Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.7, RI.6-8.10, SL.6-8.1, WHST.6-8.8

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.2, Geo.2, His.1, His.2, His.3, His.15

NCSS: Time, continuity, and change; Science, technology, and society

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

What Really Happened to Amelia Earhart?

Dogs hunt for clues about the fate of the famed pilot

Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Earhart disappeared while flying over the Pacific Ocean.

The final flight of the world’s most famous pilot ended in mystery. In 1937, Amelia Earhart vanished over the Pacific Ocean while trying to become the first woman to fly around the world. She has never been found.

But now, researchers hope to finally discover what happened to the aviator, with the help of a sophisticated new search tool: dogs.

A team of canines recently located what could be the site of Earhart’s remains on Nikumaroro (see map, below). The atoll in the Pacific Ocean is part of the nation of Kiribati.

Researchers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believe that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, crash-landed on Nikumaroro and lived there for weeks before perishing.

TIGHAR, along with the National Geographic Society, took specially trained dogs to the island to hunt for new clues. Will their findings solve the Earhart case once and for all?

Gone Without a Trace

Many historians believe Earhart ran out of fuel, crashed in the ocean, and died at sea. She had set off from Papua New Guinea early on July 2, 1937. Her next planned stop was Howland Island.

But the sky was overcast, and she probably couldn’t find the island. After about 21 hours of flying, her fuel likely ran low. Her final radio call for help was received at 8:45 a.m.

Nikumaroro, which is relatively close to Howland Island, would have been a natural place for ­Earhart to land, says Ric Gillespie of TIGHAR. Plus, he says, days after Earhart disappeared, radio operators on islands near the atoll reported hearing distress calls.

Rob Barrel

Marcy, one of the dogs that looked for Earhart, trains for the search.

Canines on the Case

For years, Gillespie and his team have searched Nikumaroro for evidence of Earhart. They’ve found many artifacts, such as what could be the pilot’s pocketknife. But no bones or other human remains have emerged to definitively link Earhart or Noonan to the island.

That’s where the dogs came in. They can detect human remains as deep as 9 feet underground and up to 1,500 years old. 

On Nikumaroro, four dogs separately led their handlers to a specific spot under a tree. The soil from that area is now being tested for human remains.

The Challenge Ahead

Yet finding Earhart’s remains on Nikumaroro won’t be easy, experts say. The island’s heat and humidity are “really tough” on human bone, says archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, a member of the team searching for the pilot. Plus, he adds, the atoll’s terrain is largely “chunks of coral that, when dirty, look just like bone.”

Still, Gillespie won’t give up on proving his theory that Earhart died as a castaway on Nikumaroro. He says: “There hasn’t been any doubt in my mind for years that this is what happened.”

CORE QUESTION: How might discovering Earhart’s remains affect how people remember her?

Tracking Amelia Earhart

Use this map of the pilot’s last journey
to answer the questions.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®


Find the compass rose on the map. It shows the cardinal directions: north, east, south, and west. Halfway between any two of them are the intermediate directions: northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest.


Every map has its own scale that compares distance on the map with the actual distance on Earth’s surface. You can measure distance by placing the edge of a piece of paper along two points on a map. Mark the center of each point on the paper. Then compare those points with the map’s scale of miles or kilometers.

Map Skills

1. What do we use to find direction on a map?

2. What are the cardinal directions?

3. Earhart’s around-the-world route was mainly in which general direction?

4. In which direction did Ear­hart plan to fly from Lae?

5. South of Lae is what large country?

6. Is Howland Island north of the equator or south of it?

7. Howland Island is part of which country?

8. What is used to measure distance on a map?

9. How many straight-line miles separate Lae and Howland Island?

10. How far apart are Howland Island and Nikumaroro?

Visit our new online Map Skills Boot Camp
for more geography practice.

Like what you see? Then you'll love Junior Scholastic, our Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

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