It’s been more than 80 years since the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. However, the world is still wondering what happened to the aviation pioneer who became a legend for being the first woman to fly solo over the Atlantic.

Now, explorer Robert Ballard, who unveiled the Titanic believes he has solved the mystery of Earhart’s death, and it was gruesome.

She died alone on Gardner Island, and it’s believed coconut crabs devoured her remains. Another theory says she was eaten alive, not by coconut crabs but by some smaller voracious species of arthropods.

The Fatal Landing On Gardner Island

In 2019, deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard went to the tiny Pacific Gardner Island, today known as Nikumaroro, to search for Amelia Earhart or her Lockheed Electra plane.

This is the place most experts believe the plane ended up on July 2, 1937, when Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan were six weeks into their trip around the world.

They were expected to reach Howland Island, 1,700 miles southwest of Honolulu, where the U.S. Navy was expecting them.

Only something went wrong, communication with the aircraft was low, and it is believed Noonan somehow missed the tiny Howland Island.

Running low on fuel, Earhart and Noonan landed on Gardner Island instead, 350 nautical miles southeast of Howland.

Gardner Island or Nikumaroro is a small piece of land surrounded by a coral reef barrier, and experts believed the two could survive for a few days with the supplies and tools they had on board.

Except she may have spent her last days alone, surrounded by colossal coconut crabs.

Meet The Coconut Crabs

The international expeditions on Gardner island concluded it was entirely possible for the Lockheed Electra plane to crash land on the coral reef barrier.

Still, they believed Noonan might have died in the attempt. Why wasn’t the plane found? It was probably washed to sea, they say.

At the time, the island was uninhabited, its most notable dwellers being the coconut crabs, pretty horrifying creatures you wouldn’t want to meet. Ever.

This type of crab can grow up to 3.3 feet long and weigh some 9 pounds at maturity. Unlike any crab you’ve seen before, the coconut crabs can climb up trees when they’re too far from their burrow and need somewhere quick to hide when they spot aerial predators.

They live on Pacific islands and spend most of their days in the shade of the coconut trees, although they’re not particularly fond of the nuts themselves.

Their diet consists mainly of fruit, seeds, and nuts, but they’ll gladly feast on any type of carrion they run into when they have the chance.

They’ll strip the bones clean of any meat in a matter of hours. As to the bones, they’re not equipped to eat those, but experiments have shown they can drag and scatter bones 60 feet away.

In 1940, three years after Amelia Earhart vanished, a group of British settlers on the island discovered 13 human bones, most of them belonging to a skull.

At the time, the bones were presumed to belong to a short, stocky European male, but modern scientists are challenging that hypothesis. 

According to Ballard’s team, which included several National Geographic archaeologists, the coconut crab theory explains why only a few bones were ever found.

The rest were scattered by the coconut crabs and might have ended deep in their burrows or the sea. 

The Anti-Freckle Cream Clue

How do we even know Amelia Earhart made it to the island? The answer lies in the glass fragments found on the island.

Historian Richard Gillespie has collected several glass fragments and painstakingly put them together to form a container.

Gillespie, who has spent more than 30 years trying to solve the mystery, is optimistic the glass came from an anti-freckle cream trendy at the time.

Amelia Earhart hated her freckles and was known to hide them under a thick layer of “Dr. C H Berry’s Freckle Ointment.”

It would have worked as it was 80 percent mercury – it was so potent that the mercury had impregnated onto the glass, which is how we know what it was,” Gillespie said in an interview

He has also recovered a part of a knife, which, according to him, corresponds to one item on the inventory list for the ill-fated journey.

Gillespie also claims to have discovered fragments of a compact powder kit and a hand-lotion very popular at the time. 

In his opinion, Amelia Earhart, with or without Fred Noonan, could have survived for a time by fishing and boiling water.

Or by eating coconut crabs, which are considered a delicacy today. However, he disagrees with the theory that the coconut crabs disposed of Earhart’s remains.

The TIGHAR Experiment

The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), led by Gillespie, performed an experiment that showed the scientist to conclude that a smaller type of crabs might have played an essential part in the Amelia Earhart mystery.

Coconut crabs are not aggressive and are really quite shy; the ones she would have to worry about are the strawberry hermit crab,” Gillespie said. 

The group left a pig carcass on the sand and watched the coconut crabs devour the meat and scatter the bones. It took them two weeks to dispose of the corpse.

The TIGHAR scientists believe the strawberry hermit crabs could have eaten Amelia Earhart, dead or alive. 

By day, she could have protected herself against the tiny crabs, but they could have attacked her in her sleep.

According to Gillespie, the small crabs have a strong sense of smell and an equally big appetite.

Once the expeditioner sat down for dinner, hundreds of strawberry hermit crabs would come out of the woods, attracted to the food.

The Final DNA Test

The National Geographic team that accompanied Ballard to the island says they have managed to locate the 13 bones discovered on Gardner Island in 1940.

At present, they are stored at the Te Umwanibong Museum and Cultural Centre in Tarawa, Kiribati. They believe the bones were wrongly classified as belonging to a male.

They plan to reconstruct the skull and conduct a DNA test to establish if they do belong to Amelia Earhart. This could be the final proof needed to solve the mystery that has fascinated America for decades.

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