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Research Says Amelia Earhart Didn't Die In A Plane Crash

The story of Amelia Earhart has always inspired a sense of mystery.

Just what happened to the pilot who was the first female to fly across the Atlantic ocean and set out bravely to fly around the world?

Why did her plane crash? And how did she die?

For years, people assume that she died in the crash itself, but new evidence suggests that she lived as a castaway for weeks, even possibly months, waiting to be rescued.

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According to a new theory from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), a skeleton of a castaway found on Nikumaroro, Kiribati in 1940 may belong to Earhart.

They have been trying to prove this theory since 1998.

TIGHAR's executive director, Ric Gillespie said,

Until we started investigating the skeleton, we found what history knew was that Amelia Earhart died in July 2nd, 1937, in a plane crash. But there is an entire final chapter of Earhart's life that people don't know about. She spent days -- maybe months -- heroically struggling to survive as a castaway.

The skeleton was originally thought to be a male, but TIGHAR took the original files, along with the measurements of the skeleton made in 1940, to forensic anthropologists Karen Burs and Richard Janz.

They said the bones forensically matched a female of Earhart's height and ethnicity.

But when Jantz updated the information, he noticed something about the forearms of the skeleton...

They were incredibly long for a European woman.

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Earhart's forearms, as seen in a photo where her bare arm was fully visible, was identical to the castaway's.

Earhart made over 100 radio transmissions between July 2 and July 6, 1937, so her plane could not have been crashed during that time as the radio wouldn't work without the engine running. Gillespie said,

There are historical documents that prove official airlines received radio calls for help in 1937. If we look at the press of the time -- people believed she was still alive. It was only when planes where sent to fly over the islands where the distress signals were coming from and no plane was seen that the searches shifted towards the ocean.

By the time rescue planes were sent, her plane was probably swept into the ocean.

Gillespie is convinced Earhart lived for a while on the island. Where the skeleton was found, there is evidence of bonfires being lit and bones of fish and birds.

The bones suggest she lived for weeks, or months, alone on the island.

It's believed her navigator Frederick J. Noonan died after the crash and was swept into the ocean.

His injury was the first distress call.

Gillespie said,

We believe she survived heroically, and alone, for a period of time, in terrible circumstances. History needs to tell her story right.

Citations: Amelia Earhart's last chapter was as a heroic castaway (CNN)