Solving the Mystery of Amelia Earhart’s Disappearanceby J-Mirabelli
Thanks to another search for her plane, Amelia Earhart is still making news. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with members of “The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery” (TIGHAR) to discuss the unsolved case of the aviator. The group plans the search for Earhart’s plane in June, 2012.
Hillary Clinton has long been a fan of Earhart’s and learned about this effort from staffers at the state department, who’ve worked with TIGHAR founder Ric Gillespie for more than 20 years.
Gillespie thinks he has solved the “last great American mystery of the 20th century”. He’s made nine trips to what was then called Gardner Island – the uninhabited coral island where he believes Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan made an emergency landing in July 1937 – and argues that they may have survived briefly as castaways, based on artifacts found at campsites.
The most recent clue is an enhanced photo of the island’s shoreline taken by a British soldier in October 1937 that shows what appear to be parts of a plane sticking out of the water just off shore. Said Gillespie, “It has all the components of the landing gear of a Lockheed Electra” – the model Earhart piloted.
The privately funded expedition, filmed as a documentary by the Discovery Channel and advised by “Titanic” discoverer Bob Ballard, will use underwater submarines and equipment to look for the wreckage in a few square miles off the island’s reef. “I’m quite sure it’s there,” said Gillespie.
“Even if you do not find what you seek, there is great honor and possibility in the search itself,” Clinton told the explorers. “So, like our lost heroine, you will all carry our hopes.”
In addition to the search for Earhart’s plane, The National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. is mounting a show, One Life: Amelia Earhart. The year-long exhibition opens June 29, 2012.
The show will illustrate how Earhart also fought for women’s rights. She started a women’s pilot program, joined the National Women’s Party, supported the Equal Rights Amendment of that time and campaigned for other causes through her speaking tours and writings. And some of her photographs prove she had quite a strong fashion sense.
Amelia Earhart at a glance
As a young girl, Amelia Earhart had kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, but it wasn’t until she attended a stunt-flying exhibition in her late teens, that she became seriously interested in aviation.
On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life. “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground,” she said, “I knew I had to fly.”
Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921, and in six months managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. The second-hand Kinner Airster was a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow. Earhart named the plane “Canary,” and used it to set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet.
In April 1928, she was offered the opportunity to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic. At first she thought it was a prank, but when she realized the offer was serious, she promptly accepted it.
The flight team left Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named “Friendship” on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales, approximately 21 hours later. Their landmark flight made headlines worldwide, because three women had died within the year trying to be that first woman. The crew returned to the United States to a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception at the White House.
Earhart and George Putnam developed a friendship during preparation for her Atlantic crossing and ended up getting married February 7, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a “partnership” with “dual control”.
On May 20, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. Strong north winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland. Despite not reaching Paris, she did successfully cross the Atlantic. President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society and she was awarded the “Distinguished Flying Cross” – the first ever given to a woman.
Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”
In the years that followed, Earhart set an altitude record for autogyros of 18,415 feet that stood for years and on January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California. Later that year she was the first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.
In 1937, as she approached her 40th birthday, she decided that she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. On June 1st, 1937, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey. By June 29, they had landed in Lae, New Guinea.
At 10 a.m. local time, zero Greenwich time on July 2, the pair took off from Lae to complete the last 7,000 miles of the adventure. They flew into overcast skies and intermittent rain showers. This made Noonan’s premier method of tracking, celestial navigation, difficult.
At 7:42 a.m. the Coast Guard Cutter “Itasca” picked up the message, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” The ship tried to reply, but the plane seemed not to hear. At 8:45 Earhart reported, “We are running north and south.” Nothing further was heard from her.
A rescue attempt started immediately and became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, after spending $4 million and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the United States government reluctantly called off the operation. In 1938, a lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in her memory.
The 2012 expedition under the direction of Ric Gillespie may finally end all speculation of how Amelia Earhart’s journey ended.