A group of researchers plan to use bone-sniffing dogs in search of human remains that could prove whether Amelia Earhart died a castaway on a remote island in the Pacific.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) along with four human-remains-detection dogs, will journey to the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, where the group believes Earhart may have landed.
Earhart’s plane vanished on July 2, 1937, on the last leg of her trip around the world. She was flying toward Howland Island in the Pacific, but was running low on gas before she vanished. Three years after her disappearance, 13 human bones were found on Nikumaroro, but were later lost, according to TIGHAR, which has devoted three decades to exploring the castaway theory. That leaves 193 bones still to be found, according to Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic Society’s Archaeologist-in-residence, who is accompanying the group on the expedition.
He said if the dogs can locate bones, they will be transferred back to the the U.S. for DNA analysis to determine whether the bones belonged to Earhart.
"We will process whatever bone samples we find and compare them to a family member of Amelia Earhart, and if they are her bones, it will be the biggest CSI story in the world," Hiebert said, jokingly adding, "And then I can retire."
If the bones belong to Earhart, it will end decades of theories about what happened on the day she went missing. Was she taken captive by the Japanese? Or did she change her identity and live out her life as a housewife in New Jersey?
"Amelia Earhart is an ever interesting, passionately fascinating topic and it’s also gotten to be a cult status in that there are all these competing theories (about what happened to her),” Hiebert said.
Hiebert and the team will begin the six-day journey from Fiji to Nikumaroro on June 24. Once they arrive at the island, they plan to spend eight days using the dogs to scour the area in search of bones.
Despite the fact the humans remains are decades old, Hiebert said if there are bones on the island the dogs may be able to detect them.
He said they've discovered remains buried as deep as nine feet and hundreds of years old.
"For a project like this, to me it seems like the time is right. The DNA labs are ready to analyze some microscopic part of the DNA and the ability of the dogs to find human bones is remarkable," he said, noting that this may be the last shot at proving what happened to Earthart for members of TIGHAR.
"This is a one-time only expedition," he said. "There might not be a next time."
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