Update, 11/25/2001

We have never been able to establish the scale in photos of Earhart and Noonan with sufficient precision to allow a biometric comparison with Dr. Hoodless’ measurements of the skull.

Earhart Project Research Bulletin #5

Were the bones found on Nikumaroro on 1940 those of Amelia Earhart or Fred Noonan, or did they belong to some other hapless, and as yet unknown, castaway? We should soon have solid scientific evidence with which to assess those possibilities.

Even though we're still not sure what ultimately became of the bones after they were sent to Suva, Fiji for examination, the detailed measurements of the skull contained in the recently discovered doctor's report (see “Chasing the Bones,” TIGHAR Tracks Vol. 14, No. 2) make possible the kind of hi-tech biometric comparisons with photographs which have become a standard method of remains identification. According to forensic imaging specialist Jeff Glickman of Photek, Inc., if six measurements of a skull are found to be identical to measurements made from photographs taken in life, the identification is considered to be absolute and is admissible in court.

We don’t have six measurements. We have four – overall length and width of the skull, and height and breadth of the orbits (eye sockets) – so an absolute identification will not be possible. However, an absolute disqualification is a possibility. In other words, we should be able to say either, “The person whose skull was found on Nikumaroro in 1940 was not Amelia Earhart or Fred Noonan” or “The person whose skull was found on Nikumaroro in 1940 looked a whole lot like Fred Noonan (or Amelia Earhart).”

Either conclusion will be highly significant to TIGHAR’s investigation. The remains and artifacts (woman’s shoe sole, sextant box, Benedictine bottle, campfire) found in 1940 appear to be linked to the artifacts found by TIGHAR (woman’s shoe sole and heel, campfire with label fragment) at what seems to be the same site in 1991 and 1997. If the dimensions of the skull found there are all wrong for either Earhart or Noonan, then the person who died there was somebody else and that whole body of evidence must be discounted as being associated with the Earhart disappearance. If, on the other hand, the skull proves to be very much like that of either Amelia or Fred, then the likelihood will be greatly increased that the castaway(s) of Gardner Island were who we suspect they were.

  What We Have & What We Need
To do the forensic comparison, Photek needs the skull measurements, full face and profile views of each subject, and some way to accurately scale the photographs. The measurements taken by Dr. Hoodless in Suva on April 4, 1941 should be as valid as if they were made yesterday. Finding what amounts to “mug shots” of Earhart and Noonan proved to be difficult but after examining hundreds of possibilities we have selected the photos shown below. Establishing scale in each photo is the trickiest, and most crucial, part of the process.
Earhart by Wheel of VegaThis shot of AE in front of her Vega circa 1935 is good because her face is square-on to the camera. Her ears are visible which helps provide a skull width reference for where her head stops and her hair starts. The photo also presents several opportunities to establish scale. We should be able to get the tire height and width and the wheel diameter of the Vega. The tire width will help determine how far behind the plane of the wheel Amelia is standing. It would be nice if that fancy belt buckle were still around.

Earhart Pushing Cart

This shot of AE in Miami just before her departure for the second world flight attempt is a good profile view but its primary virtue is that, because she has her hands on the cart, we can be sure that her head is very close to being in the same plane with the tailwheel. If we get the wheel diameter of the Model 10 tailwheel we’ll have our scale for this photo. This particular copy of the photo is a bit fuzzy so we’ll need to see if we can get a sharper one from Purdue University which has the original.


Fred Noonan in JavaThis almost perfect full face shot of Fred taken in Bandoeng, Java in late June 1937 has the advantage of showing what appears to be the distinctive arrowhead clip motif of a Parker fountain pen in his shirt pocket. With the help of the Parker company we should be able to get a length for that clip and, therefore, a scale for the photo.

Fred Noonan in Burbank


From TIGHAR’s own Carter/Johnson collection, this profile of Fred was taken on May 20, 1937 at Burbank as he and AE prepared for the unannounced official beginning of the second world flight attempt. We’ll assume that the thickness of the cabin door is standard and get that measurement from an existing Model 10.

Once we have the scales for the photos pinned down, Jeff Glickman will correct for angles and planes and do the comparisons. Then we’ll see what we’ve learned about the probable identity of the person who died on Nikumaroro.

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