Amelia Earhart mystery solved: Lost British files ‘99% certain to end hunt’

The daring aviation pioneer, 39, and her navigator Fred Noonan, 44, vanished during an attempt to circumnavigate the world in 1937. Details of the pair’s last days have been the subject of wild speculation for decades. Theories have ranged from giant 40-centimeter coconut crabs eating them alive to her death being faked so she could spy on the Japanese for the US government. But one historian, Richard Gillespie exclusively told why he believes the truth has been lying right under British noses for around eight decades. 

Mr Gillespie has spent 32 years and a whopping $7million (£5.4million) in the quest for answers.

The search, which included archeological digs, sifting through archives and consulting world experts has led him to a conclusion about the final days of the ill-fated duo.

The 72-year-old said: “The whole thing was a tragedy, worsened by misunderstandings and mistakes.”

At the time they vanished, Ms Earhart and Mr Noonan were on the longest stint of their attempted round-the-world flight.  

They were making the 2,556 mile journey from Lae Airfield in Papua New Guinea to Howland Island, in the Pacific Ocean, but did not make it there.

As she searched for the tiny island, it is believed that Ms Earhart got lost and started to run out of fuel.

From there, contact was lost apart from multiple radio distress signals. 

In later years, officials analysed 120 made between July 2-7, and concluded that 57 appeared to be credible. 

The pleas for help appeared to have come from Nikumaroro Island, then known as Gardner Island, which is 4.5 miles in length and 1.5 miles wide.

It is here where Mr Gillespie believes Ms Earhart and Mr Noonan died. 

His claims originate from a report about human remains that were discovered on the island in 1940, by a British Colonial Officer. 

Nikumaroro was not believed to have been inhabited by humans at that time.

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Mr Gillespie believes the skeleton was “misidentified” by a Fijian doctor chosen by the British to analyse the bones.

At the time, they concluded they belonged to a “white stocky male” and likely a “castaway who tried and failed to survive”.

Over time, the bones were believed to have been lost too – meaning the report was the only reference of the discovery. 

Mr Gillespie said: “The science of forensic anthropology was in its infancy, at best, and the doctor given the task of examining the bones had no particular training in forensic anthropology.

“He had a physician’s license and was a teacher, a principal at the medical school in Fiji. Native medical practitioners were like first-responders. So he wasn’t qualified to do the job he was given.”

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The document detailing the find was then “essentially forgotten” according to Gillespie, who worked to track down the report.

The hunt would take him 60 miles north of London into The National Archives secure facility in Hanslope Park, Buckinghamshire.

There he would be able to see the Fijian doctors conclusions and note down the measurements of the skeleton including the skull. 

Mr Gillespie said: “We had them assessed by modern anthropologists and what came out was the bones were from a white female.

“We took it further with historical photos and pictures of Amelia in a shirt-sleeved shirt. We could measure her in the photos. 

“There’s a better than 99 percent chance that it’s the same person [Amelia Earhart].”

Modern analysis of the bones found that not only the sex was listed incorrectly, but the likely ancestry was white and not Polynesian or another Pacific Islander. 

Mr Gillespie considers this evidence as just one part of a multifaceted solution to the Earhart disappearance. 

Specifically with the bones, he believes that if British authorities had made contact with their US counterparts they could have solved the mystery sooner. 

Mr Gillespie said: “There were things about Amelia’s skull that would have been conclusive.”

He claimed how even having her dental records could have proven the remains belonged to the American pilot. 

Mr Gillespie added: “She had terrible sinus problems and had surgery to remove pressure on sinuses.

“It was a barbaric procedure at time where they would drill a hole in part of the skull, above the third molar, to drain the sinus – there would have been signs of that.”

Mr Gillespie, who founded The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), is continuing to research other great mysteries.

The funds obtained by the non-profit helped him and his team to make conclusions about the Earhart and Noonan disappearance. 

He believes the unearthed documents, detailing the skeleton measurements, were pivotal to his investigation and that if the details were made public previously then then mystery could have been solved sooner.

Gillespie said: “The British looked into whether it might have been Amelia Earhart but decided it wasn’t. 

“It wasn’t that they hid the file, it just disappeared among all the other paperwork.”

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