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Title Title
On the trail of what are now confirmed as Amelia Earhart's bones On the trail of what are now confirmed as Amelia Earhart's bones
Summary Summary
A veteran Pacific correspondent on his journey to find what are now said to be aviatrix's bones A veteran Pacific correspondent on his journey to find what are now said to be aviatrix's bones
Highlights Highlights
Content Content
<strong>Eighty years after American aviator Amelia Earhart vanished into the South Pacific, forensic science is convinced her remains ended up in Fiji. Which is what I speculated was her fate 20 years ago. </strong>  
<span style="font-weight: 400">Indeed, I may have been in close vicinity of some of Earhart and could have even handled her remains, if not reverentially, then respectfully and in the interests of journalism. In 1999 I reported that her remains were in the spacious ceiling of Government House, Suva, Fiji.</span>  
  <strong>Eighty years after American aviator Amelia Earhart vanished trying to cross the the South Pacific, forensic science is now convinced her remains ended up in Fiji after she and her navigator died on a deserted island. </strong><strong>The latest evidence on Earhart meant quite a lot to me since I had speculated 20 years ago that she her bones had indeed found their way to Fiji. </strong>
  I had been researching a poignant story of New Zealand civilian radio operators and unarmed soldiers abandoned to their fate in the face of advancing Japanese forces in World War Two.<span style="font-weight: 400">  </span><span style="font-weight: 400">I may have been in close proximity to some of Earhart's bones and could have even handled her remains, if not reverentially, then respectfully and in the interests of journalism. In 1999 I reported that her remains were in the spacious ceiling of Government House, Suva, Fiji.</span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400">In 1937 Earhart, 39, and her navigator Fred Noonan, took off from Lae in New Guinea bound 4,122 kilometres (2,500-odd miles) to Howland Atoll, a U.S. territory. Instead she ended up 625 kilometres to the south, at Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro), then part of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati). As it was unoccupied and barren, she and Noonan eventually perished.</span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400">There have been many conspiracy theories around Earhart. As a veteran traveller on and across the Pacific, I’ve always dismissed them. The Pacific is a place of shifting lights, subtle colours and ultimate confusion and getting lost in the Pacific has been a regular feature for many travellers over the years. For me, it has always underscored the magnificence of Micronesian and Polynesian voyagers who turned the shape and feel of waves to direction posts and survived on epic journeys. Mostly.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Lost now, as he was over the South Pacific, is her navigator Fred Noonan.</span> <h2>Bones said to be Earhart's</h2>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Earhart, 39, took off from Lae in New Guinea in 1937, bound 4,122 kilometres to Howland Atoll, a US territory. Instead she ended up 625 kilometres to the south, at Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro), then part of the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati). As it was unoccupied and barren, she and navigator  Fred Noonan perished.</span>   
<span style="font-weight: 400">There has been a lot of conspiracy around Earhart. As a veteran traveller on and across the Pacific, I’ve always dismissed it. The Pacific is a place of shifting lights, subtle colours and ultimate confusion and getting lost in the Pacific has been a regular feature for all. For me, it has always underscored the magnificence of Micronesian and Polynesian voyagers who turned the shape and feel of waves to direction posts and survived. Mostly.</span>   
<span style="font-weight: 400">A lot of money has been spent looking for Earhart (less for Fred), mainly by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). They have been behind a new study published in the journal </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Forensic Anthropology </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">that says remains found on an island in what is now Kiribati were more than likely those of Earhart.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">A lot of money has been spent looking for Earhart (less for Fred), mainly by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR). A new study published in the journal </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Forensic Anthropology  </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">and supported by TIGHAR has determined that bones </span><span style="font-weight: 400">found on an island in what is now Kiribati were more than likely those of Earhart – potentially answering one of the great mysteries of the 20th century.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Richard Jantz, professor emeritus of anthropology and director emeritus of University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center, re-examined seven bone measurements conducted in 1940 by Fiji physician D. W. Hoodless who concluded that the bones belonged to a man. Jantz says he believes it was a woman, and given where the bones had been located, it was probably Earhart. </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">Richard Jantz, professor emeritus of anthropology and director emeritus of University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center, re-examined the measurements taken of bones conducted in 1940 by Fiji physician D. W. Hoodless who concluded that the bones belonged to a man. Jantz says he believes it was a woman, and given where the bones had been first discovered, it was probably Earhart.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">And that is pretty much what I said in my 2010 book, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Swimming With Sharks </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">(Penguin).</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">And that is pretty much what I said in my 2010 book, </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Swimming With Sharks </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">(Penguin).