Amazing Amelia: the woman behind the mysterious disappearance
Aviator, adventurer, and amazing female role model.
“The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.” “It is far easier to start something than it is to finish it.” (Amelia Earhart)
Born: 24 July 1897
Disappeared: 2 July 1937
Declared Dead: 5 January 1939
Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas on 24 July 1897. From a young age she had a keen interest in flying.
During World War One Amelia trained as a nurse with the Red Cross and during the influenza pandemic of 1918 she utilised her skills at the Spadina Military Hospital. She unfortunately became a patient herself when she suffered pneumonia.
Despite varying financial fortunes Amelia continued to fly and this remained a constant throughout her life. She championed aviation, especially in the Boston area where she was based. She wrote for the local newspaper, worked as a sales rep for Kinner aircraft and flew the first official flight out of Dennison Airport in 1927.
It was also in 1927 that Charles Lindbergh made the first solo flight across the Atlantic. Following this Amelia decided she wanted to be the first female to make the flight – either as the pilot or as a passenger.
On 19 June 1928 she landed in Southampton, England with Wilmer Stultz. As most of the flight was instrumental and she had no training in this type of flying she acted as co-pilot. When they returned to the USA the fanfare, they received was immense and her celebrity status only rose.
She became the first woman to fly solo across North America and back just two months later in August 1928.
In 1932 she achieved her goal and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. The flight took 14 hours and 56 minutes. Over the coming years she would set many other aviation records.
Amelia championed the role of women in aviation and became an official of the National Aeronautical Association in 1930. She also became involved with the Ninety-Nines, a female pilots organisation that provided support to women in aviation.
She had very liberal ideas for the time, especially in regard to marriage which she saw as a partnership between two people. This was how she saw her marriage with George Putnam, a publisher whom she married in 1931 after spending a great deal of time with him on promotional tours.
Despite all of her aviation achievements Amelia Earhart is often most remembered for her disappearance. This occurred during her most adventurous expedition yet, a world flight. On 17 March 1937 Amelia and her crew set out from Oakland, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. When they arrived in Hawaii the plane needed maintenance which meant a major setback.
It wasn’t until June that the journey began again and this time they travelled east. One of the stops along her journey with navigator Fred Noonan was in Darwin, Australia. The pair left here on 29 June and arrived in Lae, New Guinea. Three days later they left, on 2 July bound for Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was during this sector of the voyage that all communication ceased, and the crew were never sighted again.
Many assumptions have been made over the years about what happened to the crew and plane, and it wasn’t until 1939 that Amelia was declared officially deceased.
Her legend and impact go beyond her final flight and ultimate death. The role she played in championing female pilots and promoting the right of women in aviation cannot go un-recognised. This influence is evident in today.
What Happened to Amelia?
Howland Island, the pit stop they were headed for was always going to be a difficult destination to reach. The island is tiny and was well-known as being difficult to locate from the air, especially in darkness as they were not expecting to reach the island until sunrise. To help navigation the US Navy sent two ships to act as markers for Amelia and her crew.
In her last radio contact, she noted that they were running out of fuel so when the crew didn’t arrive it was thought that the plane had gone down about 160km from the island where a search began. Over two weeks later the search was finally called off and the duo were declared lost as sea.
The most likely thing that happened was that the plan ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean however over the years many other hypothesises have been proposed. These include suggestions that they landed on another nearby uninhabited island where they would have eventually died. The island most commonly suggested is Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati. Interestingly expeditions to the island over the years have found items that date to the 1930s and may have come from the plane or been in the possession of Amelia. For the most part this is speculation as no evidence of the plane in the surrounding waters has been found.
One theory that I saw on a documentary a few years ago but is not one that generally comes up in is that she became a Japanese prisoner. This theory is based on a photograph that was located in the US National Archive and appears to show Amelia and Fred on a wharf in the Marshall Islands, which at the time was occupied by the Japanese. In the background plane wreckage is said to be visible in the water. (Pictured below)
Where to begin with this theory? Firstly, it is an undated image and very grainy. It may or may not be the pair and it may be wreckage that we can see but is it a plane? There are no military in the photo so if the pair were prisoners, you’d expect to at least see some. There are a multitude of reasons why this isn’t or is Amelia, depending what side you’re on but like all of the other theories there is no conclusive evidence, and she remains missing, over 80 years later.
Today Amelia Earhart is a common inclusion in popular culture, she is studied in schools and you’ll find her quotes all over the internet. In a letter to her sister, written in 1928 she states:
I have tried to play for a large stake and if I succeed all will be well. If I don’t I shall be happy to pop off in the midst of such an adventure.
Never has a truer word been penned.
As Amelia’s legendary disappearance draws attention to her story it is a way that we can engage audiences who don’t necessarily want to know about the rest of her life and accomplishments.
What I mean by this is that many people want to watch a documentary about the mystery of her death and in doing so they will undoubtedly come across her accomplishments and this can’t be a bad thing. Amelia Earhart is indeed a wonder woman worth remembering.
“Amelia Earhart”, Encyclopaedia Britannica Digital edition https://www.britannica.com/biography/Amelia-Earhart
“Amelia Earhart”, History Channel, history.com
Amelia Earhart: Missing for 80 years but not forgotten by Dorothy Cochrane, 29 June 2017 published by Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/amelia-earhart-missing-80-years-not-forgotten
Amelia Earhart: Does photo show she died a Japanese prisoner?, 6 July 2017 by BBC https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-40515754
Amelia Earhart Official website http://www.ameliaearhart.com/