A group of four human remains detection dogs are on an expedition that hopes to finally locate the remains of Amelia Earhart.
Earhart's fate remains one of the greatest mysteries of the modern age. 80 years ago, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan were flying in search of the diminutive Howland Island. They were on the last leg of their round-the-world trip, but they were unable to find the island they were looking for. According to the last transmission that Earhart and Noonan made, they were flying along a path that they thought would take them to Howland Island. However, the pair never made it, and they've been missing ever since.
Now, a new expedition is seeking answers in this decades-long quest to find Earhart and Noonan's remains. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) arranged an expedition that includes some unconventional members—four border collies specially trained in sniffing out human remains.
TIGHAR has already had 12 different expeditions to find the remains of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan. Obviously, these expeditions have so far been unsuccessful. TIGHAR's lead archaeologist, Tom King, says that this expedition “is less of a shot in the dark than any expedition we’ve had”.
The team's destination is Nikumaroro island, where Earhart could have landed her plane during low tide. In 1940, when the British were occupying the area, 13 bones were found on the island. However, when the bones made their way to Fiji, they were lost. The British thought that the bones may have belonged to Earhart, an idea that TIGHAR is banking on. Now, TIGHAR believes that it knows where the bones were found.
Here is where the dogs come in. The team brought with them four border collies—Berkeley, Piper, Marcy, and Kayle—from the Institute for Canine Forensics. These dogs can sniff out graves up to nine feet below the surface, and as old as up to 1,500 years in age. Fred Hiebert, a National Geographic Society archaeologist, says that dogs can be more successful than ground-penetrating radar.
How does this all work anyway? When the dogs sniff out a spot that has an intense smell, they alert their handlers. They sit or lie down with the spot in between their paws. However, the spot that the dogs find may not be the exact spot where a body is. Scent from an underground source tends to come through where there are fewer things blocking it. Thus, once a dog marks a spot, search parties need to block off a large area surrounding it, which they will then search.
If the dogs find bones on the island, the researchers will have the remains tested. Fortunately, Earhart has a living relative, and researchers can perform DNA analysis to see if the remains do indeed belong to her. Unfortunately, however, Noonan has no living relatives left.
Of course, there are those that aren't so sure that this mission will be able to turn anything of note up. It may be difficult for the dogs to find bones, if there even are any on the island. However, if the dogs do manage to find the remains of Amelia Earhart, it will be one of the biggest discoveries of this age.
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