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Scientists testing waste in search for Earhart

  • Associated Press
  • Published Friday, March 4, 2011, at 12:05 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, March 4, 2011, at 1:36 a.m.

NORMAN, Okla. —Even though tests failed to prove bone fragments found on a remote South Pacific island are the remains of Amelia Earhart, that doesn't mean the search is over — or that she and navigator Fred Noonan didn't spend their final days as castaways, an expert on the famed aviator said Thursday.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma attempted to detect human DNA from three bone fragments, but the tests were inconclusive. Scientists still have material recovered from a latrine and some bones that could be tested later.

"There is never any guarantee, but this is by no means the only avenue of investigation we're going after," said Ric Gillespie, director of the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, a group of aviation enthusiasts from Delaware who began investigating the disappearance more than 20 years ago. The group found the pieces of bone and small clumps of material while on an expedition to Nikumaroro Island, about 1,800 miles south of Hawaii.

University of Oklahoma researcher Cecil Lewis said at a news conference Thursday that he should have more information on the fecal material in three months. The remaining one-half gram of bone will be preserved so it can be tested in the future when less destructive genomic testing is available.

Lewis and his colleague, Raul Tito, were able to extract the DNA of two people from the fecal material, but it was not enough to test against DNA from an Earhart relative. The researchers are beginning a more sophisticated analysis that should give a better snapshot of the DNA.

The real evidence of Earhart's disappearance will not come from land but from sea, Gillespie said. Even if the plane landed safely on the island, tides would have eventually pulled it out to the water, so the group is beginning to plan a deep- sea dive. Past searches of the remote island have been inconclusive.

Gillespie has said other evidence found on the island suggests the presence of Westerners. That evidence includes:

* Chunks of cosmetic makeup believed to be from the 1930s. Gillespie's group is trying to identify what brand Earhart used.

* Nearby bottles that appeared melted, as if they were put in a fire to boil water.

* A glass bottle with liquid remnants, possibly hand lotion.

* Shells that were carried inland before they were cut open and the meat sliced out. Islanders typically cut the meat out at sea.

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