Search for Amelia Earhart: Dogs to Help Solve Mystery by Hunting for Pilot’s Remains on Uninhabited South Pacific Island

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called 'Friendship' in Newfoundland. Getty Images

The mystery disappearance of Amelia Earhart could soon be solved, as scientists mount an expedition to search for her remains on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific.

Earhart was last heard from on July 2, 1937. She and co-pilot Fred Noonan were attempting to fly around the world and, at the time of their disappearance, they were four months into the journey and on their way to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean.

The pilot and navigator are believed to have gotten lost after their radio systems failed. The plane is thought to have run out of fuel before crashing somewhere in the South Pacific.

Over the last 80 years, there have been many theories about what happened to Earhart and Noonan. The U.S. government concluded that they crashed into the sea and died. But the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has another idea. It claims the pair had continued along their same navigational line and landed on the uninhabited island of Nikumaroro, where they died as castaways.

Now, researchers with TIGHAR and Fred Hiebert, an archaeologist with the National Geographic Society, have set out on an expedition to Nikumaroro in the hope of finding Earhart and Noonan’s remains.

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan Amelia Earhart with her navigator Fred Noonan in the hangar at Parnamerim airfield, Brazil, June 11, 1937. Getty Images

The team will sail from Fiji on June 24 with four forensic dogs on board. The “Nikumaroro theory” is based on the discovery of 13 bones discovered on the island in 1940. These remains were sent to Fiji but got lost, meaning analysis could not be carried out.

They hope to find more bones that—if the theory holds true—should still be there. If they could get DNA from any bones recovered, they could potentially match them to either Earhart or Noonan, finally solving the mystery of their last flight. 

Nikumaroro Nikumaroro’s lagoon. One popular theory is that Earhart crash-landed on Nikumaroro and died as a castaway. Angela K. Kepler/CC

The dogs are specially trained to find burial sites up to nine feet below ground—and up to 1,500 years old. “No other technology is more sophisticated than the dogs,” Hiebert said in a statement. “They have a higher rate of success identifying things than ground-penetrating radar.”

Tom King, senior archaeologist with TIGHAR, told National Geographic: “There’s real potential for there to be more bones there. There are [at least] 193 bones unaccounted for.”

Hiebert said that if no bones are found, it does not necessarily mean Earhart and Noonan did not land there—the bones may have been bleached or gnawed by rats for example. “But if the dogs are successful, it will be the discovery of a lifetime.”