</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">I had not been looking for her however, it was an sad incidental find.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">I had not been looking for her however, it was a sad incidental find.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">In the late 1990s I had been trying to work out how it was that 17 New Zealand Post Office radio operators and unarmed soldiers sent to the Gilbert Islands as coastwatchers, had been beheaded by Japanese soldiers on Tarawa on October 15, 1942 (along with five other white men). There bodies have never been found and it was not to quite recently that their fate was even acknowledged in New Zealand.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">In the late 1990s I had been trying to work out how it was that 17 New Zealand Post Office radio operators and unarmed soldiers sent to the Gilbert Islands as coast watchers, had been beheaded by Japanese soldiers on Tarawa on October 15, 1942 (along with five other white men). Their bodies have never been found and it was only relatively recently that their fate was even acknowledged in New Zealand.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">The men had been posted in World War Two to the Gilberts to keep a look out for German maritime raiders in the Pacific. After Pearl Harbour, they were left their to their fate.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">The men had been posted in World War Two to the Gilberts to keep a look out for German maritime raiders in the Pacific. After Pearl Harbour, they were left their to their fate.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Before going to Tarawa I had met Yorkshire born Stan Brown, who much later founded the Fiji Navy. He had been third engineer on the colonial ship </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Viti </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">which had taken the coast watchers from Suva to their postings scattered through the Gilberts. He cried, bitterly, over the fact that they had left the coastwatchers to die. He had reason to feel bitter about the colonial masters: Brown and many Fijians were used in the British nuclear tests</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">Before going to Tarawa I had met Yorkshire-born Stan Brown, who much later founded the Fiji Navy. He had been third engineer on the colonial ship </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Viti </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">which had taken the coast watchers from Suva to their postings scattered through the Gilberts. He cried, bitterly, over the fact that they had left the coast watchers to die. He had reason to feel bitter about the colonial masters: Brown and many Fijians were later used in British nuclear tests in the open atmosphere.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">After dropping the men off, they went onto the awesomely lonely </span><span style="font-weight: 400">Phoenix Islands and there, he recalled, </span><span style="font-weight: 400">they found human bones on what was then Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro. </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">After dropping the men off, they went on to the awesomely lonely </span><span style="font-weight: 400">Phoenix Islands and there, he recalled, </span><span style="font-weight: 400">they found human bones on what was then Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro.</span>
  <h2>Americans still finding WW2 dead</h2>
<span style="font-weight: 400">After visiting Brown at his Suva home, I left Fiji for Tarawa and my search for the remains of my countrymen. One day I went to the launching of a canoe where an old man told me he had a boot that was once owned by Amelia Earhart. I concluded he was drunk, although how that was possible was a mystery as all you could drink on Tarawa was an insipid Australian beer called “VB”.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">After visiting Brown at his Suva home, I left Fiji for Tarawa to carry out my search for the remains of my countrymen. One day I went to the launching of a canoe where an old man told me he had a boot that was once owned by Amelia Earhart. I concluded he was drunk.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">When on Tarawa, the US Defence Department agency committed to bringing all war dead home, were there as they often still are. They continue to find and identify their own from the November 1943 Battle of Tarawa in which 6400 Japanese, Koreans and Americans died on the islet Betio, about half the size of any major city park. No one from New Zealand is looking for their own.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">When on Tarawa, I found representatives of the U.S. Defence Department agency committed to bringing all war dead home, were there as they often still are. They continue to find and identify their own from the November 1943 Battle of Tarawa in which 6,400 Japanese, Koreans and Americans died on the islet Betio, about half the size of a major city park. No one from New Zealand is looking for their own.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">After </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Viti, </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">dropped off the coast watchers up the western islands of the Gilberts, it went to</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">the Phoenix Islands. Even in those days population pressures on Tarawa were growing and the British Government were planning to resettle people on more distant atolls.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">After </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400">Viti, </span></i><span style="font-weight: 400">dropped off the coast watchers up the western islands of the Gilberts, it went to</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">the Phoenix Islands. Even in those days population pressures on Tarawa were growing and the British Government was planning to resettle people on more distant atolls.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400"> The civilian leader of the expedition was Gerard Gallagher, an assistant secretary at the colonial era Western Pacific High Commission. Stan Brown remembered him as a "Rupert Brooke like Irishman".