Amelia Earhart died 80 years ago. Conspiracy theories about her disappearance live on.

Decades after Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared, theories about what happened to them remain the subject of popular debate.
Amelia Earhart in cockpit
Amelia Earhart in an aircraft cockpit in 1931.Bettmann Archive

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By Kalhan Rosenblatt

Two years after departing from Miami in what would become a failed attempt to fly around the globe, Amelia Earhart was officially declared dead.

Saturday marks the 80th anniversary of that declaration, but long after Earhart's disappearance, theories about what happened to her remain the subject of popular debate.

Earhart, born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, fell in love with flight in her 20s, and later became the first woman and second person to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic.

In 1937, as her 40th birthday approached, Earhart decided to attempt a flight around the world, according to her official biography.

On June 1, Earhart, along with her navigator, Fred Noonan, departed from Miami and completed approximately 22,000 miles of the 29,000-mile flight before disappearing on July 2.

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Earhart's biography says there is no proof of what happened to her, but bones found in 1940 on Nikumaroro Island, which is in the western Pacific Ocean, might have belonged to her.

A skull and bones from an arm and leg were found on the island, but in 1941, a scientist interpreted those bones as belonging to a man. However, in 1998, University of Tennessee anthropologist Richard Jantz reinterpreted them as coming from a woman of European ancestry, and about Earhart's height.

But in 2015, other researchers concluded the original assessment of a man was correct.

Jantz did another analysis in 2018, in which he used an inseam length and waist circumference from a pair of Earhart's trousers and again asserted the bones belonged to Earhart.

"I think we have pretty good evidence that it's her," he said in March of 2018.

Nonetheless, other theories about what happened to Earhart have prevailed.

One theory posits that Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese after landing on the then Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands, according to National Geographic.

This theory claims that the Japanese thought the pair were U.S. spies, and that they were later killed or died while in captivity.

Many Earhart enthusiasts say this theory is too outlandish, according to National Geographic, and that the pilot likely crashed in the ocean and the plane has been lost to the sea.

The official belief by the U.S. government is that Earhart and Noonan crashed into the Pacific Ocean while attempting to reach Howland Island, which is approximately 946 miles from the Marshall Islands and approximately 406 miles from Nikumaroro Island.

Earhart's fate remains a mystery, but before her disappearance, she said she hoped her legacy would continue to inspire others to take on challenges.

“Please know I am quite aware of the hazards,” she said. “I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

The Associated Press contributed.