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Amelia Earhart hunt revived in Kiribati

UNSOLVED | Ontario | Jason Miller Staff Reporter Jul 29, 2009 04:30 AM

Toronto Star file photo - The disappearance of Amelia Earhart is one of the 20th century's enduring mysteries.
Researchers believe DNA from a Pacific island belongs to legendary aviator who vanished in 1937. Two Ontario DNA labs could play a key role in solving the mystery of famed aviator Amelia Earhart's disappearance 72 years ago. DNA experts from Thunder Bay-based labs Genesis Genomics and Molecular World have been working with a team of experts, led by American Richard Gillespie, to determine whether DNA believed to be from a castaway on a Pacific Island belongs to Earhart.

Map - View Kiribati on Google Maps.

This map shows the location of the island nation of Kiribati, where some researchers believe may have been where Amelia Earhart crashed July 2, 1937. (Please drag your mouse over the image for larger version.)
Gillespie said he has been working with Molecular World for four years, trying to extract DNA from glass and makeup found on a Pacific island 3,000 kilometres south of Hawaii.

Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared July 2, 1937, during an attempt to fly around the world. Exactly where they crashed has been one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

Gillespie, executive director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery in Wilmington, Del., said scientists could soon recover DNA evidence to prove Earhart was stranded – and died – on Nikumaroro Island, formerly known as Gardner Island, in the island nation of Kiribati.

During a 2007 trip, Gillespie and his crew found early 20th-century makeup and pieces of broken glass that match a 1930s compact mirror.

However, DNA from those materials was contaminated during the collection process.

Next May, the recovery group will launch a $500,000 expedition to the island to seek out other items.

"The stuff we found so far does not prove . . . the hypothesis," he said. "To prove it, we need a DNA match or the wreckage of the airplane."

A woman related to Earhart has provided Gillespie's group with a DNA sample.

Gillespie said Nikumaroro Island was uninhabited until 1938 – one year after the Earhart disappeared.

At the time, it was under British rule, and its first inhabitants were eight men instructed to clear land for a village and a coconut plantation.

In 1940, the island's administrator found bones and a campsite.

The British lost track of the bones in 1941, Gillespie said.

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