</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400"> The civilian leader of the expedition was Gerard Gallagher, an assistant secretary at the colonial era Western Pacific High Commission. Stan Brown remembered him as a "Rupert Brooke-like Irishman".</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">During the trip Gallagher came down with severe abdominal pains and on Nikumaroro his pain worsened, leading to collapse. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">During the trip Gallagher came down with severe abdominal pains and on Nikumaroro his pain worsened, leading to collapse. </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">"By the time an area was cleared and made as sterile as was possible under the circumstances, darkness had fallen and the only light available was an electric torch held by Lieutenant Laurie Whysall," Brown said. "Once the abdomen was opened up even by the inadequate light available, the doctor was able to diagnose a severe bowel blockage and complications." </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">"By the time an area was cleared and made as sterile as was possible under the circumstances, darkness had fallen and the only light available was an electric torch held by Lieutenant Laurie Whysall," Brown said. "Once the abdomen was opened up even by the inadequate light available, the doctor was able to diagnose a severe bowel blockage and complications." </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">He died later that night and was buried next to the flagstaff under the words "another Son of Empire far from home".</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">He died later that night and was buried next to the flagstaff under the words "another Son of Empire far from home".</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">While ashore, Brown found two sets of human bones and on orders packed them up in a wooden sexton box. </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">While ashore, Brown found two sets of human bones and packed them up in a wooden sexton box. </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Later in Suva Hoodless, examined the bones and concluded one set belonged to a white man. He made no conclusions about the other.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">Later in Suva, Hoodless examined the bones and concluded one set belonged to a white man. He made no conclusions about the other.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">I was back in Suva, covering what proved to be the preliminaries to Fiji’s third coup, in 2000. Among those predicting a disaster at the time was veteran journalist Robert Keith Reid. Malta born, he had spent all his adult life in Fiji. He went to high school with prime ministers and coup plotters. He knew, in the most literal sense, where bodies were buried.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">I was back in Suva in 2000, covering what proved to be the preliminaries to Fiji’s third military coup. Among those predicting a disaster at the time was veteran journalist Robert Keith Reid. Malta-born, he had spent all his adult life in Fiji. He went to high school with prime ministers and coup plotters. He knew, in the most literal sense, where the bodies were buried.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">He took on a serious knowledgeable look when I mention Jones and the bones, suggesting the might belong to Earhart. </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">He took on a serious knowledgeable look when I mention Jones and the bones, suggesting they might belong to Earhart. </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">"They are in the ceiling of Government House", he said. </span> <span style="font-weight: 400">"They are in the ceiling of Government House", he said. </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">It wasn’t just gossip, his mother, still alive at the time, had been the private secretary to assorted governors, governor generals and presidents and she knew what was in the ceiling. In fact, she probably put them there.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">It wasn’t just gossip. His mother, still alive at the time, had been the private secretary to assorted governors, governor generals and presidents and she knew what was in the ceiling. In fact, she probably put them there.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">I wrote a feature for Agence France-Presse on the box of bones and suggested that instead of looking at Japanese prisoner of war camps, Suva might offer some hope.</span>  
<span style="font-weight: 400">Soon after a couple of American researchers from TIGHAR arrived in Suva. They went to the venerable and respected Fiji Medical School, following a lead that the Earhart bones had ended up as teaching aides.</span>  
  <h2>Boxes of bones</h2>
  <span style="font-weight: 400">I wrote a feature for Agence France-Presse on the box of bones and suggested that instead of looking at Japanese prisoner of war camps, Suva might offer some hope for those still trying to find Amelia Earhart. </span><span style="font-weight: 400">Soon after that a couple of American researchers from TIGHAR arrived in Suva. They went to the venerable and respected Fiji Medical School, following a lead that the Earhart bones had ended up as teaching aides.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Local reporter Asha Lakhan and I accompanied them, going into a store room where, piled up in big New Zealand Apple cardboard boxes were bones. Lots of them. Some were painted as a kind of colour coding. Given the ornateness of Pacific Island funerals and rites, the informality of all the bones came as something of a surprise.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">Local reporter Asha Lakhan and I accompanied them, going into a store room. Piled high in New Zealand Apple cardboard boxes were bones, lots of them. Some were painted as a kind of colour coding. Given the ornateness of Pacific Island funerals and rites, the informality of all the bones jumbled together came as something of a surprise.