It has been 72 years since famed aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared while attempting to fly around the world. But the mystery remains unsolved: Nobody knows exactly what happened to Earhart or her plane.
Now researchers at the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or Tighar, say they are on the verge of recovering DNA evidence that would demonstrate Earhart had been stranded on Nikumaroro Island (formerly known as Gardner Island) before finally perishing there. The 2.5-mile-long Nikumaroro Island, located about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii, was uninhabited until 1938 -- one year after Earhart disappeared. At that time the island was under British colonial rule, so the first inhabitants were an eight-man team instructed to start clearing land for a village and coconut plantation. Then, two years later, in 1940, the island's administrator found bones, and a campsite. (Details may be found at http://www.tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Documents/Bones_Chronology.html.)
During May and June of next year, Tighar will launch a new $500,000 expedition, continuing the archaeological work it has been doing on the island since 2001.
Using DNA normally requires a sample taken from a body or a living person. However, DNA information can also be obtained from items handled by a person, such as a makeup compact or other personal items. In searching the island, Tighar has obtained early 20th-century makeup and two pieces of broken glass that match a 1930s compact mirror, among other artifacts. DNA can be extracted from such remnants as long as those artifacts aren't contaminated during the collection process. Unfortunately, in 2007, they were. Armed with a new collection protocol, Gillespie and his team will return to the site to seek out new items during their May 2010 excursion.
Earlier this year a woman directly related to Earhart, who wishes to remain anonymous, agreed to provide Gillespie's group with a reference sample of mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA). If the donor's mtDNA matches that found on the items on Nikumaroro Island, it will prove that Amelia Earhart or a close relative handled those items in the past.
The trip is expensive and has no commercial sponsors, so Tighar will fund it by taking along ten "tourists" who wish to be a part of the possible discovery. Tickets to join the expedition cost $50,000 each. If you have a sense of adventure and an extra $50,000 to spare, you might be able to join in.
You can read more in an ABC News article at http://www.abcnews.go.com/Technology/story?id=8160365&page=1.