USF researcher testing bone fragments that could belong to Amelia Earhart

Local News

(Photo: University of South Florida)

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It’s been more than 80 years since Amelia Earhart vanished over the central Pacific Ocean.

The pioneering aviator was flying with navigator Fred Noonan when their Lockheed Electra went down near Howland Island on July 2, 1937.

Despite many attempts to determine what had happened, Earhart’s disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of modern time.

But a recent development may be poised to end much of the speculation and mystery—and a forensic anthropologist from USF may have a big role in this.

A study published last year in Forensic Anthropology claims that bones found near Nikumaroro Island are likely Earhart’s remains.

The bones were first discovered three years after her disappearance, but went missing after they were sent to Fiji for examination.

Fragments of the skull from 1940 were found in the Te Umwanibong Museum and Cultural Centre located in the western Pacific island of Tarawa, Kirbati.

After learning of the bones’ existence, National Geographic archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, PhD, contacted world-renowned USF forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle, Ph.D., and asked her to test them.

Kimmerle is the executive director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Sciences and associate professor of anthropology in the USF College of Arts and Sciences.

“We needed the world’s best expert on missing people,” said Hiebert. “It was just natural to reach out to Erin Kimmerle.”

(Photo: University of South Florida)

Kimmerle pieced together bone fragments to reconstruct a skull and assessed the remains’ height, age and ancestry.

Some other bone fragments were sent in for DNA testing to determine whether or not they matched any of Earhart’s relatives.

Although it’s soon too to tell what will become of Kimmerle’s work, her role may be the final step in solving the decades-old mystery.

Kimmerle is being featured in an upcoming documentary, which investigates a number of theories about Earhart’s disappearance. The documentary will air on National Geographic on October 20.

“Amelia Earhart made a huge impact in early aviation and the development of commercial airlines. She was also a brave explorer,” said Kimmerle. “It is an honor to be part of National Geographic’s mission to discover what happened to her. Hopefully a new generation of young girls will continue to be inspired by her story.”

(Photo: University of South Florida)

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