Amelia Earhart Searchers Hopeful As Bone-Sniffing Dogs Deployed On Pacific Island

Published June 22, 2017
Updated June 23, 2017

The remains of the famed pilot may finally see the light of the day thanks to a new expedition to the island where she may have crash landed.

Amelia Earhart Dog Bones

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images

Almost exactly eight decades after Amelia Earhart’s disappearance on July 2, 1937, people around the world are still intrigued by the mystery.

What could have happened to the world’s most famous female pilot after her plane vanished over the Pacific Ocean? Some think that she was captured by the Japanese, others suspect that her aircraft is buried at the bottom of the ocean.

Now, investigators say that they are closer than ever to uncovering the truth — with the help of bone-sniffing border collies.

The latest recovery mission is the work of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a Pennsylvania-based group that has sought to promote their own Earhart theory since the 1980s.

The group’s theory asks the following: What if Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, had been unable to locate Howland, the small island that was their intended destination? Running out of fuel, they could have crash landed on a small uninhabited island, then called Gardner Island, now known as Nikamuroru.

On June 24, an expedition will set out from Fiji with four forensic trained dogs — Berkeley, Piper, Marcy, and Kayle — who have proven themselves especially skilled at locating human remains.

The mission will be TIGHAR’s 12th visit to the islands, where 13 bones were discovered in the 1940s, shipped to Fiji, measured, and then lost.

“There’s real potential for there to be more bones there,” Tom King, the organization’s senior archaeologist, told National Geographic (which is sponsoring the trip).

Even with the evidence and the dogs, though, researchers admit that the possibility of uncovering new remains is a long shot.

The island’s large rat population likely would have gnawed up any bones left around for too long and the tropical heat isn’t great for preservation.

“DNA likes cold and dark, and there’s just not a lot of cold and dark on Nikamuroro,” TIGHAR director Ric Gillespie told The Washington Post. “And again, it’s been 80 years. Even if you have a bone, that there’s going to be surviving, sequenceable DNA in that bone — it’s pretty remote.”

Nevertheless, the team is holding out some hope. As TIGHAR archaeologist Fred Hiebert said. “If the dogs are successful, it will be the discovery of a lifetime.”

Next, check out these 24 fascinating Amelia Earhart facts. Then, learn about seven other female aviators who are also pretty amazing.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out stories that illuminate the past, present, and future.