Young women today may not really comprehend how significant those rebellious thoughts of mine were. Just consider, for a moment, that when Amelia was hired to be the first woman to ‘fly’ across the Atlantic in 1928, she was not allowed to control the plane. She sat in the back and looked out the window. Though she had her pilot’s license, the idea of a female having the stamina to perform a trans-Atlantic flight was incomprehensible. Amelia was distressed by the attention she got for just sitting there:
"I was a passenger on the journey...just a passenger. Everything that was done to bring us across was done by Wilmer Stultz and Slim Gordon. Any praise I can give them they ought to have...I do not believe that women lack the stamina to do a solo trip across the Atlantic, but it would be a matter of learning the arts of flying by instruments only, an art which few men pilots know perfectly now..."
When I first heard her name she’d been missing for 30 or so years and was still very much an enigma. I loved her ... her tomboyishness, her fashion sense, the truth that she was as ordinary looking as anyone else in the world. And, I loved the idea that she found a man who supported her ambition and was seemingly fine living in her shadow of fame and popularity. Yes, Amelia gave hope to little girls who would rather play with a frog than a doll.
So, as I grew I always acknowledged any new information about Amelia. We all know her Electra disappeared as she attempted to fly more than 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean. She had already flown 22,000 miles and this part of the journey would take her to Hawaii, and then to California where she would be praised for two major firsts...she would be the first woman, and she would travel the longest possible distance, circumnavigating the globe at its waist.
But, she never landed for refuel on Howland Island. The world has since asked, “Amelia, where are you?” Several theories continue to circulate:
• Amelia was on a spy mission for President Roosevelt, was captured by the Japanese and forced to broadcast to American GI’s as “Tokyo Rose” during World War II.
• She purposely drove her plane into the Pacific.
• She lived for years on an island in the South Pacific with a native fisherman.
• In 1961 it was thought that the bones of Amelia and her navigator had been found in Saipan, but the bones turned out to be those of Saipan natives.
• Amelia secretly finished the mission then moved to New Jersey, assumed a new name, married a different fellow, and lived out her life.
• And, the most exhaustive inquiry into Earhart’s fate since the US Navy’s 1937 original search has been (and is continuing to be) by The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR), who are attempting to conclusively solve the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance with investigation procedures that employ rigorous standards of evidence and documented facts. They are focusing on a remote, uninhabited Pacific atoll of Nikumaroro (formerly Gardner Island, which is where garbled transmissions believed to be from the electra happened for 4 days after she failed to find Howland Island) and have recovered physical evidence that suggests the Earhart flight may have landed there on July 2, 1937. In 1940 a partial skeleton and an old fashioned sextant box were found under a tree on the island’s southeast corner. The skeleton was eventually lost in Fiji sometime after 1941, but detailed measurements of the bones indicate that they belonged to a “tall white female of European ancestry”. Other artifacts include improvised tools, an aluminum panel (possibly from and Electra), an oddly cut piece of clear Plexiglas which is the exact thickness and curvature of an Electra window, and a size 9 Cat’s Paw heel dating from the 1930’s, which resembles Earhart’s footwear in world flight photos. In 2007 TIGHAR performed another high-profile expedition where they were reported to have found additional artifacts, including bronze bearings which may have belonged to the aircraft, and a zipper pull which might have come from her flight suit. All this evidence is circumstantial, but quite interesting when you consider the island is uninhabited.
Today, there is continuing promise with TIGHAR’s research. That is part one of the two fold that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. TIGHAR’s team will be on the island until June 14, 2010 and they are releasing new finds continually. I encourage you to follow TIGHAR’s 2010: Niku VI Expedition updates, and to read this Discovery News article that was released on June 3, 2010.
New hard truths about the real Amelia continue to tickle our hopes that someday, and maybe soon, we'll know for sure if she was a castaway on Gardner Island. This moment reminds me of the days right before they found the remains of the Titanic ...
(Part two, of my two fold story, will be coming next posting)