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Folsom doctor delves into 74-year-old mystery

Team searches island hospital for Amelia Earhart’s bones
By: Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent
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Dr. John Overholt, who works at Med7 Urgent Care in Folsom, has always been drawn to aviation history. About 10 years ago he joined The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), and became certified to do archeological work in the field. In 2010, Overholt traveled with a TIGHAR team to Nikumaroro Island (formerly Gardner Island) in Kiribati to search for artifacts that might show Amelia Earhart had landed on the island, as credible evidence indicated that could be the case. Earhart’s plane went missing July 2, 1937 while en route to Howland Island in the Pacific. She was officially declared dead in January 1938. In the early 1940s, bones found on the island were sent for inspection to a Dr. Hoodless in Fiji. He was a British physician in charge of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital. “The bones disappeared with no record in Fiji,” Overholt said. “One of the many tasks that the group had was to go through the British War Memorial Hospital in Fiji, which is a huge complex dating back to the late 20s, and Dr. Hoodless’s old house and some other facilities there and see if we could find the box of bones.” On Tuesday, May 10 of this year, leader of the group Gary Quigg, Overholt, Karl Kern, and Lonnie Schorer arrived in Suva, Fiji Islands, to search for the bones that might be those of Amelia Earhart. “We needed permission to get in,” Overholt said. “As a physician it seemed natural that I would contact the hospital and see if we could arrange to literally go through it floor by floor.” Permissions received, the team spent 12 to 14 hour days for two weeks going through the hospital, the medical school building, Dr. Hoodless’ home, another hospital site north of Suva, and a couple of cave-like wards with entrance from the jungle, built as shelters during World War II. At the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, they found a room off the morgue, approximately 4 feet wide by 20 feet long. “The morgue was just two slabs of stone, filthy, there was a body lying there,” Overholt said. They entered the small room. “There was a small window down at the end,” Overholt said. “This would be right out of a movie, this dusty, dank, jammed full of stuff, boxes, room where you’re just sort of stepping over stuff . . . Then I pull off this top box and bingo, there’s a box of bones. It was relatively dark. Sort of like when you go into a cathedral, if you see a beam of light coming through from the high windows, and it lights up the dust in the air, the air was like that — kind of a filtered light.” They were ultimately able to secure government permission to take the bones out of the country, and the bones were sent to the Molecular Anthropology Laboratories at University of Oklahoma for DNA testing. “Our Earhart DNA sample came from a descendant of Amelia Earhart’s mother,” said Ric Gillespie, executive director of TIGHAR. “Mitochondrial DNA is passed in the female line. We have an example of the mitochondrial DNA that Amelia had.” Overholt hopes that he might be part of finding an answer to the long-unanswered question. “This is a group activity, and not just me,” Overholt said, “but certainly on a personal level that would be a capstone to a lifetime of interest in aviation history, wouldn’t it?” It makes good listening for those who hear of Overholt’s adventures. His neighbor, Jim Tomblin, shares his interest in aviation, and they have gone to air shows together. He was fascinated by what he heard from Overholt about his travel to the Pacific Islands. “Although just listening to the stories, what Jon had to say about it,” Tomblin said, “from his description it was quite grueling.” Initial testing reveals the bones the team retrieved are most likely of Polynesian origin. For more information on TIGHAR and Overholt’s trips to the Pacific Islands, go to TIGHAR.org.