist, to see if he could determine whether Earhart's arm length in a historical photo matched that of the castaway's. 

Glickman found that "Earhart's humerus-to-radius-ratio was 0.76 - virtually identical to the castaway's."

Amelia Earhart likely called for help

TIGHAR also reported that Earhart made more than 100 radio transmissions between July 2 and July 6, 1937.

Those radio transmissions would not have been possible if the airplane's engine wasn't working, according to TIGHAR. That suggests the plane didn't crash. 

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American aviatrix Amelia Earhart poses with flowers as she arrives in Southampton, England, after her transatlantic flight on the "Friendship" from Burry Point, Wales, on June 26, 1928. The tri-motor "Friendship" was piloted by two men as Earhart served as the commander, making her the first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic. (AP Photo)

"There are historical documents that prove official airlines received radio calls for help in 1937. If we look at the press of the time - people believed she was still alive. It was only when planes were sent to fly over the islands where the distress signals were coming from and no plane was seen that the searches shifted toward the ocean," Gillespie told CNN.

He said rescue planes likely didn't see Earhart's plane because by then the waves would have dragged it out to sea. 

Gillespie told CNN that based on his expeditions to the island, he believes Earhart survived for weeks, if not months.

As for Earhart's navigator, Frederick J. Noonan, Gillespie said he likely died soon after they landed on the island.

"We speculate Noonan died early on as she reported him being injured in the initial distress calls," Gillespie told CNN.

Although none of these results are definitive, Gillespie said it's a step toward finding out what happened to the aviatrix.

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