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After 80 Years, One Man Has Finally Solved The Mystery Of Amelia Earhart's Final Flight

The Smithsonian Institute

It seems like we can finally close the book on America's most famous unsolved missing person's case.

New research may have finally solved the mystery of famous pilot Amelia Earhart, who vanished in 1937.

The groundbreaking aviator was just 39 when she disappeared, but had already become world-famous as a pioneering female flyer.

Earhart set records as the female pilot who flew the furthest and the highest, including becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo.

She was attempting her most daring feat of all - a 29,000 mile round-the-world flight - when she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished without a trace.

Earhart and Noonan.San Diego Air and Space Museum

The Doomed Flight

Earhart and Noonan began their voyage on July 2, 1937, from the small Pacific island of Papua New Guinea.

The pair were heading east for Howland Island, more than 2,500 miles away.

During the flight, Earhart reported bad weather, thick clouds, and trouble with her plane's on-board radio.

Earhart's last message before vanishing was this:

"Gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We're flying at 1,000 feet."

Since then, professional investigators and amateur sleuths have puzzled over just what happened to Earhart, and there has been no shortage of strange theories in the decades since she disappeared.

But an expert says he has finally proven one of them to be true with "99.9%" certainty.

The Prisoner Theory

One of the most popular explanations for Earhart's vanishing act is that she and Noonan were taken prisoner.

A popular book explained that Earhart crashed or landed safely on a small island, before being captured by Japanese soldiers.

The theory alleged that the pilot and her navigator were treated as spies by the Japanese military, and probably died on the Japanese island of Saipan.

This photo claimed to show Noonan (left) and Earhart (right) after being captured by the Japanese.National Archive

Last year, a documentary on the History Channel called Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, even turned up a photo of "Earhart and Noonan" in Japanese custody.

But experts quickly pointed out the theory didn't fit with evidence from Earhart's flight record.

Then, a blogger proved the photo had been taken two years before Earhart's final flight, sending researchers back to the drawing board.

The Skeleton Theory

In a surprising twist, the key to solving Earhart's disappearance was found just three years after she vanished.

An expedition on the tiny Pacific island of Nikumaroro in 1940 discovered a human skeleton.

At the time, the bones were reported to belong to "a stocky, middle-aged man." While records of the skeleton survived, the bones themselves were eventually lost.

It wasn't until 1998 that anthropologist Richard Jantz realized the skeleton could belong to Earhart after all.

By studying the bones, photos of Earhart, and her flight records, Jantz says he can finally explain what happened to the pilot after her doomed voyage.

And it changes everything we thought we knew about the mystery.

Amelia Earhart: Castaway

After comparing the Nikumaroro skeleton with a huge sample of other bones, Jantz has no doubt that the skeleton belongs to Earhart.

“These bones are much more similar to Amelia Earhart than they are to anyone else," he explained to Today.

He says if the bones aren't Earhart's the person who left them behind "just happened to be very similar to her, and that's unlikely."

Nikumaroro, Kiribati and Amelia Earhart.Geoview / Smithsonian Institute

That means that Earhart survived a plane crash or emergency landing, and lived on Nikumaroro for some time before her death.

Other artifacts on the island, including part of a woman's shoe and the box for a navigational instrument, seem to support Jantz's theory.

Case Closed

While there's no way to DNA test the skeleton to confirm the theory beyond a shadow of a doubt, Jantz says he is "99.9% sure" of his theory.

Other experts agree the facts add up, which means one of America's most famous mysteries could finally be solved.

Whether or not the facts ever revealed with 100% certainty, it's fascinating to finally learn the truth.

Are you glad to finally know what happened to Earhart? Do you believe this theory?

[H/T: The Chicago Tribune]

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