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">For the Americans it seemed bewildering. We all picked up one of two, an arm here, a leg there. I certainly wondered at the fate of their owners; none of them were tagged and many of them looked like they had been around for a while. Whatever the Americans believed, they kept to themselves. Then President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara would not allow a ceiling search which, in retrospect, was not surprising; plotting was already afoot to successfully overthrow him. And for those of us who covered the region, life was about to take a rapid and sudden charge that offered little opportunity to fill gaps in American aviation history.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">For the Americans it seemed bewildering. We all picked up one or two, an arm here, a leg bone there. I certainly wondered at the fate of their owners; none of them were tagged and many of them looked like they had been around for a while. Whatever the Americans believed, they kept to themselves. Then President Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara would not allow a ceiling search which, in retrospect, was not surprising; plotting was already afoot to successfully overthrow him. And for those of us who covered the region, life was about to take a rapid and sudden charge that offered little opportunity to fill gaps in American aviation history.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">Nothing conclusive was decided and the Earhart theory continued for another couple of decades, including a recently popular one that she survived but was eventually taken into Japanese captivity. There was even a photo “discovered” which seemed to show her on a dock at Jaluit in the Japanese Marshall Islands.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">Nothing conclusive was decided and the Earhart theory continued for another couple of decades, including a recently popular one that she survived but was eventually taken into Japanese captivity. There was even a photo “discovered” which seemed to show her on a dock at Jaluit in the Japanese Marshall Islands.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">For entirely romantic reasons, I’ve always believed that I came close to Earhart in Suva. She’s still there and while its a politically poisonous place (and they ban my entry), if I was to end up in Fiji I would feel there was something right about live and death.</span>  
<span style="font-weight: 400">There was a sad side to Stan Brown who had tipped me off to Earhart’s fate. </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">For entirely romantic reasons, I’ve always believed that I came close to Earhart in Suva.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">He was not only bitter about the way they had abandoned the coastwatchers, he was appalled at the way his birth country, Britain, had used him and his Fijians as guinea pigs in Operation Grapple, when they tested nuclear bombs in 1957 over Christmas Island, now the divinely lovely Kiritimati, just a mere 2000 kilometres on from where Earhart and Noonan met their ends. </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">There was a sad side to Stan Brown who had tipped me off to Earhart’s fate. </span><span style="font-weight: 400">He was not only bitter about the way they had abandoned the coast watchers, he was appalled at the way his birth country, Britain, had used him and his Fijians as guinea pigs in Operation Grapple, when they tested nuclear bombs in 1957 over Christmas Island, now the divinely lovely Kiritimati, just a mere 2,000 kilometres from where Earhart and Noonan met their ends. </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">My mission had always been my coast watchers. No one is spending hundreds of thousands looking for them. No one is even looking for them.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">My mission had always been to find the remains of the coast watchers. No one is spending hundreds of thousands looking for them. No one is even looking for them.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">One of the radio operators was John Jones who had been placed on the northern most atoll of Butaritari. He was the first New Zealander taken prisoner by Japan in World War Two and spent the entire war as a prisoner in Japan. There he learned that his best friends and colleagues had been executed on Tarawa.</span> <span style="font-weight: 400">One of the radio operators was John Jones who had been placed on the northern most atoll of Butaritari. He was the first New Zealander taken prisoner by Japan in World War Two and spent the entire war as a prisoner in Japan. There he learned that his best friends and colleagues had been executed on Tarawa.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">He spent his decades deeply upset not only at their murders, but at the fact that New Zealand had completely forgotten them. Only in 2012, when we won some recognition for them, did he attend a New Zealand Anzac Day or remembrance day, and lay a wreath for his friends.</span>  
<span style="font-weight: 400">Two years later his old employers unveiled a monument in Wellington to remember them.</span>  
  <span style="font-weight: 400">He spent his decades deeply upset not only at their murders, but at the fact that New Zealand had completely forgotten them. Only in 2012, when some recognition was won for them for them, did he attend a New Zealand Anzac Day or remembrance day, and lay a wreath for his friends. </span><span style="font-weight: 400">Two years later his old employers unveiled a monument in Wellington to remember them.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">In 2017 he died, still troubled that he had lived while his friends had died. I went to his funeral with an iKiribati journalists and friend, Barbara Dreaver. And I remembered that while Earhart had died on an adventure, others had died serving their country.</span>  <span style="font-weight: 400">In 2017 he died, still troubled that he had lived while his friends had died. I went to his funeral with a Kiribati journalists and friend, Barbara Dreaver. And I remembered that while Earhart had died on an adventure, others had died serving their country.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400">ends</span>  
Categories Categories
Aviation, Fiji, New Zealand, Oceania, United States  Aviation, Fiji, New Zealand, Oceania, United States, Fiji
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  essay
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  Amelia Earhart, aviation, bones, Fred Noonan, South Pacific
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