More than three quarters of a century later, Amelia Earhart’s disappearance appears to be on the verge of being solved.
Unbeknownst to me, July 24 is Amelia Earhart Day, in honor of the aviator who was born 116 years ago on that date. While discovering that tidbit this past week, it also jogged my memory about recent articles I’d read online regarding researchers who believe they have discovered evidence that reveals the location of Earhart’s missing plane.
For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll provide a brief recap.
Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928. On June 1, 1937, just shy of her 40th birthday, she began an ill-fated quest to become the first woman to fly around the world.
Earhart departed from Miami for the 29,000-mile journey heading east. On the 29th day of flight, she landed in New Guinea. The remaining 7,000 miles of the journey were over the Pacific Ocean, which is where Earhart’s plane vanished. The last known contact with Earhart was believed to be near Howland Island, some 2,500 miles from New Guinea between Australia and Hawaii.
While Earhart’s disappearance may not be considered one of the conspiracy theories I love to sink my teeth in to, still not knowing what exactly occurred all those years ago is why I continue to find this tale fascinating.
Theories about the disappearance include Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, who accompanied her on the flight, crashed and died at sea. But one that has gained traction the last few years is Earhart landed the plane 350 miles off target on the uninhabited Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro Island, and the two were stranded with no fuel or food.
The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) claims Earhart and Noonan survived on the island for several weeks. Data seems to suggest they caught fish, seabirds and turtles and collected rainwater. Earhart is believed to have died at a campsite on the island’s southeast end, but Noonan’s fate was unknown.
In 1940, a British Colonial Service officer found a partial skeleton on the island, as well as a campfire, animal bones and remnants of a man’s shoe and a woman’s shoe. The officer thought he may have discovered Earhart’s remains, but a doctor believed the skeleton to be male, and American authorities were not notified. The bones were later lost.
More recently, a jar of anti-freckle cream — a brand Earhart was known to use and was consistent with the era in which she lived — was discovered on Nikumaroro a few years back, which fueled a TIGHAR expedition to the island.
Following the conclusion of the expedition, a sonar image revealed the discovery of an unexplained object on the ocean floor, which has given TIGHAR hope it is on the right track to discovering Earhart’s final destination. TIGHAR is currently in the midst of attempting to raise enough money for a return trip to investigate for the possible wreckage.
Upon reading all this information, I couldn’t help but be struck by how far we’ve come both with the advancements of technology, as well as the media’s thirst to cover any and every story. Just take a look at the ridiculous amount of updates on the Royal baby this past week. Some “news outlets” consider what people ate for dinner newsworthy these days.
Take for instance this past October, when Austrian Felix Baumgartner dove from the stratosphere back to earth. There was a live television broadcast of the event covered by multiple networks, it was streamed live on the Internet and within minutes replays appeared on YouTube.
Earhart’s flight in 1937 would have elicited the same type of coverage as Baumgartner’s plunge. Though ridiculous to fathom more than 70 years ago, today an around the world flight would probably be recorded from start to finish, with multiple news-sponsored aircraft in pursuit. If the plane were unfortunate enough to crash land on a remote island, a rescue could take place in a matter of minutes.
Imagine if Earhart, or her plane, featured a GPS device? Almost all smartphones include GPS capabilities, which can lead to anyone being tracked at any time. While some consider it an invasion of privacy today, it could have done wonders for Earhart 76 years ago.
Looking back, there wasn’t much else at the time that could have been done to avert a tragedy that, today, seems plausibly avoidable. Though the potential discovery of Earhart’s plane will not erase the loss of a true pioneer, it will finally provide closure to one of history’s lingering questions.
If, and that’s still a big if, the recovery of the wreckage is eventually made.
Derrick Stuckly is the editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sundays. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.