On July 2 of this year it will be 80 years since noted pilot Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan went missing near Howland Island over the Pacific while flying their Lockheed 10-E Electra. At the time, the duo were nearing the last leg of their journey in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe on an equatorial route that officially began in Miami, FL, and was to end in in Oakland, CA. The mystery of their disappearance has long intrigued the public, but a group of explorers hope to be able to finally put the mystery to rest with the aid of bone-sniffing dogs.
On June 24, 2017, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, as they are commonly referred, are going to be taking four dogs to Gardener Island, aka Nikumaroro, which has long been speculated to be the final resting place of the doomed flight and crew. While the facts of the case have been gone over from every angle for decades, three years after the plane’s disappearance a small group of bones was discovered on Gardener in the western Pacific, leading many to surmise that they may well have been Earhart’s.
Oddly enough, the bones retrieved were somehow lost. Even if they hadn’t been, they would have done scientists little good at the time, as DNA testing wasn’t even a glimmer in anyone’s eye at that point. Now, of course, they could make all the difference in the world to solving the puzzle once and for all. That’s what TIGHAR is hoping, hence the inclusion of bone-sniffing dogs. In tow during this latest exploration will also be National Geographic Society Archaeologist Frank Hiebert.
Exploration in the Pacific
TIGHAR has doggedly spent 30 years exploring the theory that Earhart survived the crash and somehow made it to Nikumaroro. Of the 13 bones that were originally discovered on the tiny island, that would presumably leave 193 others for the group to possibly locate and catalogue. According to Hiebert, any skeletal remains that are located during this expedition will be sent back to the U.S. for further analysis. Once back in the lab, researchers can attempt to retrieve any usable DNA from the bones, which could then be compared to other DNA samples for verification purposes.
Hiebert recently stated, “We will process whatever bone samples we find and compare them to a family member of Amelia Earhart, and if they are her bones, it will be the biggest CSI story in the world, and then I can retire.”
Hiebert also stated that the dogs they’ll use are well suited to the activity and undergo rigorous training in order to get them to the efficiency level they need to attain for the job. They’ll have eight days to scour the island once they arrive, and Hiebert is 100% confident in the animals’ ability to find the bones, if they even exist. He noted that in the past these dogs have sniffed out remains buried up to nine feet deep and dating hundreds of years old.
“For a project like this, to me it seems like the time is right. The DNA labs are ready to analyze some microscopic part of the DNA and the ability of the dogs to find human bones is remarkable,” Hiebert continued. “This is a one-time only expedition. There might not be a next time.”
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