Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New Clues as to Amelia Earhart's Fate?

Discovery News reports:
Tantalizing new clues are surfacing in the Amelia Earhart mystery, according to researchers scouring a remote South Pacific island believed to be the final resting place of the legendary aviatrix.

Three pieces of a pocket knife and fragments of what might be a broken cosmetic glass jar are adding new evidence that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed and eventually died as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited tropical island in the southwestern Pacific republic of Kiribati. The island was some 300 miles southeast of their target destination, Howland Island.

"These objects have the potential to yield DNA, specifically what is known as 'touch DNA','" Ric Gillespie, executive director of The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), told Discovery News in an email interview from Nikumaroro. (read the rest)
The article, noting the 1940 discovery of skeletal remains (since lost) "attributed to a white female of northern European extraction, about 5 feet 7 inches tall," goes on to detail circumstantial evidence of a castaway campsite, based on the artifacts.

The suggestion of hard evidence from "touch DNA" sounds intriguing but strikes me, at first thought, as a bit of a stretch.  Although the relatively new technique is able to identify samples from only a handful of cells (rather than, as earlier more extensive amounts of tissue, bodily fluid, or other human material), I would tend to suspect that any samples here—given that we seem to be dealing with exposed objects (the plane, if present, is assumed to be deep under water) would be badly degraded.  The report notes, for example, how quickly bones aged and broke down in the island environment.  Still, it is possible, I suppose, that genetic material might have adhered to a protected interior surface of one of the objects such as the knife and somehow survived.

The disappearance of the "aviatrix" (a whole etymological and social history in that antiquated word) has fascinated the public for over seven decades, and, like other mysteries, led to much speculation, much of that wild.  At the one end of the spectrum are suggestions that she was on a secret spy mission for the US government.  At the other:  the demythologizing explanation of poor piloting and navigational skills, or at least preparations wholly inadequate for a trip of such magnitude. Both allow for the possibility of a forced landing in an area made more dangerous by the proximity of Japanese forces as tensions in the Pacific mounted.  Sometimes the most mundane truth proves to be the most tragic.

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