It's one of the most enduring mysteries of our time: what happened to pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 as she attempted to fly around the world?
Four border collies named Berkeley, Piper, Marcy, and Kayle may have answers. On Wednesday, National Geographic reported that an expedition organized by the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) will set sail from Fiji on Saturday, June 24, with the specially trained forensic dogs from the Institute for Canine Forensics along for the ride.
The group's Earhart Project has spent decades testing the hypothesis that Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan landed safely on Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, about 400 miles (640 kilometers) southeast of their intended landing spot, Howland Island. According to the project's website, the group believes Earhart and Noonan survived on the island for a time as castaways, catching and cooking small fish, seabirds, turtles and clams.
Bones that possibly belonged to Earhart were found on the island in 1940, but have since been lost.
But can anything be found 80 years after Earhart's disappearance? Trained dogs have sniffed out burial sites up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) below ground and up to 1,500 years old, National Geographic reports.
"No other technology is more sophisticated than the dogs," said Fred Hiebert, National Geographic Society archaeologist in residence. "They have a higher rate of success identifying things than ground-penetrating radar."
It seems like a long shot. Tropical heat, rats, and coconut crabs may have laid waste to the bones, if Earhart and Noonan did in fact land there.
"But if the dogs are successful, it will be the discovery of a lifetime," Hiebert said.
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