KNOXVILLE, TENN. - A newly discovered photograph suggests Amelia Earhart may have survived a crash landing in the Marshall Islands. Earhart disappeared 80 years ago.
The photo shows a woman who resembles Earhart and a man who appears to be her navigator Fred Noonan, but Dr. Richard Jantz, a forensic anthropologist professor at the University of Tennessee, said the photo cannot be taken as a fact just yet.
The intrigue and interest around this photo certainly grabbed Jantz's attention, but he says there's more science behind Earhart's disappearance that could lead to a break in the case.
"It does interest me because it may or may not provide some evidence of what happened," he said.
Jantz has been studying known photos of Earhart to match measurements of bone fragments found on Nicumaroro Island in the 1940s.
"It was thought when the bones were found it might be Amelia Earhart," he said.
There is another mystery inside Earhart's disappearance; the bones also went missing.
"The search for them has been extensive but no trace of them," Jantz added.
Even without the bones, Jantz predicts the measurements agree with Earhart's size.
"If it's not Amelia Earhart it's someone very similar to her," Jantz said. “What we can say, at the moment, is that the agreement of the Nicumaroro bones with Amelia Earhart is very good."
Jantz has been working with TIGHAR, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, who handle the Amelia Earhart project.
While some experts believe the photo clearly shows Earhart and Noonan, TIGHAR Executive Director Ric Gillespie isn't convinced.
"I've been researching these for 28 years, I've seen a lot of pictures of Fred Noonan and this guy just doesn't look like, he's not standing like Fred Noon stands," Gillespie said.
Gillespie does not believe the photo is of Amelia Earhart for a number of reasons:
- There's no exact date of the photo
- The woman's hairline doesn't match with Amelia
- The man's hairline doesn't match with Fred Noonan
- Gillespie thinks she and Noonan landed on another island and would not have made it to the Marshall Islands, pictured in the photo.
- Also, Gillespie questions why this photo was just sitting by itself in an Office of Naval Investigations file.
"My position is, that you follow the scientific evidence and if they can produce the scientific evidence that that's her, then that's fine with me," said Jantz.
But until then, the mystery continues.
"It just means that somebody very similar to Amelia Earhart was found on Nicumaroro island," Jantz said.
But, he said, "the people who found the photo and TIGHAR and me agree that she didn’t die in the crash."
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