Happy Landings Amelia

 

A few nights ago I learned what really happened to Amelia Earhart. That would of course be the scoop of a lifetime, and I would no doubt be lauded far and wide and there would be book deals, movie rights, TV appearances and all that sort of thing. Unfortunately I would have to eventually reveal that what I learned came from a slightly cheesy episode of Star Trek: Voyager instead. I never really thought much of the show at the time it first aired, but courtesy of Netflix we are working our way through the series. The particular episode had a solution to Amelia Earhart’s disappearance that was far simpler than some of the other real theories that are out there, but I will leave that particular one out among the Star Trek galaxy.

But it made me think of the appeal of an unsolved mystery, especially one involving someone so famous, and with so little clues left behind as to her disappearance in the South Pacific in 1937. She and her navigator Fred Noonan were attempting an around the world flight in their Lockheed L10 Electra plane. Though a circumnavigation had already been done previously, Earhart was going via a much longer route and over the most open ocean which presented considerable risk. By virtue of her already long list of accomplishments in aviation up to that point, there was a sense of excitement and publicity surrounding it. At the time of the disappearance of the plane, Earhart and Noonan only had approximately 7000 miles of the journey remaining. At midnight on July 2, 1937 they took off from New Guinea bound for Howland Island, a speck of land in the vast Pacific Ocean with no inhabitants, just a hastily built runway. A U.S. Coast Guard cutter was standing by for communication help. What is known for certain is that bad weather and communication problems almost certainly hampered Earhart’s effort to spot Howland Island, and her last communication was at 8:43 AM. After that is all speculation.

Some of the more dubious conspiracies out there regarding Amelia Earhart posited that she survived and took a new name and lived her life out in New Jersey. Another was that she joined with the Japanese and read propaganda broadcasts as ‘Tokyo Rose.’ Pretty out there stuff. But some theories are a little bit more believable. Chief among those are that Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan had to ditch at sea having miscalculated their fuel levels. Similarly is that not being able to locate Howland Island, they instead diverted to Gardner Island instead where the plane met an unknown fate. There are deeply technical interpretations of faulty radio communications and signaling that may have caused a problem. There is also the plausible possibility that Fred Noonan’s drinking problem played a role or that it was quite simply pilot error on Earhart’s part.

Another of the more plausible theories is that the Lockheed plane had been outfitted with sophisticated spying equipment, as a way for the U.S. to gauge new Japanese military outposts in the South Pacific, long before satellites were able to. Earhart’s popularity and success as a groundbreaking aviator would have made an interesting cover to do this of course. In the 1960’s journalist Fred Goerner uncovered evidence that suggested that Earhart’s plane was captured, and that she and Noonan were executed by the Japanese. None of these theories have ever been proven. There has been no ‘smoking gun’ for any of them. Though there have been some mysteries that have been solved in our lifetime-Titanic’s resting place or the Mars face, there are many more like Earhart and Noonan’s disappearance that are lacking any sort of absolute evidence.

Which is a good thing in some ways, because in the case of Amelia Earhart, it resulted in some songs about her. Plainsong were a short lived group in the early 1970’s, centered around the wonderful singer Iain Matthews. Their 1972 album was actually called In Search Of Amelia Earhart and featured two songs based around her final flight. Coupled with a cover of the traditional song ‘I’ll Fly Away’ some thought it a concept album, but in actuality it was just a great sort of country-rock album that happened to feature two songs on the same subject. Matthews’ own song ‘True Story Of Amelia Earhart’ is chiefly based on Fred Goerner’s investigation and expresses a sense of disappointment about such an ending-

“Oh Amelia it’s true, you’re the lady of the air & this I’m not disputing anyhow,

But if what Mr. Goerner says is only half the truth, then Amelia…Oh Amelia”

The other song-Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight sung by Andy Roberts is slightly dreamy and hopeful. The facts are presented but there is almost a hint of nostalgia-

“She fell into the ocean far away

And there’s a beautiful, beautiful field

Far away in a land that is fair.

Happy landings to you Amelia Earhart

Farewell, first lady of the air”

The facts of Amelia Earhart’s last flight may never be known at this point. Extensive searching of the area immediately after the crash resulted in no traces found, and subsequent searches and theories have yet to reveal defining proof in all the years since. But I think that is why we like a good mystery. We will never truly know what happened. That makes the story more pleasing in an odd way somehow. Even the hair brained theories that Amelia was abducted by aliens (okay…that was the Star Trek story) or broadcast propaganda for the Japanese during World War II keep the story out there. They allow for movies to be made and songs to be written. They allow for dubious stories to be passed down through generations from people who ‘claimed to be there’. In a world full of increasingly less mysteries, where everything and every place has been discovered few mysteries still remain. Amelia’s disappearance 80 years ago ties us to a time when adventure still existed and there were still achievements to seek. Now everything is an internet search away and we feel disconnected from that sense of adventure that Amelia Earhart sought. We may never know, but is that such a bad thing? Happy Landings.

True Story Of Amelia Earhart-Written By Iain Matthews

Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight-Written By David McEnery

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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle

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